Do any of us really stop to question if our cleaning products are truly ‘green’, ‘probiotic’ or ‘eco-friendly’?

With more and more commercial and household cleaning products making environmentally-responsible claims every day, it’s time to dig into the facts and ask manufacturers: ‘Is your cleaning product really eco-friendly?’.

In this guide, we outline what makes a true probiotic or green cleaning product, and what to look out for to ensure you don’t get tricked by misleading claims.

Essentially, most probiotic cleaning products are made up of 3 main components:

Beneficial bacteria – natural cleaners, degrade dirt and keep surfaces cleaner for longer

Surfactants – cleaning agents that offer an immediate clean

Preservatives – required to ensure the product has a long shelf life

With the addition of fragrance, these ingredients make a cleaning product. But the types of bacteria and surfactants used are key to how green your probiotic products really are.

The bacteria

Firstly, it’s important to use bacteria that are in a quiescent spore form – this means the bacteria are essentially asleep when in the solution, and are triggered to germinate into active cells when they are sprayed on to a surface and there is ‘food’ available – food for them, is dirt to us.

Application-specific

Bacteria secrete enzymes, and it’s the enzymes that then breakdown the organic matter (i.e. dirt and grime) into nutrients that the bacteria use to grow and survive. We select specific bacteria strains that produce the correct enzymes for the application. These combined strains form a team of probiotics that produce targeted enzymes that will degrade the type of soiling/dirt commonly found for the application.

The concentration of beneficial microbes

Measured in CFU/g which means ‘colony forming units’ – these are bacteria in spore form. When sprayed on to a surface, they germinate (wake up), multiply and produce enzymes that get to work on breaking down the dirt.

A minimum of ten million beneficial microbes per millilitre (1e7CFU/ml) are required in your in-use cleaning products to form a sufficient concentration when applied to a surface to effectively eliminate dirt and odours. 

The surfactants

These are the cleaning agents that provide an immediate clean whilst the bacteria grow. However, not all probiotic cleaners contain ‘green’ cleaning surfactants. Often, they will contain surfactants that aren’t considered as safe but due to the level that is included in the solution, they don’t require any labelling – diluting a hazardous material to avoid labelling isn’t good for cleaning efficacy but more importantly, those materials end up in the environment so these products certainly shouldn’t be classed as ‘environmentally responsible’.

Substitution of synthetic and petroleum-based ingredients with naturally-occurring or plant derived surfactants can work well with microorganisms and can have apparent life-cycle benefits but issues such as palm oil sources and the overall carbon footprint of raw materials (including air miles) then come in to consideration.

The preservatives

Preservatives are essential for keeping the bacteria in spore form in the cleaning solution and provide the product with a long shelf life.

Similar to surfactants, often non-environmentally responsible preservatives are still used in cleaning products, which again, gives a false statement of eco credentials.

For example, in many cleaning and cosmetic products. preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bronopol and glyoxal are used, some of which can release the known human carcinogen formaldehyde.

Concentrates

Our final ‘buyer beware’ point is on concentrates. Whilst great for reducing plastic waste, once the product is diluted, make sure you have sufficient levels of beneficial bacteria and active cleaning ingredients (i.e. green surfactants) to perform the job.

Be aware of ‘green washing’  tactics. This is when the concentration of harmful chemicals in the products are reduced to below the threshold for hazard and label declaration.

However, they are still present, the environmental issues associated with their production persist and the product may not provide sufficient cleaning efficacy due to the dilute nature of the active ingredients in use.

Make sure ‘eco-friendly’ truly means eco-friendly

There are many products on the market that claim to be eco-friendly because they contain probiotics – but remember there’s more to it than that.

The environmental impact of a product is dependent on the full composition and so the different additives used in cleaning formulas alongside the probiotics must also be carefully considered.

To be truly environmentally responsible, the chemistry and raw materials in your cleaning products must be the right ones.

When developing any product, we refer to our eco-benign® checklist to ensure the raw materials used are all readily biodegradable with a low toxicity profile and are primarily derived from sustainable sources.

Explore more about probiotics


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