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What You Need to Know about Bio-Based Cleaners

The BioPreferred program was signed into law in 2002, expanded in 2008, and expanded once again in 2012, this time by an executive order issued by President Obama. The goals of the program are to increase the purchase of bio-based products and their use in the manufacture of a wide variety of products from furniture to toiletries and cleaning supplies and to diminish the use of petroleum, used for making such items as cleaning chemicals.

Although the program is designed specifically for purchasing agents and contractors working for the US government, because of the significant buying power of the federal government, it has resulted in many chemical manufacturers rushing to introduce new bio-cleaners to address the demand. Further, because of the government’s influence and because these products are considered sustainable, many managers of privately owned and operated facilities are now also considering using bio-based cleaning products in place of conventional and green cleaning products.

However, there are a few things managers and other end users should know about bio-based cleaners:

–They are not all alike.

–Their performance can vary.

–They are not all green or sustainable.

–Some fall into their own subcategory, referred to as bio-enzymatic cleaners.

Bio-based cleaners are derived from agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, and even coconuts. Although they are getting more attention today, the first patent for any bio-based product dates back to 1932. Many of these early products were designed for consumer use. But these products have gotten considerably more attention recently because of the growing influence of green cleaning in the professional cleaning industry and the BioPreferred program mentioned earlier.

While the performance of bio-cleaning products has improved significantly, their effectiveness can vary just as with any other cleaning product. Those considering using these products should test two or three from different manufacturers. Sometimes it is also wise to compare the cleaners with conventional cleaning chemicals as well as Green cleaning chemicals. This allows for a more thorough evaluation of the products and helps determine if a bio-cleaning product will work well in a facility.

It is also important to know that not all bio-cleaning products have been proved green by leading green-certification organizations. In fact, some that did meet green certification standards at one time have since lost certification because they were made with H202 with d-limonese, an ingredient now considered an irritant that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Additionally, unless the product meets the criteria of the BioPreferred program mentioned earlier, it cannot necessarily be considered sustainable.

Look for the “marking” of green certification on a product’s label or the BioPreferred program, and—just to verify the product is indeed green certified—ask your distributor or visit the website of the certification organization. The most up-to-date information will likely be online.

Finally, we mentioned earlier that there is a subcategory of bio-cleaners known as bio-enzymatic cleaners. These are formulated with specific enzymes (a type of protein that breaks complex molecules into smaller pieces) and what are termed “good” bacteria that allow them to essentially digest soils. Bio-enzymatic cleaners have shown to be effective cleaning restrooms, locker rooms, and even carpets, and if they are green certified, they’re considered one of the safest cleaning products available.

However, one of their most promising uses has proved to be as an odor eliminator. This is because the enzymes can digest the bacteria causing the odor. What’s more, if kept wet and under certain conditions, they can continue to work as much as 80 hours after application, helping to ensure odor-causing bacteria are thoroughly eradicated.

Overall, the future of bio-cleaning products, including bio-enzymatic products, looks favorable. In recent years, they have become much more cost effective and perform as well as, and in some cases better than, conventional and other Green cleaning chemicals. This gives cleaning professionals and facility managers another piece to add to their arsenal to help clean their facilities in the safest, healthiest means possible.

Mike Sawchuk has been involved with the green and professional cleaning industries for more than 15 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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2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know about Bio-Based Cleaners

  1. Great article! We do not currently use bio-cleaners but looking forward to testing them compared to some of the green cleaning chemicals we use in our arsenal. Thanks for the clarification!

  2. How can we be assured that the plants used as the feedstock for plant-based cleaners (or any bio-based product for that matter) are not competitng with food resources or coming from agriculture that exacerbates global warming (like palm kernal oil, favored for cleaning products due to its long-chain carbon, from plantations on former rainforest land in southeast asia)?

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