Microbial cleaning products: an inventory of products, potential risks and applicable regulatory frameworks


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ABSTRACT - Microbial cleaners are cleaning agents containing bacteria. These can be cleaning agents for use in and around the home, as well as personal care products for cleaning your skin or hair. Examples are all-purpose cleaners and shampoo with added bacteria. The bacteria are for example added because they produce enzymes that can break down dirt or stains. The packaging of microbial cleaners often states that the product is safe, natural and free of chemicals.

RIVM has carried out a general survey of which microbial cleaners are offered for sale in the Netherlands. In total, 92 products were identified. For each product, information was collected about which type of bacteria it contained and how it should be used. RIVM prepared this overview at the request of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority (NVWA). The goal was to obtain more insight into these products, what they are used for and their potential health risks.

Microbial cleaners may be covered by different pieces of legislation. For example by the legislation for cleaning agents (detergents), for personal care products (cosmetics), or for agents that are used to combat harmful organisms (biocides). Specific safety requirements on bacteria in microbial cleaners are only set in the legislation on biocides. Appropriate legislation is therefore necessary when examining the safety of these cleaners.

If people come into contact with bacteria from a microbial cleaner, they can develop symptoms such as a skin rash or an allergic reaction as a result. In order to assess the safety of a microbial cleaner, information is needed about the characteristics of the bacterial species that it contains. Information is also needed on how people come into contact with the bacteria and how frequently this occurs. For many microbial cleaners, this information is not available because there is no adequate legislation requiring this. It is therefore more difficult to assess the rsk. The manufacturer is always responsible for ensuring that a product is safe. 


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