Guide to Less Toxic Products

Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia

Institutional & Industrial Cleaners

If it’s important to use less toxic products in our homes, it’s equally important to use them in our workplaces and public institutions. There is growing recognition of the importance of indoor air quality at work from an employee viewpoint. Institutions also need to consider the impact of cleaning products on the health of users. Hospitals, schools, nursing homes and day care centres are places where children, the ill and the elderly spend many hours, and these are groups which are especially vulnerable to hazardous chemicals. Use of less toxic products, particularly those which are scent free and low in solvents make public places more accessible to people with chemical sensitivities and asthma. Cleaning staff who spend 40 hours a week working with cleaning chemicals, often in concentrated formulations, are an occupational group which is often exposed to many carcinogens and other hazardous substances.

Cleaning products are increasingly recognized as a significant source of indoor air pollution, as well as contributing to broader environmental pollution. As more institutions adopt scent free and environmentally friendly policies, the demand for less toxic alternatives is increasing. The good news is that these products exist, and finding them is not that difficult.

As with every type of product, finding the right one for the job is a process. If you use one less toxic product which you don’t find effective for a particular job, don’t conclude that the only alternative is the toxin containing product you have always used. The range of product options is expanding as the hazards of many existing products become better understood and the demand for less toxic alternatives increases. Less toxic choices are not necessarily more expensive, and in some cases can save money.

The following points will assist people looking for less toxic cleaning options for institutional use.

  1. In many cases, the products and recipes in the household cleaning section can be used in institutional settings.
  2. The website of the Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Program (JP4), provides information and sources for less toxic institutional cleaners. See and These lists were developed in the US, but many products are available in Canada, sometimes under different brand names.
  3. The Labour Environmental Alliance Society in British Columbia is a valuable source of information on toxins in cleaning products, as well as how to find less toxic alternatives. Ask for their pamphlet, Toxins and Cleaners, and visit their website Bebbington Industries, a Nova Scotia company, manufactures the Green Knight line of institutional/industrial cleaning products. Products bear the Ecologo label and have been evaluated as very low in human health impacts.
  4. Look for products which meet the Ecologo (Canada), Envirodesic (Canada) or Green Seal (US) standards. Products bearing these labels have undergone a third party evaluation. The standards are based principally on decreased harm to the environment, rather than to human health, but they are a good start. In many cases, the same chemicals are hazardous to both human health and the environment. Some products which meet these standards may not have been evaluated yet.
  5. In any request for proposals or contract process, list ingredients which should not be contained in any products to be used in your workplace. Adopting an overall policy which specifies that your workplace will select cleaning products which are scent-free and least harmful to the environment, as the PEI government has done, provides a good starting point. Information on the most hazardous chemicals to avoid is available in the Toxins and Cleaners pamphlet from LEAS (see above #3) and on the JP4 site.
  6. Maintenance in Schools, an article written by Karen Robinson of CASLE (Citizens for a Safe Learning Environment,, outlines many of the issues involved in choosing less toxic cleaning products.
  7. The Canadian Auto Workers’ campaign to eliminate carcinogens in the workplace has identified many hazardous chemicals used in industrial processes. CAW has also identified substitutions which can be made for many of them. Cathy Walker, the CAW's Director of Occupational Health and Safety heads up the Prevent Cancer campaign.