What is a preservative?
Preservatives and antimicrobial additives play a vital role in numerous household cleaning products and detergents. They are also referred to as biocides or biocidal products as they prevent the growth of biological organisms (micro-organisms). They are primarily used to maintain the integrity of products, extend the shelf life, and prevent spoilage or microbial contamination.
Consumers expect to buy products that are effective and safe. Although preservatives are used for those exact reasons (safety and effectiveness), there are still some questions raised, such as:
- What is a preservative and why are they used in cleaning products?
- What are the safety standards and regulations applied to the use of preservatives?
- What are the environmental and economic values of preservatives and antimicrobial ingredients?
In collaboration with International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF) and the Healthy Starts at Home Preservation campaign sponsored by HCPA and member companies, here's some factual, balanced, and science-based information about the importance, benefits, and safety of preservatives in cleaning products.
Click here to learn more about the Healthy Starts at Home Preservation campaign sponsored by HCPA, Household Commercial Products Association.
Every ingredient has specific functionality, and there is some level of risk if not used properly in a formulation. Hence, it is essential to follow the safe use standards and understand how it can be used in each product type.
Preservatives are broad-spectrum antimicrobial additives or ingredients that prevent the growth of microorganisms inside a product (in-can preservation) during its shelf life. Their main function is to control or inhibit the growth of potentially harmful microbes, including bacteria, yeast, and mold. They are a must-have in almost all water-based formulations to avoid contamination, mitigate spoilage issues, and protect the integrity of the products until the end-use application.
Preservative systems or biocidal products play a vital role manufacturing a wide range of non-food consumer products including hard surface cleaners, laundry products, detergents, fabric softeners, coatings, textiles, polymers, and many other consumer and industrial products.
Why are preservatives used in cleaning products?
Microbial contamination in a household product can lead to several problems, including reduced performance or change in color, appearance, or odor. Contaminated products may also introduce unwanted bacteria and fungi or harmful organisms to other areas of the home, causing health risks.
Preservatives help to prevent this microbial growth in household and industrial cleaners, 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 antimicrobial additives, products would become spoiled and ineffective within just a few days or weeks.
Strict regulations are applied to preservatives and antimicrobial additives to ensure proper level of protection from microbial contamination in cleaning products.
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 how long the preserved cleaning product is used. 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 used are safe.
Learn more about the strict safety standards applied to preservatives.
Preservatives economic value and contribution to sustainability
On average, cleaning products can last up to one year when properly preserved compared to only a few days or weeks without preservation. Imagine if you – or your local stores – had to dispose of every cleaning product after just a few days. On the other hand, effectively preserved products can be fully used, which reduces waste significantly and provides a high economic value to manufacturers and consumers.
Preservatives also play a key role in creating sustainable cleaning products, allowing for longer shelf life, reducing waste, and protecting the environment.
Unsure about the suitable preservative for your formulation?
Microbial contamination is typically introduced to finished products through water or raw materials. Manufacturers implement hygienic practices and disinfection procedures to prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms in the system and finished products. Antimicrobial additives are used at the end of the manufacturing cycle to control the growth of microbes and prevent the spoilage of the product during its lifetime.
Many factors should be considered in selecting the right preservation system for a formulation, such as biocidal efficacy required, pH range, and compatibility with the formulation chemical ingredients. Several antimicrobial chemistries are EPA approved and available for the preservation of cleaning solutions, including but not limited to isothiazolinones, glutaraldehyde, bronopol, and DBNPA.
It can be challenging to identify the right antimicrobial additive for your product. ChemPoint’s team is always available to answer your questions, offer product recommendations, and provide technical assistance for our range of preservatives from IFF/DuPont.
You can also access our selector guide, which can help you narrow down your options and identify potential candidates for preserving your cleaning products and detergents.