Guide to Color-Coding By Cleaning Purpose

Guide to Color-Coding By Cleaning Purpose

Published by Adam Serfas on 4th Aug 2021

Guide to Color-Coding By Purpose

Color-coding by cleaning purpose is an approach that is often used in facilities with one or fewer allergens and in settings that do not have clearly defined zones or a need to color-code by shift. Brewing is a common example industry that tends to go this route.

With a color-coding by cleaning purpose plan, color designation stems from the ways in which different tools are being used for specific cleaning aims. It’s one of the most easily understood plans due to its straightforward correlation from cleaning activities to color-coding assignment but requires careful planning all the same.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a successful color-coding plan for cleaning purpose designation.


The first step in creating a color-coding by cleaning purpose plan is to simply detail your cleaning purposes. At a basic level, a facility might have a set of tools used for cleaning product contact surfaces, another for product proximity surfaces, one for floors and walls, and perhaps one for drains. This would translate to a color assignment for each set.

Some facilities with entirely separate cleaning and sanitizing procedures may choose to use separate colors for designating tools used with those different cleaning processes. At the top level, in this case, you might have one color for cleaning tools and another for sanitizing tools. From there, you may have further color breakdowns across different cleaning tasks and areas.

Pro Tip: Keep things simple.

If at this step you find you’re looking at a long list of cleaning purpose groupings, you need to consider two things:

Are you using the right plan? If you’ve got multiple allergens or potential contaminants in the mix, you might want to consider the option of a color-coding plan that’s specially tailored to that need. If you’ve found that you’re designating groups by specific areas in a facility, you might want to review whether a color-coding by zone approach is better suited for your needs.

Are you going overboard with your groupings? At the end of the day, we color-code cleaning tools to ensure they are used as intended to avoid potential harm or risk as an outcome. In this case, we are looking at cleaning purposes and answering the question of whether a certain tool set is used for different cleaning aims than another. Sometimes those drawing up a plan can get carried away, segmenting off groups that aren’t necessarily needed. The more complicated a color-coding plan is, the harder it is to follow, so keeping things as simple as possible is key.


Once you’ve designated your cleaning purpose groups, you’ll want to consider what your biggest concerns are—from a safety standpoint and from a functionality standpoint.

Most often, this starts with the answer to why you’re looking to implement a color-coding plan in the first place. Other concerns might center around specific contaminant risks, environmental risks, past problems, etc.

Once you’ve noted those facility-wide considerations, you can also run through each of your cleaning purpose sets to take note of specific areas of concern.

Pro Tip: Reference HAACP Plans & Other Facility Safety Documentation

Food-safe facilities can generally reference their HAACP plans to identify and note many of these critical considerations. Brewers often have Good Brewing Practices (GBPs) self-audit notes that can be useful to review as well.


For this next step, take stock of any special considerations that might relate to tools across your groupings. For some facilities, this might relate to high temperatures. Some may use particularly corrosive cleaning agents in certain areas. Some might want a handful of tools to be metal detectable. Listing out these kinds of special needs creates a quick tick list that can be referenced by a purchaser so that these important functionality and environmental considerations aren’t lost in the shuffle when large orders are placed.

Pro Tip: Jot Down Your Functionality Wishes

You’ll want to start by noting needs, but listing wants can be helpful here as well as your product supplier might be able to bring you a solution you weren’t able to find before. If there’s a corner you can’t quite reach for cleaning purposes, if there’s a tool that’s wearing down quickly or if you wish something worked more efficiently, note it at this step. When it comes time to place product orders, run this list by your supplier.


Naturally, many people assume this step would come first in a color-coding plan. It’s actually a best practice to move to this step once you’ve carefully assessed all of your needs. For some, this might mean working backward from the assumed methodology for color assignment as your predetermined needs are what dictate the color selections—not the other way around. Ideally, you want everything that’s relevant to each cleaning purpose to be color-coded. Referencing your full tool list and your previously determined necessities will help you to identify which colors will allow you to meet all of those needs. Needing to rework a color-coding plan can be expensive, so taking the time to get this step right is worthwhile.

The most commonly used colors—and therefore the ones with the most product options—are blue, green, red, yellow, black, and white. Some tools also come in colors like pink, purple, lime green, orange, tan, brown, and gray. It’s important to consider whether your color selections meet your needs now—and potentially what you may need in the future. 

Pro Tip: Consider Contrasting Colors

Utilizing contrasting colors can be helpful on a few fronts. It’s a great idea to use contrasting colors in neighboring cleaning areas or commonly confused cleaning purpose groups to help ensure tools stay put in the area and in the function they are intended to be used. Some food and pharmaceutical processors and manufacturers will often choose colors for a cleaning purpose set that contrast with a product so that a tool or piece of a tool that might have found its way into the product can be more easily spotted.

Pro Tip: Don’t Forget Colorblind Employees

There are several color combinations that are commonly confused by people who are colorblind. Red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and grey, and green and black are the most commonly confused. It’s best to try to avoid these combinations when possible. Utilizing contrasting colors can be helpful on this front as well. Orange and purple, purple and yellow, or blue and yellow are good examples of colorblind-friendly pairs.


Tool storage is an important component of any color-coding plan. Wall racks and shadowboards that are color-coded for each cleaning purpose help to ensure your tools are hygienically stored in the right place every time following use. Having a set storage location for each of your tools makes it easier for employees to remember and follow proper storage protocol. Hygienic storage also helps to meet all of the goals associated with the 5S system in 5S facilities. 

Pro Tip: Choose the storage need that best suits your cleaning processes

There are a number of tool storage options that you can choose from, and it’s important to take the time to evaluate your options here. Shadowboards, in particular, can come in a variety of materials that can better accommodate different needs. Max Duty Aluminum shadowboards can resist chemicals, abrasions, and impacts. An Ultra Aluma-Lite™ shadowboard resists impacts, flexing, vandalism, corrosion, chemicals, abrasions, and is impervious to splashes and wash-downs. FB-X Accu-Shield shadowboards are chemical resistant and can withstand splashes and ammonia wash-downs. It’s possible that your cleaning purpose groupings might benefit from different kinds of storage options depending on the cleaning use. Working with your supplier at this juncture can ensure a more long-lasting and functional storage solution.


Signage that reminds employees of the color-coding plan is another essential component, so it’s important to remember as a budgetary line item. Best practices for color-coding signage are to make sure signage is easily read and highly visible, colorblind-friendly, and available in multiple languages if applicable to multilingual teams. 

Pro Tip: Take Advantage Of Customization Options

Creating custom signage gives facilities the opportunity to tailor the signs to the plan’s needs, to the material that is best suited for the environment, and even offers the option to align the overall design with a company’s brand guidelines.


A color-coding plan is a key operational component of a facility and should be incorporated into the company culture as much as possible—as both an expectation and something employees can feel good about being a part of. Training on the color-coding plan is an ongoing and essential step in this process. It should be done regularly with existing employees and as new employees join the team. It’s also important to evaluate the plan regularly to see what’s working well and what isn’t to consider potential changes. Allowing employees to offer any feedback along the way is a great way to encourage employee buy-in. A color-coding plan is always more likely to be followed by those who feel invested in the process, so it’s essential to invite collaboration and comment.

Pro Tip: Work With HR

Your HR team can help to establish the importance of a color-coding plan from the jump in interviews and during the hiring process. Communicating the importance of the plan early on is a great way to establish its significance as it relates to each and every team member.

HR can also be a great resource for keeping tabs on new employees who require training and on language needs for multicultural teams to accommodate in training sessions and on signage.

Below is an example color-coding by use plan.