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Understanding Chemicals in Surface Cleaning

Commonly in India, housekeepers identify cleaning chemicals for various applications either through their brand or the code number on the bottle. This has been a convenient approach, as it is easy to remember and there is less scope of an error while picking up the chemical for cleaning. It is time supervisors and operation heads start identifying the chemicals through its ingredients, its reaction with surfaces and the cleaning results obtained. Clean India Journal speaks to industry experts about compositions, chemicals and cleaning.

NOTHING COULD be more dangerous, unhealthy, unsafe and fatal than using a chemical on a surface without knowing what it contains. The beauty of cleaning lies in understanding the formulations of the agents that does the trick through a safe and effective reaction with the surface. This is science. It is important to understand the chemistry of cleaning chemicals.

Simply said, “Cleaning is the resultant outcome (reaction) of application of suitable cleaning chemical on the surface in question, as per the desired process.”

“With the knowledge of the ingredient and formulation of the chemical and its impact on the surface would certainly help cleaning professionals to select right chemicals, dilution and application process for best results,” says Nadeem Siddiqui, CEO-Altret Performance Pvt. Ltd. “The customer becoming more aware of chemical formulations and demanding for cost effective and specific need-based solutions can also help to a great extent,” he adds.

Today, there is an increasing demand for cleaning chemicals which are ecofriendly; thus, causing minimal or no harm to the environment.

The word eco-friendly refers to the use of cleaning methods and products with environment-friendly ingredients and procedures which can preserve health as well as environment quality. These chemicals are used in cleaning formulations which are organic in nature and hence the effect on ecology as well as the human body is not detrimental.

As in the case of cleaning, chemicals used for sanitation and hygiene are to be diluted with water before they enter the wastewater system. Together with a variety of substances originating from other processes they inevitably contribute to the pollution of the resource ‘water’. In order to reduce this pollution to an ecologically and economically sustainable extent, wastewater is usually treated in a wastewater treatment (WWT) plant before being released into the water bodies.

“In simpler terms, the products should not increase the waste, should not be harmful and should keep the earth either in a state of equilibrium or with lesser waste. In this context, there is an increased demand on using chemicals, which can be readily biodegraded in the wastewater system and do not increase the carbon footprint,” says Sumeet Verma, Managing Director, Buzil Rossari Pvt Ltd.


Eco-friendly products are biodegradable also, hence use of Alkylpolyglycosides (APGs) is recommended, which are used in
industrial and institutional cleaning formulations. APGs are used to enhance the formation of foams in cleaning formulations and are readily biodegradable.

“Sometimes cost and affordability also play a role in use of eco-friendly chemicals. For example, spraying air fresheners alone in washrooms is not going to solve the problem. Using organic acids in bathroom cleaners with Quats will help sanitize and shine the fixtures. Bathroom cleaners can be acidic in nature with low pH values giving excellent results and enabling removal of hard water stains, soap scum without damaging the fixtures, due to its organic and non-corrosive nature unlike hydrochloric acid,” says Yugesh Naik, Business Head, Alpha Products. 

Several physical, chemical, and biological parameters serve to monitor the proper function of water treatment plants and the overall pollution of wastewater. “They may also be used to quantitatively describe the contribution of a cleaning agent to the chemical load of the wastewater. For this three most informative parameters are mandatorily required and calculated for each product based on its chemical formulations,” Sumeet explains. “Theoretical oxygen demand (ThOD) is a measure of the total content of organic substances. This parameter is correlated with the measure ‘Chemical oxygen demand (COD),’ which plays a central role in wastewater analytics. It indicates the overall load of wastewater with organic substances, which cause oxygen consumption in WWT plants and natural waters and therefore, may lead to malfunction and harmful effects, respectively. ThOD of the wastewater specifies the contribution of the respective product to the organic load of the wastewater resulting from the application and subsequent discharge of a given working solution.

“The biodegradability according to OECD 301 methods and the Regulation on detergents is the second most important criterion. This denotes at which percentage the product is subject to immediate and complete biodegradation in water treatment plants and natural waters.

“Thirdly, the content of phosphates and phosphonates calculated as elemental phosphorus and specified as mg phosphorus per gram of product (P-value). The contribution of phosphates (and, to a lesser extent, phosphonates) originating from washing and cleaning processes leads to eutrophication (over fertilization) of water bodies. In some of the formulations, phosphates and phosphonates perform certain tasks, for which they are compared to possible substitute materials. Preferable options in terms of occupational safety, health and environmental compatibility are the deciding factor while looking for the substitutes for phosphates and phosphonates.

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