Color-code your way to healthier, cleaner facilities

May 4, 2016

Color-code your way to a healthier and cleaner facility

For any facility that operates in an environment where cross-contamination can pose a safety risk, or has cleaning staffs  who include non-native English speakers, switching to a color-coded cleaning system can be important for the overall safety of employees.

The idea behind color-coded cleaning is simple: cloths, mops, brushes and other tools are marked with different colors, each representing a specific use. By clearly delineating certain products for certain areas, workers are less likely to spread germs around, and the system also transcends the language barrier.

While color-coded products have been around for years, they are still a relatively recent addition to the decades-old janitorial industry, and there aren’t established cleaning industry standards for where to use each color. There are, however, some commonly-accepted norms:

  • Blue: general purpose cleaning for low-risk areas, such as mirrors
  • Green: general food processing, serving and bar areas
  • Red: high-risk areas, including toilets, urinals, and floors
  • Yellow and Orange: back-of-house cleaning and washroom surfaces
  • Black or Gray: front-of-house cleaning.
  • Purple: food settings to indicate the presence of allergens

Food service facilities managers often color code sections of the building. For example, in a grocery store, red is for meat departments, blue for seafood, yellow for bakery and green for produce.

Also common are color-coded microfiber cloths, which are quickly replacing cotton and other materials, due to microfiber’s ability to get even microscopic-sized materials off of surfaces.


A recent source of concern in healthcare facilities is the spreading of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) via janitors: An infected person touches something, then a janitor picks up the virus or bacteria on a cloth or mop, and inadvertently transfers it from area to area while cleaning.

Color-coded wipes and tools dramatically reduce this problem by restricting the chance of cross contamination. For example, a mop that is color-coded for the restroom—which can house 80 percent of a facilities’ germs—won’t be used in other areas of the building.

Breaking the language barrier

The other major reason for the recent popularity of color-coded products is the increase of janitorial workers who speak English as their second language. As Phil Carrizales, of Acme Paper Supply in Savage, Maryland, puts it, “Instead of having to remember 30 or 40 different things, you can just say, ‘This area is red and this area is blue.’”

Other facilities have added wall charts for janitorial closets and flip cards for carts to reinforce the process with simple visual cues. For example, next to a dispenser with four chemicals, a manager might hang a chart with very basic drawings to indicate where each color-coded chemical is used, such as a mirror for the blue cleaner. Then, the janitor’s cart could have illustrated flip cards for how to use each tool and with which chemicals.

 Color-coded costs

Switching to a color-coded system, however, requires buying multiples of every product to have sets in each color, which can represent a large initial cash outlay. But when you consider that this investment can prevent a disaster that can cost a facility tens of thousands of dollars, that outlay seems worthwhile.

If your facility can’t afford to immediately change over to a color-coded system, consider phasing items over time. Start with inexpensive items like microfiber cloths and work your way up to the tools and chemicals.

Once you make the transition to color-coded cleaning, you will have a system in place that can prevent serious contamination and be easily understood by new employees, from all walks of life.

For more guidance on improving the cleaning of your healthcare facility, contact Vanguard Resources.


Adapted from a series of articles on

Guarantee Healthier Facilities With Color-coded Commercial Cleaning Supplies