Housekeeping Tips from the EPA I-BEAM Program

Sources of dirt and dust can be internal or external. Internal sources include human and animal dander, the breakdown of materials and furnishings, plants, building activities such as cooking and printing, smoking, and cleaning materials such as powders, finishes, and solvents. External sources include dirt brought in from pedestrian traffic, diesel or bus exhaust, as well as airborne dust and chemical contaminants outside the building.

Housekeeping both cleans and has the potential to pollute the indoor environment. This is why the choice of materials and methods is crucial to indoor air quality.

A housekeeping program is more than just a cleaning program. It involves:

What is I-BEAM?


I-BEAM is a guidance tool designed for use by building professionals and others interested in indoor air quality in commercial buildings. I-BEAM is a comprehensive (and free) state-of-the-art guide for managing IAQ in commercial buildings. I-BEAM contains text, animation/visual, and interactive/calculation components that can be used to perform a number of diverse tasks.


You can access the free I-BEAM guidance modules here:



  • Actions to prevent dirt from entering the environment as well as its removal once it is there.
  • Choices of products and methods that minimize the introduction of pollutants into the environments that the housekeeping program is designed to clean.
  • Tasks designed for health and safety as well as tasks designed for appearance.
  • Training, negotiating, and monitoring performance.

Economics of an IAQ Housekeeping Program

There is little difference in cost between a standard cleaning program and one which is designed to improve IAQ. Some elements of an IAQ housekeeping program increase costs and some decrease costs. Hence, the costs are generally the same. However, in the long run, the costs of an IAQ housekeeping program are likely to be lower for many reasons. Factors include:

  • The IAQ program requires more diligent choice of material and methods, and training which increases cleaning costs.
  • The IAQ program pays attention to methods of keeping dirt out and preventing cleaning problems. This decreases cleaning costs.
  • The IAQ program extends the life of carpet and furnishings. This decrease in cost is directly attributable to the improved cleaning regime.
  • The principles and processes for cleaning for indoor air quality, while not substantially different, can make a large difference in the indoor environment.

Stewardship Principles
(See ASTM Standard E1971-98: Standard Guide for Stewardship for Cleaning of Commercial and Institutional Buildings.)

Underlying any housekeeping program should be a set of principles that define the way in which the housekeeping program will be structured and managed. These principles should reflect a recognition that housekeeping services are designed to improve the indoor environment, but have the capacity to degrade it if not performed properly. Useful stewardship principles might include:

  • Clean for health and safety first, not just for appearance: Appearances can be deceiving. Dirt, film, grime and other contaminants that can’t be seen should nevertheless be cleaned because pollution will migrate and diminish indoor air quality in all parts of the building.
  • Protect workers from hazardous working conditions: Such protections include providing adequate ventilation, personal protective equipment, proper labeling, and proper mixing areas and procedures.
  • Encourage participation and communication: Cleaning personnel, occupants, and contractors should participate in the development, implementation, and refinement of the program. Occupants should understand how their actions, such as leaving food debris, impact the indoor environment and the cleaning process.
  • Invest in people and equipment: Cleaning personnel should be well trained. Equipment should be capable of performing the tasks in manner that protects the indoor environment.
  • Recognize the impact of cleaning wastes on the outdoor environment: Proper handling and disposal of medical waste according to applicable codes and regulations is important. Regulations governing proper disposal of non-medical hazardous materials such as chemical cleaners should also be followed.

Elements of a Housekeeping Program

A housekeeping program is a process involving more than just cleaning the building. Elements of the program are:

  • Methods to reduce the introduction of dirt into the environment to be cleaned
  • Identification of the cleaning tasks and performance requirements
  • Definition of (and periodic reassessment of) cleaning products, equipment, and procedures
  • Training of cleaning personnel
  • Proper mixing, disposal and storage methods
  • Provisions to protect workers from housekeeping emissions
  • Provisions for timing certain tasks to minimize occupant exposures
  • Inspection and monitoring of the cleaning process

Principles to Cleaning for Indoor Air Quality

Keep Dirt Out

  • Clean outside the building, especially near entry ways, so that less dirt is traveled into the building.
  • Use barrier mats (walk off mats) on all entry ways, including pedestrian entrances, loading docks, receiving areas, freight entrances, garages into the building. The barrier mats are designed to trap dirt and keep it out of the building. Barrier mats should be long enough that everyone entering the building should be taking five full steps on the mat.
  • Use deep and frequent cleaning of carpet in heavily used areas. Especially in entryways, as dirt accumulates it migrates further into the building. These areas should receive thorough cleaning daily, or more frequently as needed.
  • Keep dirt and other pollutants away from outdoor air intake.
  • Restrict smoking.
  • Isolate interior polluting sources using exhaust fans and pressure control.
  • Upgrade HVAC filters and change regularly.

Use Maximum Extraction, Minimum Polluting Equipment and Methods

  • Deep clean carpets at regular intervals.
  • Thoroughly vacuum using high efficiency filtration bags.
  • Use only floor machines with vacuum capability.
  • Avoid carpet treatments with sticky residues.
  • Use lint free dusting cloths. Avoid dusters that don’t capture dust (e.g., feather dusters).
  • Avoid aerosol sprays.
  • Use toggle top chemical dispensers or trigger spray directly onto cloth.
  • Use vacuum dust skirts on floor machines.

Choose Low Polluting Products

  • Use MSDS sheets to select “environmentally preferable” products. Minimize volatile organic compounds.
  • Choose products with a moderate PH (between 5 and 9). Minimize use of ammonia, chlorine, and volatile acids, and other products that are corrosive, or reactive with other cleaning products.
  • Minimize use of aerosols or particle cleaners as they may become airborne.

Thoroughly Dry Wet Carpet or Other Porous Material After Spills or Cleaning

  • Wet or damp materials are a breeding ground for mold.
  • Thoroughly dry material after a water spill immediately. If not dried within 24 hours, the material may have to be discarded.
  • Thoroughly dry after wet process cleaning.

Properly Mix and Store Housekeeping Products in a Ventilated Room or Closet

  • Follow protocol for storing any chemical product in room or closet exhausted to the outside and under negative pressure, with no opening to the return air plenum.

Train Housekeeping Personnel

  • Train all housekeeping personnel before they are allowed to participate in the cleaning operation. One improper application of a chemical product, or failure to use a dust-controlling wipe or process can contaminate a whole environment and create problems.
  • Training should include developing an appreciation for the role the person plays in creating and maintaining a healthy environment in addition to training on equipment, materials and methods.

Scrutinize Contractors

  • Many buildings will use a housecleaning contractor.
  • Negotiate contracts laying forth the principles outlined in I-BEAM to insure that the housekeeping plan supports IAQ in the building.

Monitor Results

  • Monitor the results of housekeeping tasks to insure that the building is kept clean as required.
  • Monitor the actual performance of tasks to insure that the tasks are performed as required.
  • Monitor the complaints and reactions of building occupants.
  • Do not tolerate deviations from good practices. Good indoor air quality depends on diligence in following these performance guidelines.
  • Keep good records of what is cleaned, how it is cleaned, and when it is cleaned.

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. At laboratories located throughout the nation, the agency works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand and solve current and future environmental problems.