Chemical pollution is one of the planetary boundaries, and a widespread and diverse problem. Modern industry has introduced thousands of ‘novel entities’ into nature, often with little advance study of what the effects might be, let alone what might happen when they interact with each other.
There have been some obvious and notorious examples, such as leaded petrol or neo-nicotinoid pesticides, but most of us use chemicals everyday without thinking too much about it. They are there in our shampoo and shower gels, or our washing up liquid and detergents.
Cleaning products rely on chemicals to kill germs and create a sterile environment. That’s the theory that most of us are used to, but it’s not natural. Nothing in nature is sterile. We might need that for medical equipment, but blitzing all living things with chemicals seems like an unnecessarily high bar for our homes. If we’re doing it with chemicals that are harmful to us and to the natural environment, that’s actually pretty perverse.
Probiotic cleaning products are an alternative proposition: what if we used bacteria as a cleaning product instead? There are, after all, useful and harmful bacteria. Our own bodies are full of the good kind, and we’re familiar with the benefits of ‘probiotic’ foods and drinks.
The company We are Probiotic has developed a range of cleaning sprays based on beneficial bacteria. Spray them on, and ‘nature’s nanotechnology’ will feed on pollutants and suppress more harmful bacteria. It’s a natural and organic way of cleaning that is not only non-toxic, but actually better for healthy indoor air, and reduces allergies and asthma.
They’re not the first to do it, but what I like about We Are Probiotic is that they brew the active ingredients, which then need to be diluted in water to make the spray. So they just sell the sachets, and save on shipping water about. You can buy a spray bottle once, and from then on order sachets to top up. It’s a big saving in plastic waste and energy.
What’s it like to actually use? We are Probiotic sent me a sample kit, with three different spray bottles and the probiotic concentrate to add to them. I poured them in – it looked kind of like olive oil, and topped them up with water. There’s no scent – you can add it yourself with essential oils if you’re so inclined.
I used an air and fabric freshener, which seems to work on fabrics, though I don’t normally use these and don’t have much to compare it to. There’s no fragrance to it, which is a bit strange, and I realise that’s mostly psychological. I might add something to it and try that one again.
My daughter and I cleaned the kitchen floor with the ‘hard floor spray’, and it was nice to be able to trust her with a spray bottle that was entirely benign. That worked well and I might order that one again when I’ve run out. I wasn’t quite so convinced about the multi-surface spray. I use an Ecover one and it has to cut through grease as well as kill germs. The probiotic one just seemed to make things wet.
I have no idea about the science of probiotic cleaners. Studies have investigated their use in specific contexts such as hospital cleaning and dental care, and the results seem to be promising. I’d like to see more research on them at home. With the threat of antibiotic resistance, planetary boundaries, and the fact that many of us live with poor indoor air quality and over-exposure to chemicals, we need to challenge the culture around cleaning. Probiotic cleaners have got to be worth a try, and I’d be interested to know what others think about them, or whether you have any experience with them.