Preservatives are antimicrobial additives or ingredients that prevent microbial growth inside a product during its shelf life. Their main function is to slow or prevent the growth of potentially harmful microbes, including bacteria, yeast, and mold. They are a must-have in almost all water-based formulations to prevent contamination, avoid spoilage issues, and protect the integrity of the products.
Why are preservatives used in cleaning products?
Microbial contamination in a household product can lead to several problems, including reduced performance, change in color or appearance, or change of odor. Contaminated products may also introduce unwanted bacteria and fungi to other areas of the home, causing health risks. Preservatives help to prevent this microbial growth, thus protecting the product's integrity by ensuring it remains safe, useable, and effective.
Preservatives are not responsible for killing the bacteria and viruses that may live on your door handle or countertop – that's the job of a disinfectant or sanitizer. Instead, preservatives protect a product from becoming contaminated by microbes before it can even do its job. Without preservatives, products would become spoiled and ineffective within just a few days or weeks.
Strict regulations are applied to preservatives to ensure the proper level of protection in cleaning products from microbial contaminations.
What are the safety standards and regulations applied to the use of preservatives?
Before preservatives can be used in any product, including cleaning products and detergents, they are rigorously tested, reviewed, and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure they don't have unintended consequences on humans or the environment.
Preservatives must meet the federal safety standards and be evaluated through a risk assessment study by the EPA before they are approved for use in consumer and industrial cleaning products. The EPA determines the level of risk by evaluating the relationship between hazard and exposure. Hazard refers to the potential negative impact of the substance. In contrast, exposure considers how it's used, how much, how often, and for how long you use the preserved cleaning product. Both hazard and exposure are considered when formulating cleaning products, which is why it's so important to use the product as intended and according to the directions on the label.
Once a preservative has been evaluated and approved by the EPA, it can be used in cleaning products in the U.S. In addition to federal requirements, preservatives must also be registered to meet state standards. For example, the state of California conducts its own extensive assessment (independent of the EPA) prior to approving a preservative for use in a product.
The EPA also routinely re-reviews the science behind preservative chemistries as part of its comprehensive Registration Review program to ensure these ingredients continue to meet safety standards, which are in place to protect consumers and the environment.
Manufacturers and formulators of cleaning products take great care to responsibly formulate products that comply with both federal and state regulations and utilize preservative ingredients well within the approved ranges. Furthermore, the EPA regularly reviews the preservative category to ensure the type and number of preservatives being used are safe.
Learn more about the strict safety standards applied to preservatives.