A chemical reaction

20th of June 2022
A chemical reaction
A chemical reaction

The need for sustainable solutions has become a key driver in cleaning. But at the same time, Covid-19 has heightened demand for sanitised, germ-free public spaces. So how are these contrasting requirements impacting on the chemicals sector, asks Ann Laffeaty?

TWO KEY TOPICS have dominated the cleaning industry in recent years: the need for sustainable systems and the urgent requirement for Covid-beating solutions.

The global pandemic has inevitably raised interest in products that are effective against germs and viruses. But at the same time, companies are increasingly striving to reduce their environmental impact. How have these two trends affected the chemicals sector? Has the market for chemicals grown, and can a product successfully combine germ-busting power with a low environmental footprint?

Demand for Hagleitner’s chemical products began to increase in January 2020 when reports of Covid-19 first started to emerge, according to the company’s chemist and disinfection specialist Kerstin Heine.

“Pocket hand sanitisers were particularly popular at this time since these could easily be distributed to visitors at fairs and events,” she said. “Then between February and April 2020, demand for touchless hand sanitiser dispensers exploded. And this caused the market for active substances such as ethanol and isopropanol to go through the roof, with demand for surface sanitisers also growing as a consequence.”

However, the repeated lockdowns have led to market fluctuations, she says. “Nevertheless, demand for disinfectants still remains at a higher level than it did before the coronavirus outbreak began,” says Heine.

The reason for this is simple in her view. “Disinfectants are meant to be used preventatively in order to avoid the transmission of germs,” she says. “Once an infection spreads it will inevitably lead to substantial costs along with human suffering.”

According to Heine, customers have increasingly been asking Hagleitner about the efficacy of its disinfectants against Covid-19. “However, in order to combat coronaviruses a disinfectant does not actually need to be strong: it simply has to pass the EN 14476 test which confirms its effectiveness against non-enveloped viruses such as MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-1 and HIV.” she says.


While interest in virus-killing products has been on the rise, demand for eco-friendly products has grown too - particularly in the public procurement sector, she says. But she adds that the term “sustainable disinfectant” is something of a misnomer.

“Detergents can be eco-friendly, but disinfectants can’t,” said Heine. “One cannot legitimately describe a disinfectant as environmentally friendly because it needs to have a biocidal effect, and bacteria are living organisms and part of our biological environment.”

However there are several factors that can improve a disinfectant’s sustainability, she adds. “For example, it is increasingly common for active substances such as aldehydes and chlorine-containing compounds to be substituted with alternatives that have a more favourable environmental health profile,” she said. “A disinfectant will also be more sustainable if it is highly concentrated and cannot be dosed incorrectly - either because it is dosed automatically or if it comes pre-portioned in a water-soluble, plastic-free foil.

“And ideally, disinfectants will either decompose into water and oxygen on their way to the water purification plant or evaporate owing to their high alcohol content.”

She says it is perfectly possible for a detergent to be both sustainable and highly effective. ”A detergent will be considered sustainable if it is highly concentrated and mixed automatically with the appropriate amount of water via a dosing system on site,” she said. “This avoids the need for water to be transported in trucks and reduces carbon emissions.

“And other factors that need to be considered include the way in which the raw materials are generated, the biodegradability of the product and the relationship between the packaging and the contents.”

Hagleitner offers disinfectants for use on hands and surfaces. These are said to be highly concentrated, contain active substances and decompose into water and oxygen after use.

Infection control awareness is currently at an all-time high according to Jangro’s ceo Joanne Gillard.  “At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, demand rocketed and supplies struggled to keep up,” she said. “Two years on and the supply chain is back on an even keel. But the high demand still remains - and driving this demand is the fact that end-users’ expectations of cleanliness and hygiene are now higher than ever.”

Infection prevention

Chemicals that combat harmful bacteria and germs play a critical role in infection prevention strategies, she says. “Many Covid-19 restrictions are now lifting but the virus is still here, which
means there are many more spaces in use by the public – and these need to be kept clean and safe,” said Gillard. “So there is a requirement for the repeated sanitising of desks in classrooms and other high touchpoint surfaces in leisure and retail facilities.”

