The use of cleaners in hotels has a long history. Until recently, the products available to housekeeping professionals have been limited to one of two evils: acid- or bleach-based cleaners. Neither presents a healthy alternative. When green cleaning products made an appearance on the market several years ago, their popularity was curtailed by two facts: they were not as effective as their toxic sisters, and they were more expensive.
Today, green cleaning products are competitively priced but some still remain toxic. Several “environmentally friendly” cleaners continue to contain ingredients that pose alarming health and safety hazards. To name a few, some contain butyoxyethanol, propane, ethanol and butane. What then is the difference between these green cleaners and their caustic alternatives? The short answer is, not much. Are there other options? Fortunately, yes.
In recent years, a safer alternative has emerged—chemical-free, plant-based botanical cleaners and disinfectants. Although still in their infancy, botanical products are making an impact. They are effective, economical, easy to use and safe.
My journey into chemical-free cleaning began more than five years ago when I was the executive housekeeper of a large hotel in Canada. Disturbed by the constant exposure of my room attendants to the harsh chemicals they were required to use, I researched, pioneered and successfully implemented chemical-free cleaning in our workplace. I repeated this accomplishment at a resort in the United States.
The following is a synopsis of the lessons I learned along the way.
Be Prepared to State Your Case Convincingly
Before implementing a chemical-free program, do your homework and get the facts. Be aware that botanical cleaners will be held to more stringent scrutiny than any other cleaners. Here is a list of the questions you may be asked by your superiors and staff:
1. How can thyme oil kill bacteria?
2. How can a cleaner be effective when it doesn’t contain bleach, acid or quaternary ammoniums?
3. Will I have to work harder?
4. Is it more expensive?
5. Why is it better?
6. Where’s the proof?
7. What will guests think?
8. Things work fine, why change?
Notwithstanding that botanicals are safer to use and perform at par, and in several cases, better than synthetic chemicals, this pioneering technology may be discounted as just another gimmick. Keep in mind that for decades, cleaning staff have seen first hand that the more toxic the cleaner, the less scrubbing is involved, and the easier the job.
Plan a Test Project
Although botanical cleaners and disinfectants are fully endorsed by the EPA, and have been used successfully in the industry, you may want to perform a small-scale pilot project with your staff. This will generate their involvement at the ground level, ease the transition of change, and help to dispel their misgivings.
Appoint a small number of room attendants to test the product against the different types of soil encountered in a hotel environment. Monitor their progress and be involved in the process. This will validate your personal commitment to change, and encourage buy-in from your staff.
Institute a training program that will pave the way to a smooth transition and ensure that all players are on the same page. Do a cost analysis that includes monitoring the usage of the new products and the existing cleaners to demonstrate economic viability.
Organize a Successful Rollout
After you have demonstrated the cost and efficacy of the botanical cleaners, an effective rollout is critical. Information sessions detailing the implementation schedule should be held for housekeeping staff, managers, department heads, general staff, union chairpersons and officers.
A PowerPoint presentation works best. Make the sessions informative and educational. Generate enthusiasm, tailor your message to your audience, and include the following points in your presentations:
1. An overview of the product. 2. How it works. 3. How it compares to other cleaners. 4. Health benefits. 5. Cost benefits. 6. Staff testimonials.
When communicated effectively and fully supported from the top, the advantages of implementing a chemical-free cleaning program are far reaching. Not only does it distinguish you as a responsible corporate citizen, it demonstrates that you care about the well being of your staff, your guests, and the environmental concerns of your community.
Choosing to be a chemical-free employer can also influence employee recruitment and retention, and enhance your relationship with union representatives. Paramount is the health advantages of using botanical cleaners. I personally noted that my room attendants from two very different properties reported a notable decrease in asthmatic symptoms and skin lesions.
In the end, the real test is the guest. The economic success of any hotel rests not only on strengthening guest loyalty, but expanding it. Today, guests are increasingly reporting allergies to scents and chemicals, and are demanding alternatives. The enlightened hotelier will listen to their concerns and act upon them. With all things being equal, would a guest choose your property over the competition because of chemical-free cleaning? Given the times we live in, I think they would!
Denise Levesque is a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry. She researched, pioneered and implemented chemical-free cleaning in both a city center hotel and a luxury resort. Denise is the recipient of a number of environmental awards applauding her efforts in environmental cleaning. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.