The Use of Bacteria for Cleaning

The Use of Bacteria for Cleaning

Sustainability and green cleaning are terms that are growing in importance in the wider world, coupled with demand from tighter environmental regulations and pressure from an informed public (and uninformed public), cleaning chemicals are evolving. The impact of certain cleaning chemical ingredients to the environment and to our own health has focused the attention of manufacturers to provide safer options. Some of these chemical ingredients include: Alkylphenol ethoxylates (now banned), phosphate builders in laundry detergents and even the green-solvent alternative, d-limonene (Citrus oil), which is known to be very toxic to fish and a powerful skin irritant.

In each one of these examples, the focus of concern has been the end point of the use, that is once the product has been used what happens to the waste? For example Alkylphenol ethoxylates naturally breakdown (biodegrade) in the environment as a series of intermediate steps, it has been studied extensively over the years and there is evidence that an Endocrine Disrupter is formed in one of those steps. i.e they mimic the action of estrogen and can potentially distrupt the metabolism and the reproduction and development processes of humans and animals.

Biodegradation: A Completely Natural Process

In an effort to address this concern, bacteria harvested from natural sources are adopted to speed up the natural process of biodegradation, leaving very little toxic by-products. Bacteria are everywhere and on every surface (if it hasn’t been sanitised) and the vast majority are completely harmless, in fact a large majority are very beneficial to us. Normally bacteria are suppressed from reproducing and colonising by the absence of the right environmental conditions and the presence of food, but once these conditions are met bacteria flourish. It is very important to address the fact that bacteria can produce toxic by-products from harmless products, the example of alkylphenol ethoxylate is a good example. So, bacteria would need to complete the biodegradation process to full mineralisation, that is the complete destruction of the chemical, leaving just water and carbon dioxide plus a few trace minerals.

Capabilities of Specific Bacteria

So by employing bacteria within a cleaning product, we can harness the capabilities of specific bacteria to degrade greases, fats and other soilings found on surfaces, without needing any corrosive or potentially dangerous chemicals. But it doesn’t just stop there, bacteria, once activated by the right conditions, will continue to degrade the soilings even after the cleaning operation has finished (as long as no disinfectants are used). Bacteria are small enough to penetrate the pores and cracks of many hard surfaces, corners, seams and grout and continually work on degrading soiling. This way, the bacteria will work on residual soiling that would have released malodours in the environment, and so provide an effective odour-control.

Bacteria in Hard Surface Cleaners

Bacteria has been shown to be effective for use in all hard surface cleaning products, including floor cleaning, carpet cleaning and all round the toilet and bathroom. One particularly good application is around the toilet and removing those urine odours from around the area (usually left by careless men!). All that is needed is to clean the area with bacteria, leave it and repeat the process as part of your normal routine. That way you are topping up the bacteria on the surfaces and especially in the corners and grout.

Pet and Human Stains on Carpets And Funiture

Pet and human stains (including blood and any other bodily fluids) on carpets and fabrics are a difficult problem. The fluids absorb deep into the material and through to the backing, trapping the soiling and making the clean up very difficult. Bacteria, when correctly formulated with detergents, penetrate the fabrics and start to degrade the soiling on contact, but continue to do so long after the initial cleaning has finished.

Free-flowing Drains and Grease Traps

Outside of hard surface cleaners, bacteria are particularly effective in keeping drains and grease traps unclogged and free-flowing. As we pour liquid greases, fats and oils down the sink, even wash water from rice and pasta, they cling to the sides of the drains and slowly build up over time. Adding bacteria down the sink as part of a daily routine, the bacteria rapidly degrade the soilings and prevent blockages. For commercial operations like restaurants, the law requires grease traps and the maintenance of them is mandated by food hygiene regulations, so by adopting bacteria to work and work continuously through out the entire drainage system this will prevent costly shutdowns.

A Word of Warning

However, when bacteria are used in any of the applications presented here and many more that haven’t been mentioned, there must be careful control of any other cleaning products used as bacteria is susceptible to biocides and preservatives. This especially applies to drain and grease trap applications as bleach or other powerful disinfectants are often used with little regard; the bacteria will be killed off and the whole drainage system will need to be flushed through before bacteria can be reintroduced, then it will take a number of days to get established.

Also bacteria cannot be used where validation of cleaning processes, through bacterial contamination testing, is conducted. This is now commonly done with ATP testers, replacing the old swab and culture method. Clearly, introducing bacteria into hard surface cleaners with the bacteria residing on the surfaces afterwards will produce a false positive bacterial contamination.

Rafael Cobos