What are some safe cleaning products

Cleaning agents: safe and clean

Growing health and environmental awareness has led users of commercial cleaning agents to ask themselves what the consequences of daily use of these substances are. Employers are increasingly confronted with the desire from the workforce to check the products used for their compatibility and, if necessary, to replace them with harmless alternatives.

A large number of industries are affected. Whether in building cleaning, in gastronomy and hotel business, in trade and industry, in food processing companies or in public facilities such as schools, retirement homes and hospitals - detergents and cleaning agents are needed everywhere. Different areas of application require the use of different ingredients. Some substances still used in conventional products are carcinogenic or are suspected of causing cancer. As part of its two-year prevention focus “Beware of cancer!”, The AUVA shows which carcinogenic substances can be found in cleaning agents and which substitute products are already available. For this purpose, contact was made with Austrian cleaning agent manufacturers in the previous year in order to sensitize them to the problem - but also to present good practice companies and their products.

Good practice operation hollu

Hollu Systemhygiene GmbH is one of the pioneers in switching to environmentally friendly cleaning agents. The company, headquartered in Zirl in Tyrol, has specialized in the development of holistic cleaning and hygiene solutions - from cleaning and care products to cleaning aids and machines to service - for 110 years. As early as 2012, hollu launched the first products in the hollueco range that dispensed with ingredients that are environmentally or harmful to health.

hollueco is certified with the Austrian eco-label and the EU-Ecolabel, which guarantees environmental compatibility and the absence of harmful ingredients. “The criteria for the EU Ecolabel are uniformly high across Europe. This applies to both the selection of raw materials and the test methods for an objective comparison of the cleaning performance. Customers can therefore be sure that the product will work, ”explains Benjamin Göllner, Head of Research & Development at hollu.

The AUVA focus contributed to the sensitization of the users, which resulted in an increased interest in cleaning agents without carcinogenic ingredients. “We received a lot of inquiries last year, especially from the catering industry,” remembers the process hygiene specialist DI (FH) Andreas Marksteiner, department manager at hollu application technology.

Trisodium nitrilotriacetate

Trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA) is particularly common among the substances classified as carcinogenic or suspect that are used in cleaning agents. This substance, added as a water softener, is a white to yellowish powder that can be harmful to health if swallowed. Cleaning agents contain up to ten percent NTA. As a pure substance, NTA causes serious eye irritation, is believed to be carcinogenic and harmful if swallowed. The fact that - as the inquiries at hollu show - the catering industry in particular is interested in the substitution of NTA does not surprise Ing. Jennifer Stoifl, specialist in chemistry at the AUVA branch in Innsbruck: “During our inspections, we asked whether it was there are or which are carcinogenic substances. Dishwashing detergents were the main problem with detergents. ”Workers in the companies concerned wanted to know whether they too were at risk of cancer and whether there were any alternative products.

According to Dr. Elisabeth Reiter, occupational physician and contractual partner of AUVASAFE Linz, still contained almost all dishwashing detergents for hooded dishwashers in the NTA hospitality industry in 2018. “The catering industry reacted very quickly. Now the proportion of NTA-containing dishwashing detergents is below 50 percent, ”estimates Reiter. This development gives reason for optimism that the switch will also be successful in the foreseeable future for other applications for which there were no cleaning agents without carcinogenic ingredients on the market in the past.

NTA-free alternatives

Since the switch to cleaning agents that are harmless to health is also a concern of hollu in all areas, the company decided to proactively support the AUVA focus. “We have a common goal: to ban hazardous substances from cleaning products and thus to protect the safety in use and the health of our employees. This is entirely in line with our corporate strategy based on the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations, which of course also applies to the raw materials used in product development. Read up on responsibility.hollu.com, ”says Marksteiner.

hollu keeps a blacklist with raw materials that will not be used in any of the products in the future, and a whitelist for harmless substances. The aim is to ban raw materials that are blacklisted from production and thus from the product range in the long term. In order to achieve this as quickly as possible, hollu cooperates with research institutions and is also promoting the topic together with AUVA. Marksteiner and Göllner drove to Vienna in September 2018 to exchange experiences with the chemists at the AUVA headquarters. They already had the master plan for exiting NTA in their pockets.

