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Can bacteria clean your counter?

Novozymes says yes with its launch of probiotics for hard-surface cleaners

by Craig Bettenhausen
September 17, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 36


A plastic container of a microbe-containing cleaning product.
Credit: Novozymes
Novozymes will sell its probiotic cleaner as a concentrate.

It’s a good time to be a symbiotic microbe. Global sales of probiotics will rise to $55 billion this year from $30 billion in 2013, according to the food and drug ingredient firm Nutralliance. And the company expects sales to reach $75 billion by 2025. So far, that growth has mostly been in yogurt, kombucha, and other fermented foods and supplements.

Novozymes now hopes to add beneficial bacteria to home-cleaning products. The big enzyme maker just launched Microvia, which features a suite of Bacillus that it says can live on hard surfaces for 7 days and produce 70 different cleaning enzymes. Microvia is available as a concentrate that cleaning product formulators can add to their wares.

Using microbes to clean isn’t unheard of, according to Ryan Cotroneo, chief technology officer at the cleaning product maker UNX Industries. Live Bacillus is used in commercial kitchens to break down fats and oils in grease traps and on floors—applications that otherwise require hydrofluoric acid derivatives and other harsh chemicals.

The microbes are gentler and so extend the lifetimes of traps and floors. “The consumer market wants the same access to those technologies,” Cotroneo says.

Yug Varma, CEO of the skin probiotics firm Phi Therapeutics, is intrigued by the idea, noting that Bacillus lives on all kinds of surfaces worldwide. But he cautions that consumers expect their cleaners to kill microbes, not be them. “If the Bacillus is meant to be alive, then the solution cannot be an antibacterial one,” he says.

Mixing and shipping a live substance brings additional challenges for formulators, Cotroneo says. “The name of the game is maintaining the CFU count—the number of colony-forming units—in the concentrate, so that at dilution it can actually do the job that the marketing has said it would.” A living product is sensitive to light, temperature, and shelf time in a way most most cleaning products are not.

Cotroneo is glad to see a cleaner that recognizes the value of healthy microbiomes. “Your house is alive. It can be working for you or against you,” Cotroneo says.

Varma agrees but emphasizes that a cleaner isn’t the best way to make use of probiotics. “Keep a clean house, don’t overscrub, and go outside and play in the grass. You’ll get enough exposure to microbes that way,” he says.



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