Custodian Zoran Gligoric learns the nuances of the new, commercial grade floor stripper. More than 400 custodians across campus are being trained now.

Cornell custodians embrace low-odor cleaning products

In a bright but cramped dressing room one floor below the Bailey Hall stage, two teams of Cornell custodians gathered last week for training on the use of new floor products. Some applied a mop full of wax stripper, others grappled with the coarse rotary scrubbers, and a few detailed the room’s corners.

Amid smiles and laughter, the custodians – all in safety glasses, gloves and anti-slip booties – noticed something was missing: odor.

Custodian Patty Armstrong runs a rotary scrubber as she trains by using a new commercial floor stripper – which is free of butyls and ammonia – at a Bailey Hall dressing room.

“We no longer have to strip and wax floors at 3 a.m. to keep people away from odor. We can do our work at any time of day,” said Chris Mott, a purchasing agent in Facilities and Campus Services.

Over the next several weeks, Cornell’s nearly 400 custodians across campus will learn how to use the state-of-the-art SC Johnson Professional floor stripper, floor finish and floor cleaner.

A year ago, Building Care used eight floor-stripping chemical products; now it’s just one. Mott said his group has pared 13 different floor finishing products down to two – depending on the type of floor – and Cornell now has one standard floor cleaner.

“Not only did we reduce the amount of chemicals we use on campus, this floor effort provided us with a start to our standardization efforts as a department,” Mott said.

Two groups of custodians gathered at a Bailey Hall dressing room to be trained on how to use new low-odor floor products throughout campus.

Mott and colleagues had been working in partnership with Johnston Food Service and Cleaning Solutions of Auburn, New York, to find new ways to reduce chemical use in cleaning Cornell’s campus.

Cornell and Johnston found that SC Johnson Professional floor products were free of butyls and ammonia and cleaned floors effectively. A Cornell contingent from Building Care visited the SC Johnson campus in Racine, Wisconsin, last summer to talk with the chemists and understand how the products were developed.

“We wanted to get rid of harsh chemicals, as it’s better for our staff and it’s better for the environment,” said Robin Keith, training coordinator for Facilities and Campus Services, part of the leadership team for the cleaning effort.

Within two years, Bob Pils, director of Building Care, plans to have his department certified by either the Green Seal GS42 cleaning program or the International Sanitary Supply Association’s Cleaning Industrial Management Standard – Green Building.

Said Pils: “We want a safe workspace and environment for everyone who comes into the buildings.”

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Abby Butler