Preventing the spread of the virus has been a high priority among businesses wishing to protect their staff and the wider public, she says. “As a result there has definitely been a growing interest in disinfectants and sanitisers that are scientifically proven to be effective against Covid-19.”

However, she believes an increasing demand for sustainable solutions has developed in tandem with the push for enhanced hygiene. And she adds that sustainability does not begin and end with the product itself. “Businesses need to adopt more environmentally-friendly processes and systems in terms of packaging, transportation, wellbeing and ethics as well as a corporate approach to emissions, waste, and water,” she said.

New from Jangro is the ntrl range of eco-friendly natural cleaning products made from plant-based formulas. These are said to be 100 per cent biodegradable, contain no petrochemicals and are housed in packaging that is both recycled and recyclable.

Increased demand

Like other companies, Kärcher noted a significant increase in demand for disinfectants and cleaning agents at the start of the pandemic, says detergent product manager Jens Groth. “Over the course of 2021 the situation returned to normal and demand settled at a slightly higher level than prior to the Covid crisis,” he said.

“Hygiene concepts that are typically found in healthcare are now being adopted in all kinds of public spaces. Facility services has become all about infection prevention and new hygiene protocols are being established in many industries including hospitality, education and public transport. And these standards can only be met by means of more frequent cleaning combined with the disinfection of high-touch surfaces.”

He claims the issue of sustainability was forced to take a back seat when the pandemic began. “Before that the topic had been gaining in importance,” he said. “But in 2020, customers wanted to be sure that they were safely eliminating coronaviruses from their environment and there was a high demand for solutions that were effective against Covid-19. But today’s customers are increasingly looking for sustainable solutions as well.”

He says disinfectants are critical to the environment by default because they are designed to kill organisms. “We recommend their use where hygiene is required, but we also suggest customers should continue to focus on sustainable cleaning practices that minimise the use of water and energy while also improving productivity and process safety,” he said,

Described as environmentally friendly, Kärcher’s eco!perform line of cleaning agents can be used for various tasks including surface and sanitary cleaning, glass polishing and floor cleaning.

Dennis Rawlins also noted a rapid rise in sales of cleaning chemicals when Covid-19 first hit according to managing director James White. “Many people believed that only the harshest, alcohol-based chemicals had the power to beat the virus, and this meant demand significantly increased as the world became more hygiene-conscious,” he said.

“But when you actually look at the hierarchy of pathogens, SARS-CoV-2 is pretty low down the list which makes it relatively easy to kill. In fact, soap and water will do the trick so there is no need to opt for harsh chemicals in the fight against Covid-19.”


According to White, an over-reliance on disinfectants can be counterproductive in any case. “Disinfectants become increasingly ineffective over time and there is a real danger that they could increase bacterial resistance,” he said. “And although disinfectants may kill most bacteria, they don’t remove them. Dead microbes are then left behind on the surface where they act as a food source for the next wave of bugs along with any surviving germs.”

Denis Rawlins’ GermErase is said to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 plus a broad range of other pathogens in less than 30 seconds. It is available as a multi-surface cleaning spray, a hand spray and in hand wipe form.

As the world returns to a post-Covid normality there has been a resurgence in pre-pandemic commitments to sustainability, according to White.

“Increasing numbers of business owners are demanding that their partners support their sustainable commitments by using products and processes that are kind to the environment,” he said. “They understand that traditional practices are unsustainable.

“However, there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between efficacy and sustainability – there are products on the market that can achieve both.”

Hagleitner’s Heine concurs. “Sustainability is by no means a new theme, but it is growing in importance as the world unites to tackle climate change,” she said. “As we continue to live with the threat of Covid, businesses are seeking products that are not only environmentally friendly but are also highly effective and competitively-priced. It’s a fine balancing act but with industry innovation, it is definitely achievable.”


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