Clean and Green: Custodial Services’s Sustainable Cleaning Processes

Robert Moddrell
Manger, Facilities Services

Corey Wright
Training Specialist, Facilities Services

Certified EcoLogo

For the last decade, Custodial Services has maintained over 12.5 million square feet of the UT campus using a high-performance cleaning process called (OS1). Developed by ManageMen, (OS1) promotes the standardization of the custodial operation through the use of environmentally friendly products and ergonomic tools. With this process, Custodial Services has maintained a consistent cleaning program across campus despite the size of our operation and varying demands of each building. Moreover, this process has ushered in a sustainable approach to cleaning that is easily reflected in our chemical program, water usage, paper and plastic products inventory, team cleaning system, and indoor air quality.

Chemical Program

We proudly use Green Seal Certified Products

Prior to 2001, Custodial Services’s chemical program used over 200 different chemicals. Since the implementation of (OS1), that number has been reduced over 85% to a total of 25 chemicals. This reduction is due in large part to Portion Pac, a company that provides environmentally responsible chemical concentrates, which easily dissolve in reusable containers filled with water from the faucet. These concentrates eliminate excessive packaging and reduce energy spent in transportation. Each Pac is pre-measured for a specific container. Regardless of where we come from or what language we speak, all of us can relate to the concept of “one.” Using one Pac per bucket, bottle, or tank of water results in safer, more accurate use of chemicals, thus eliminating unnecessary waste. Of our four daily use chemicals, three are Green Seal Certified and the fourth is a daily germicide, which is used to reduce pathogenic microorganisms is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Water Usage

Subscribing to the (OS1) process has also decreased our annual water usage by roughly 70%. While the effective measurement and use of chemicals contributes to this figure, it is the use of two-sided mop buckets and microfiber mop heads that have had the greatest impact on water usage.

Traditional mop buckets hold five gallons of water, but the two-sided restroom and utility buckets used in our program hold 1.25 and 2 gallons of water respectively.1 Additionally, a two-sided mop bucket system keeps clean solution and contaminated water separate, thus ensuring the longevity of the cleaning solution and reducing the need to change the solution often.

graphic of The Rule of One photo of mop bucket

The coordinated use of microfiber flat mops also helps conserve water. Traditional string mops transfer more water than necessary to hard floor surfaces, making it difficult to clean and absorb the dirtied water effectively. Moreover, the fibers of a traditional string mop are incapable of trapping the microorganisms targeted in common cleaning procedures. Microfiber mops, however, absorb up to six times their own weight in liquid pick up and retention, and their unique fibers have been shown to reduce bacteria up to 96%.2

The paired use of a two-side mop bucket system and microfiber program have been instrumental in our decreased water usage. Our estimated water usage has gone from 863,340 gallons annually down to 262,302 gallons annually. The difference in water saved is equal to the amount of water needed to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Paper and Plastic Products

Custodial Services’ commitment to sustainability is reflected in the choice of paper and plastic products used across campus. With such large consumption numbers and with so many options available, it was important for our operation to select the greenest solution. As a result, our hand towels contain 40% post-consumer content, while both our toilet paper and hand towels contain 100% recycled fiber.

More recently, Custodial Services has made the switch to a more sustainable trash liner. These new liners are made from linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and meet the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. This means the liners’ post-consumer content can range from 10%–100%. All liners contain 100% post-consumer recycled resin.3

These new liners will reduce our annual liner waste to landfills by an estimated 36%. Our previous liners contributed 220,459 pounds of waste annually, but the new liners will only contribute an estimated 141,847 pounds. The difference is equivalent to the weight of almost twenty mid-sized vehicles. In addition to these changes, we have implemented the tipping of trash cans instead of changing liners whenever possible.

Team Cleaning

One of the benefits of the (OS1) process is the emphasis on team cleaning. Rather than assigning one individual to perform all cleaning tasks in a single area, team cleaning distributes tasks among four specialist positions: light duty, vacuum, restroom, and utility. This team of specialists moves through a building together, starting on the top floor and working down. Team cleaning provides specialized training to the tasks of each specialist, ensuring consistency of the task as well as reducing the amount of equipment needed.

With a traditional zone cleaning approach, workers are kept isolated from one another and rarely interact beyond the start of shift, breaks, and the end of shift. If someone were to get hurt or need assistance, it often would not be discovered until one of the aforementioned interactions. Team cleaning ensures worker safety by keeping the team together as specialists work through the building. This way, if an incident were to occur, someone would be present and able to assist.

Lastly, with a traditional zone cleaning approach, electricity is required on each floor of a building in order to power all necessary equipment and keep rooms well lit. With team cleaning, the team moves through the building floor by floor so that only the lights of the current floor need to be lit. This eliminates the need for the entire building to be lit through the entire work shift.

Indoor Air Quality

photo of a Super Coach backpack vacuum

Through the daily maintenance of campus buildings, Custodial Services is doing its part to sustain the built environment. This effort not only prolongs the life of buildings and materials therein, but also improves the quality of life inside these buildings.

The Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) posits that individuals spend nearly 90% of their time indoors, whether at work, home or in transit. As such, it has become increasingly important to maintain an indoor environment free of pollutants.

A recent study measured the indoor air quality of a building maintained with an average upright vacuum and found the level of pollutants equal to roughly twenty times what the EPA allows Americans to pollute from their cars.5 This is not surprising considering cloth filter bags on traditional upright vacuums only remove 30% of pollutants from the air. In an effort to improve indoor air quality, Custodial Services elected to use Super Coach backpack vacuums manufactured by Pro Team. These vacuums provide four-level filtration, removing 99.9% of lung-damaging particles.6 Additionally, these vacuums help protect carpet, extending the life of carpet and reducing the need for replacement. It is this high level of carpet care and air purification that has earned the Pro Team Vacuum the Carpet Research Institute’s (CRI) green label certification.


Custodial Services continues to serve the University of Texas through our on-going use of the (OS1) process, which promotes efficiency while simultaneously minimizing waste. It is with this foundation of practice that we move forward, seeking out more opportunities for sustainability. 2011 marks our tenth year as (OS1) users.


  1. John Walker, “Benchmarking Best Practices in the Cleaning Industry Since 2002: The Science and Art of Professional Cleaning,” Prepared for (OS1) Users Symposium, 2008. p. 21.
  2. Unger Professional, Quality Tools For Smart Cleaning: Restroom Cleaning System, (2008).
  3. Revolution Bags, Product Lines, php?fuseaction=p0008.&mod=14 (2011).
  4. Michael A. Berry, “The Science of Cleaning,” Prepared for (OS1) Users Symposium, 2006.
  5. Michael A. Berry, “The Science of Cleaning,” Prepared for (OS1) Users Symposium, 2006.
  6. John Walker, “Vacuum Specialist Playbook,” ManageMen, 2010.