Green cleaners are wonderful, both for our health and the planet’s, but ingredients like baking soda just don’t cut it in a hospital setting, where you need to ensure that bacteria, viruses and other pathogens are dealt with promptly and thoroughly. Question is, are there any environmentally-friendly chemical-free cleaning and disinfecting products and techniques that meet the sanitation needs of a veterinary clinic? The answer is yes, according to many integrative veterinarians.
Small animal hospital
Dr. Margo Roman of Main Street Animal Services of Hopkinton (M.A.S.H.) in Hopkinton, Massachusetts uses a multi-pronged approach to combating pathogens while ensuring her patients and staff are not exposed to harmful toxins. Essential oils, some of which have antiviral and antibacterial properties, play a significant role in the clinic’s cleaning choices.
“Products I use a lot include Mrs. Meyers,” she says. “They have four different essential oils – basil, geranium, lavender and lemon. They’re concentrated liquids that you use per gallon of water. I mix them in a spray bottle and use them for tables and floors.” Dr. Roman also uses products from Earth Friendly. “Sometimes I’ll add extra lavender oil, since it’s antiviral and antibacterial.” Young Living, meanwhile, makes a university-tested product called Thieves that Dr. Roman and her staff find beneficial too. It’s a combination of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils. “When washing my hands between appointments, I use lavender with Thieves.”
“I try and see animals with respiratory conditions such as kennel cough outside the clinic in the clients’ vehicles,” adds Dr. Roman. “But if they do come in, we have a diffuser that we use to clean the air and we’ll put Thieves in that. We also designed the clinic so that each room has access to outside air. I open the windows, close off the rest of the building, use that room to examine the animal and wipe everything down before opening up the room again. I might use a chemical disinfectant once every two years or so. There aren’t any laws for using strong chemicals unless you’re dealing with rabies.” M.A.S.H. also uses ozonated water to clean surfaces. “It’s antibacterial and antivirual,” Dr. Roman says. A Kangen machine is another option she recommends. “I don’t have one myself, but it will change the pH of water to make it more acidic and good for cleaning.” Dr. Roman says using green cleaners is not cost prohibitive, but it is a bit more labor intensive. “It takes a little more effort because you need to screen appointments more carefully to make sure the animal doesn’t have an infectious respiratory condition. If he does, we tell clients to leave the animal in the car.” The products themselves are easy to come by. “They’re accessible to everybody. We order them online so we don’t have to take time to go out and buy them.”
“Cleaning up an equine facility comes with its own set of challenges, similar but different from a small animal veterinary clinic,” says Dr. Hannah Evergreen of Evergreen Holistic Veterinary Care — Equine (EHVC – Equine) in Snohomish, Washington. “We have stalls and treatment areas that we need to disinfect after patients leave, as well as grooming supplies, blankets, halters, leg wraps and the like. There’s also manure management for parasite control.”
Dr. Evergreen’s first line of defence is, quite simply, good old-fashioned water and scrubbing. “First and foremost, a little bit of ‘elbow grease’ goes a long way in keeping an equine facility clean and sterile,” she says. “Removing all organic materials (manure, bedding, dirt, etc.) that tend to come with horses is the first step. Cleansers — even toxic chemical ones — won’t work through organic material. Stalls, barn aisles and the treatment bay are thoroughly cleaned and then scrubbed with water to remove organic material.”
Once this has been done, the areas are ready to be disinfected. What Dr. Evergreen uses for this purpose depends on the situation. “I take the risk of the pathogen into consideration when deciding what to use. For example, cleaning a stall after a horse with something highly contagious like strangles requires extensive disinfecting versus just cleaning.” EHVC – Equine has special quarantine stalls located at the far end of the barn. “These are disinfected with dilute chlorine bleach (one part bleach to four parts water).” Although bleach is not really a green cleaner, Dr. Evergreen says that non-chlorine bleach, while a good cleanser, it not a disinfectant. “And although bleach can cause skin and respiratory irritation if used incorrectly, it breaks down quickly after use and generally is not harmful to the environment at that point.”
“Our resident stalls are cleaned with water, or soap and water — I like the Dr. Bronner’s organic pure castile soap,” Dr. Evergreen adds. “Our office and storage room and treatment surfaces are cleaned with disinfectant sprays. We use Seventh Generation Multi-Surface Disinfecting Cleanser for most things. Other good products we use include Mrs. Meyer’s Cleanser (an alternative to Comet), Simple Green, Biokleen, Citra Solv, or homemade vinegar and water solutions. Tea tree oil, thymol (thyme oil) and vinegar kill bacteria and viruses and are great safe and natural ingredients to look for.
“As for hand washing, research shows that the key ingredient to killing bacteria on your hands is vigorous washing for at least 20 seconds with warm water.” Dr. Evergreen avoids harsh soaps because they can cause the skin to crack and, over time, increase the harboring of bacteria on the hands. “Soap is necessary to remove organic debris, but the way you wash your hands is more important than using antibacterial or chemical soaps. I use Dr. Bronner’s soap and proper hand washing techniques unless I am dealing with a serious known or suspected pathogen, or scrubbing for surgery.”
Like Dr. Roman, Dr. Evergreen implements additional tactics to help with sanitation and reduce or eliminate the need for chemical cleansers. “Keeping pastures, paddocks and stalls picked free from manure twice a day helps us minimize the numbers of parasite and pathogens. We are also careful to minimize the spread of contamination by quarantining new horses and keeping sick horses in specific quarantine areas. We use separate wheelbarrows, muck rakes, halters and grooming equipment for quarantined horses. Our barn is big and open and has excellent natural ventilation. We coordinated stalls so horses that are potentially contagious are at the end of the barn and not sharing air space with the other horses. We also try to manage cases of strangles, rhino, influenza, etc., in the horse’s home environment, if possible, to decrease the risk of spreading these highly contagious diseases to other horses.”
It takes a little extra effort and energy, but using non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cleaners is worth it, both for the well being of your patients, and you and your staff.
Green cleaners and disinfectants
Biokleen, biokleenhome.com Citra Solv, citrasolv.com Dr. Bronner’s, drbronner.com Earth Friendly, ecos.com Mrs. Meyers, mrsmeyers.com Seventh Generation, seventhgeneration.com Simple Green, simplegreen.com Young Living, youngliving.com