Regulatory pressure and consumer and
retailer demands for less toxic, more sustainable, and environmentally benign products are driving materials innovation. This, in
turn, is providing significantly improved performance in the next generation of high-efficiency cleaning ingredients.
This is good news for purchasing departments, customers, formulators, environmentalists (and elephants).
Over the last century, myriad products have superseded
simple soaps and elbow grease to cleanse clothing, skin, hair,
and the surfaces that surround us, with efficiency and panache.
But as with other aspects of our modern lifestyles, the convenience these products bring bears an environmental, health, and
safety (EHS) and sustainability price-tag that regulators and an
increasing proportion of consumers are now unwilling to pay.
“Environmental concerns have been driving innovation,”
says Erika Szekeres, who recently founded Stable Formulations
consultancy after a 10-year career with The Clorox Company.
“But inventory for greener alternatives has been very limited—
with few choices, there is often a loss of performance when
companies start formulating for EHS or sustainability.”
Formulators are faced with the challenge of addressing
regulatory pressures and supporting sustainability (reducing
their petrochemical dependency) and EHS claims, while main-
taining, or improving, product performance and price. Suppli-
ers are coming to their aid with an inspiring new generation of
additives for cleaning that are both greener and more efficient.
From a technical perspective, cleaning is an extremely complex
process, and performance requirements vary depending on
what is being cleaned. The first step is to introduce the cleaner
to the dirt. Surfactants allow a cleaning solution to penetrate
between clothing fibers or to flow across surfaces and skin
by reducing surface tension. Once there, water is an excellent solvent for many soils, particularly when introduced
with rubbing or agitation. Unfortunately, removing oily soils
requires organic solvents—those traditionally low-molecular-weight (and low-vapor-pressure) materials that are now experiencing regulatory scrutiny.
“The volatile organic content (VOC) level is now regulated in cleaning products, and it was recently reduced to
very low levels in California,” says Szekeres. This has triggered interest in solvents that have low VOC or are on the
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) VOC-exempt
list—“compounds that have been found by the EPA ‘not to
contribute appreciably to ozone formation,”’she says. Szekeres points to The Dow Chemical Co.’s P-Series glycol ethers
derived from propylene oxide.
products that "have it all"