Understanding Green Cleaning ‘Hybrids’
While they have been in limited use for more than 30 years, mostly for consumer cleaning, what some call “hybrid” cleaning products — commonly known as oxygen-based, bio-based, bio-enzymatic, or bio-renewable products — are making more and more headway into the professional cleaning industry.
Before going into the reasons for this growing popularity, let’s discuss what these hybrids are, how they are used, and whether they are green. Bio-cleaners are typically derived from agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, coconuts, and citrus. Because they are made from renewable sources, they may be the ultimate in sustainable cleaning chemicals, if they have also been certified, proven safer for people and the environment.
Some bio-cleaners are bio-enzymatic cleaners. In addition to being made from agricultural products, bio-enzymatic cleaners are also formulated with specific enzymes as well as aerobic bacteria (bacteria requiring oxygen to survive) and anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that require little or no oxygen to survive) that essentially “eat” living soils.
Oxygen cleaners are another type of bio-cleaner. These contain primarily hydrogen peroxide along with surfactants and/or other ingredients. Because of the hydrogen peroxide, some oxygen cleaners, if they have EPA (US) or Health Canada/DIN (Canada) Registration, can be used for disinfecting.
While bio-enzymatic cleaners may be used to eat soils such as bacteria that cause odors and oxygen cleaners may be used to help sanitize and disinfect surfaces where they have EPA or DIN Registration, overall, bio-cleaners can be used as alternatives to most cleaning chemicals, green or conventional.
Depending on how they are diluted, bio-cleaners can be used for such things as:
- Cleaning and spotting carpets
- Cleaning hard-surface floors
- Removing grease and grime from hard surfaces
- Cleaning restroom fixtures
- Doing all-purpose cleaning
- Polishing stainless steel
Some are even used for stripping floors, which serves as an indication of just how powerful bio-cleaners can be. In fact, a Massachusetts hospital tested eight different bio-cleaners used for stripping floors and found that all eight surpassed the effectiveness of the conventional floor chemical strippers that were then being used in the facility. And further evaluations found that all eight products had a reduced impact on the environment when compared to conventional floor strippers.
However, this leads us to a clarification that must be made about bio-cleaning products. While they can offer a greener and more sustainable way to clean all kinds of surfaces in a facility, they are not all green certified. Only some bio-cleaners have been proved sustainable by such organizations as Green Seal, EcoLogo, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for Environment Program. Just as with other green cleaning chemicals and products, managers must look for the eco-label on the product to ensure the bio-cleaner they are selecting is indeed proven green.*
So why are these hybrid cleaners garnering more attention today than they did, say, 25 years ago? One reason relates to what we just discussed: many have now been certified and proved sustainable. This means they may be used as part of a green cleaning program, especially in those properties seeking to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.
Another reason involves price and performance. As the price for these hybrid cleaners has come down, their effectiveness has improved. New technologies developed over the past few years have significantly improved these products, including developing ways to make them more cost effective.
However, the big catalyst making bio-cleaners so much more prominent in professional cleaning is the US Department of Agriculture BioPreferred program created in 2002. The program requires that a certain percentage of all cleaning products purchased for use in federal facilities be bio-cleaners registered in the Bio-Preferred Program. The program was developed to help promote the use of these products in all federal facilities around the world, create new jobs, reduce US dependence on foreign oil, promote sustainability, and help reduce cleaning’s impact on the user and the environment.
The program received a boost in 2009 when President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13514, which encourages the purchase and use of bio-cleaners in Federal facilities wherever and whenever possible. The goal of the order is for the US government to “lead by example” by setting sustainability performance standards and selecting products that are derived from renewable resources and have less negative impact on health and the environment.
And the program is working. More and more bio-cleaners are now available for professional cleaning, and, even more important, more have been independently tested, proven sustainable, and registered in the Bio-Preferred Program.
While they will likely not entirely replace green and/or conventional cleaning products, it is expected that bio-cleaners will find their niche in professional cleaning. For instance and as expected, we are finding government facilities, school districts, and educational facilities big markets for bio-cleaners. What green-certified bio-cleaners offer facility managers is another alternative to keep their facilities clean and healthy while at the same time protecting the health of cleaning workers, building users, and the environment.
*Some bio-cleaners contain d’limonene as a key cleaning agent, which prevents them from being Green certified. D-limonene—can be a skin and respiratory irritant and cause allergic reactions for some people.
Mike Sawchuk has been involved with the green and professional cleaning industries for more than 20 years. He is vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, a leading manufacturer of proven-green cleaning chemicals based in Ontario, Canada.
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