doeHealth Care Waste & Toxics Reduction Tips

for small and medium size health care facilities


Health care facilities of any size that provide housekeeping services can benefit from waste reduction and resource efficiency efforts. 


adminReasons for Change

Housekeepers may use cleaning agents, disinfectants, and detergents that contain formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals.  They are also often in charge of collecting, transporting, and overseeing the storage of all wastes generated, including solid, bio-hazardous, and dangerous wastes.  It is important employees learn how to work safely with the products they use and how to use safer alternatives when available.  Because all dangerous waste needs to be collected, stored, and recycled, treated, or disposed appropriately, it pays to reduce the generation of these wastes.

By assessing and implementing one or more of the practices described here and on the accompanying downloadable table, health care facilities can enjoy:

          • Reduced regulatory obligations and oversight

          • Increased safety and reduced risks for patients, staff, visitors and the community

          • Less waste in raw materials, by-products, work space, work flow, and staffing

          • Improved cost control at your health care facility



Opportunities for Action

Specific tips on ways sterilization/reprocessing services can reduce and prevent toxic wastes and resource inefficiencies are listed in this fact sheet’s downloadable/printable table. A sampling of these tips is listed below.

Basic Best Management Practices

  • Use least-toxic products, avoid spills, prepare only needed amount.

  • Follow product mixing instructions – do not mix stronger than recommended.

  • Improve cleaning time and reduce ergonomic workplace injuries by switching to microfiber mops.

  • Recycle glass, cardboard, aluminum cans, scrap wood and metal, etc., whenever possible.



Next Steps to Improve Housekeeping Practices

  • Use only zinc-free floor waxes or strippers.

  • Use tributyltin-free toilet cleaners, disinfection products, and carpet and upholstery cleaners. 

  • Use refillable, automatic soap and lotion dispensers, bulk containers for cleaning chemicals.

  • Avoid using hand soaps with disinfectants (anti-microbial) unless necessary.

  • Use less toxic disinfectants like peracetic acid or hydrogen peroxide.

  • Segregate and store biomedical waste, solid waste, dangerous wastes and recyclables.

  • If you can use them in time, minimize packaging by buying chemicals in bulk and/or concentrated form to dilute at time of use.  Use vendor take-back programs.

  • Investigate quality assurance mobile management systems.




Additional Resources

This resource guide's home page has links to additional fact sheets in this series, plus other useful tools and information from the Washington State Department of Ecology and other experts.

The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive has a Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator to quantify the projected environmental benefits of using green cleaning products.

To see a list of Green Seal certified industrial and institutional cleaners.

To see a list of Green Seal certified floor strippers and finishes.

Eco-Logo has a list of certified green cleaning products.

See how Olmstead Medical Center reduced the number and toxicity of cleaning chemicals and improved efficiency.

Itasca Medical Center did a case study on waste reduction practices.  See how they achieved a 67% cost reduction by switching from disposable to reusable pads (see page six).

For a case study and comparison table on microfiber mopping click here.

Another case study on microfiber mopping can be found here.

Here isa starting list of microfiber mop providers providers.

For a look at safety hazards and possible solutions in housekeeping, see OSHA’s Hospital eTool.

See one example of a quality assurance mobile management system.



This information is brought to you by the Washington Department of Ecology/Toxics Reduction Unit with assistance from the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) . June 2010 (draft 06-23-2010)