While the Covid-19 scare prompted many companies to produce and buy cleaning agents that claimed to kill viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, microbiologists and other scientists have warned that the explosion of antimicrobials during and after the pandemic will lead to further antimicrobial resistance, which is a global public health concern. They can also have negative effects on human health as many of them are genotoxic. Antibiotic development has in the past saved millions of lives, but their abuse, misuse, and overuse is leading to the opposite effect.
Mabel’s All-Purpose Cleaner is suitable for kitchen spaces because it is an aquatic-based, botanically-derived formula. One of its ingredients, lauramine oxide, is environmentally preferable because it is derived from coconuts, is toxic to harmful microorganisms without being toxic to humans, and can work in anaerobic (without oxygen) environments such as in drains. Lauramine oxide does not contribute to indoor air halogenated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or pose carcinogenic risks like bleach-containing cleaners. Another ingredient, citric acid, has a wide spectrum of uses and is even safe to ingest. As a cleaner, it’s gentle enough to clean two hundred year old works of art, but strong enough to earn its classical green status as a corrosion inhibitor for carbon steel. Citric acid is so central to the metabolism of both the plant and animal kingdom that it is in no way a foreign substance to life on earth, yet it can still be used in high-tech industrial applications for chelation, pH regulation, buffering, and so much more. Inside the body in the form of Vitamin C, citric acid is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals, so much so that space scientists study its properties to be used to fight radiation damage in astronauts! Indeed, it is a cleanser both inside and outside of the body.
What is equally, if not more, important about Mabel cleaners is what is not found in its formulations. Unlike many phosphate-based detergents that find their way into aquatic ecosystems, Mabel cleaners are phosphate-free. Phosphates are deleterious to the environment, which has been known at least since the 1950s, as many scientific publications since then have shown that they contribute to algal blooms. When algae and cyanobacterial populations become overabundant due to excessive inputs such as phosphates, they eventually die, which removes oxygen from the aquatic environment and kills fish.
If you compare a similar cleaner from Ecolab, their Keystone Multi-Quat Sanitizer is corrosive and has the signal word ‘Danger’, which is stronger than the label ‘Warning’. It is acutely eye, skin, and orally toxic, giving it a high HMIS (US Hazardous Materials Identification System) Health rating of 3. Environmentally, it is very toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. As its name suggests, their sanitizer contains quaternary ammonium compounds. Also known as quats or QACs, quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked with asthma, allergies, and dermatitis. They do not demonstrate a greater cleaning benefit justifying their risks than more health-friendly alternatives. Quats have been a major contributor to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, limiting treatment options for life-saving medications in the future. Quaternary salts, as they are also known, have also demonstrated potent mutagenic properties. As is true with many things, it is not necessary to be harsh in order to be powerful.
How can a cleaner that is environmentally harmless and safe for humans actually clean well? All life forms, including plants, animals, and fungi, produce antimicrobial peptides to prevent and fight infection. Many substances found in nature have powerful properties. The lauramine oxide in Mabel cleaners is a good surfactant. Meaning that it can reduce the surface tension of liquids and help dirt, fats, and food particles adsorb onto wiping materials or be flushed away, all while being mild on the skin due to its low protein and lipid solubilization. Naturally-derived glucosides such as decyl glucoside that are also in the cleaners work in tangent with the other ingredients to increase the surfactant properties. Only very small amounts are needed to do most cleaning jobs. So, there is little necessity to saturate surfaces with products in order to clean them, which saves businesses’ operating costs.
Ingredients in Mabel cleaners work so well largely because they have both anionic and nonionic properties that facilitate attraction to molecules with both positive and negative charges, which allows various types of messes to be wiped or flushed away. This is also a time-saver because less time is spent scrubbing and washing. Saving labor is a critical component for food businesses. Additionally, less resources are used in the form of wipes and water.
An ethical business furthermore should take care that workers are not exposed to harsh cleaners that can trigger asthma. A large study published in the National Institutes of Health found that professional cleaners and those exposed to cleaning chemicals had a higher risk of asthma, respiratory problems, and new-onset asthma. Such workers are more exposed to sprays, aerosols, and chlorine-based disinfectants. Even worse for those in these types of occupations is that they become more sensitized to various molecules the more they are exposed to irritants and chemical sensitizers. Sick employees require more time off, take more sick days, and can suffer long-term health consequences. In the worst-case scenarios of work-related illnesses, people can lose their ability to work at all. Mabel cleaners stand apart from harsh commercial kitchen cleaners such as those containing dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid, which is toxic to both humans, animals, and the environment. Corrosive surfactants are building up in the environment from sewage effluent to such an extent that methods need to be explored to remove them. We must avoid the irony of having the chemicals used to keep illness-causing pathogens out of the kitchen be the very substances to cause illness.
Cross-contamination in kitchens is not just an issue when it comes to Salmonella. It is “counter”-productive to strive to cook healthy foods while simultaneously smearing every surface and rag with corrosive chemicals. Life is stressful enough, but avoiding both germs and harmful cleaning chemicals getting into your body doesn’t have to be.