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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.

by Mike Sawchuk

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