In the previous year, the eleven employees in the Research & Development department got to work. Their task was to find substitutes for all products with NTA by late summer 2019. "Before the changeover began, NTA was contained in liquid and a few powder formulations," says Göllner. In a first step, completely NTA-free dishwashing detergents and laundry detergents were brought onto the market; The substance, which is suspected of being cancerous, has now been replaced in all dishwashing detergents and laundry detergents as well as in all kitchen and property cleaning products.

Conversion phase

The substitution of carcinogenic ingredients is a major challenge for manufacturers, which not only requires financial investment but also time. During the conversion phase, it must be calculated exactly how much of the raw material used up to now can still be procured and what amount of the substitute material is needed. A change of raw material supplier may be necessary under certain circumstances. At hollu, the exit from NTA went smoothly, which is also due to the fact that Marksteiner and Göllner had full support from the management and product management. In addition to research and development and application technology, the personnel manager, occupational physician, department head, safety specialists and safety officers were also involved in the changeover process.

User training

In the case of dosing units for concentrated powder or liquid detergents, e.g. B. for laundry or dishes, the hollu customer service takes care of assembly and maintenance. Automatic dosing systems are used a lot, especially in the area of ​​dish and laundry cleaning - here the users have no direct contact with the detergents, which ensures additional user safety. “It is not only the product itself that is decisive for safety, but also its application. That is why we offer user training, ”says Marksteiner. These usually take place directly on site and are carried out by hollu application technology. The participants learn, among other things, which protective equipment they need for which activities. Many other training courses - for example for professional cleaning and kitchen hygiene, for qualified hygiene managers or disinfectors - are offered at the hollu academy in Zirl, Graz or Linz.

Protective measures

If you work with carcinogenic or suspicious substances, suitable protective measures must be taken, using the STOP principle. “Cleaning agents are mixtures. If the mix is ​​cold and the system is closed, the risk is lower. The greatest risk comes from accidents, maintenance and cleaning work, ”explains Reiter. The cleaning is often carried out by specialist companies whose employees have the necessary know-how.

Often there is no lack of knowledge about the required personal protective equipment, rather comfort leads to the fact that the necessary measures are neglected. Stoifl notes, especially when dealing with health-endangering substances for a short time, that it is easy to forget to protect oneself, appealing to users: "Please wear glasses and protective gloves for just a few minutes!" Cleaning agent manufacturers the best solution, as this takes the strain off employees.

Carcinogenic Ingredients

Apart from thiourea in a product for silver cleaning, for which hollu also offers an alternative, and - currently still - from NTA, hollu does not use any substances suspected of being cancerous in production. However, the products of other cleaning agent manufacturers can still contain a number of different carcinogenic or suspicious ingredients. Reiter found several of these substances in its surveys on the evaluation of hazardous substances in detergents and cleaning agents from different suppliers. NTA is not only contained in dishwasher detergents, but also in textile and floor cleaning agents for trade and industry.

Trichlorethylene - also known as trichlor or trichlorethylene - has good fat-dissolving properties, but is carcinogenic, germ cell mutagenic and toxic. Therefore, it has been replaced by safer alternatives in most areas of application. Sometimes it is still used in commercial dry cleaning. In the metal industry, trichlorethylene is used for cleaning and degreasing. “In large plants, most of which are already closed, the metal cleaner is used as a stabilizer with the suspected cancer 1,2-ethoxybutane - that is, both the cleaning agent and the stabilizer are carcinogenic,” explains Reiter. Dichloromethane (methylene chloride), which has been tried and tested as a solvent but has been banned since 2010, is still used primarily in carpentry and small workshops to dissolve paint, as a paint remover and to remove adhesive residues. The use of the substance, which acts as a breath poison and is probably carcinogenic, is declining, according to Reiter, but the ingredient keeps appearing as a “miracle cleaner”.


Formaldehyde, which is mainly known from record production, can still be found in some cleaning agents and disinfectants as well as for stabilizing organic products, for example in instrument disinfection. Reiter is certain of an area of ​​application in which substitution would be possible without any problems: “Formaldehyde for disinfection can always be replaced. There are also other biocides that have the same effect. ”Many health facilities have already dispensed with disinfectants, which have been classified as clearly carcinogenic since 2016.

Göllner recommends commercial customers to pay attention to the ingredients of cleaning agents. Certifications such as the EU Ecolabel or the Austrian Ecolabel help to identify products that are harmless to health and the environment at a glance. hollu is striving for the EU Ecolabel for new developments and is increasingly focusing on sustainability "We plan, wherever possible, to obtain renewable raw materials from a radius of 5,000 kilometers," says Göllner.