Setting the record straight on enzyme-based cleaners

21st of December 2015
Setting the record straight on enzyme-based cleaners

Nico Lemmens in the Netherlands brings news of research into enzyme-based cleaners.

During the last few years we have seen the arrival of new cleansers called ‘probiotics’. It’s a new name for an old product: cleansers on the basis of bacteria (bacterial or microbiological cleaning), well known since 1988. Not all the literature on this subject is objective. That is why VSR, the Dutch Association for Cleaning Research, decided to publish an article to straighten things out.

People usually associate the term ‘bacteria’ with infections and diseases. However most bacteria are not only harmless, but also even useful or indispensible. Without bacteria we would not be able to digest our food. Bacteria are used in water purification and the removal of oil from soil. Such applications led up to the idea of using bacteria in cleaning.

Sometimes it is said that bacteria ‘eat’ dirt or stench. In fact, though, bacteria produce enzymes that do the job. Enzymes are proteins produced by living cells. Different kinds of enzymes perform different functions (destruction of proteins, carbohydrates etc). Enzymes have been used in household detergents for a long time.

In the article VSR wants to straighten things out. Some manufacturers make claims that prove not to stand up to critical analysis. Some of these claims are to be qualified while others are downright incorrect.

One of the claims to be qualified is: ‘bacterial cleansers are able to break down biofilms’. This is true, but only if the film is not too thick and provided that there is enough exposure time. Another one is: ‘bacterial cleansers remove allergens’. This is possible in principle; the question is whether in dry areas the bacteria have enough time to do their work. For that no scientific evidence has been found.

Finally we have this one: ‘bacterial cleansers break down ultra fine dust’. This is not true. Ultra fine dust consists of soot. These are complex synthetic and inorganic materials. Enzymes cannot remove such materials.

The article sums up the following do’s and don’ts.

Apply bacterial cleaning only there were things are continuously wet without either extreme high or extreme low temperatures. In case of new products: always apply tests on a small scale in order to show that the agent is suitable for the purpose.

Ask from manufacturers of bacterial cleansers any relevant risk assessments as well as quality control information (is the product polluted with harmful bacteria?).

Do not mix bacterial cleansers with regular cleansers, especially not with strong acids, alkalines or disinfectants as they destroy the active components. Be very careful when using bacterial cleansers in the presence of very young and very old people, pregnant women and other people with sensitive health conditions. When using spraying techniques, keep people out and make sure the area is sufficiently ventilated before letting people in again. D

o not use bacterial cleansers for disinfecting purposes. Some producers use the term ‘microorganisms’. This is confusing because yeasts, fungi, amoeba and other single-celled organisms are also microorganisms, whereas bacterial cleansers exclusively use bacteria.

Finally: avoid using the term ‘probiotics’, which is reserved for dietary supplements.


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