For years, building service contractors have relied on traditional butyl-based chemicals. While effective, these products could also damage surfaces and be detrimental to worker health when used improperly.

Today, some BSCs are looking to alternative cleaners such as oxygen-based and bio-based products — including citrus- and soy-based cleaners — to provide a safer work environment.

Oxygen-based products
An increasing number of manufacturers are launching oxygen-based products. One type is an oxygen-based bleach cleaner that uses sodium percarbonate as its main ingredient. However, the more common oxygen cleaners in today’s market are hydrogen peroxide-based.

Surfactants and orange oil are added to the hydrogen peroxide to help it penetrate the surface and reach the embedded soil. When the cleaner comes into contact with the soil, the hydrogen peroxide releases oxygen to boost the cleaning power of the surfactants.

The by products of the cleaning reaction are only oxygen and water, which leaves little to no residue on the surface, says Patrick Stewart, president and CEO of EnvirOx LLC, Danville, Ill.

Oxygen cleaners are especially effective against proteins and other organic stains, says Steve Doyen, vice president marketing and sales services, Amrep Inc., Marietta, Ga.

By using different dilution ratios, oxygen cleaners are able to safely and effectively clean most surfaces, says Carl Sherman, marketing director, Core Products, Canton, Texas. For example, cleaning glass would require a different ratio from tile. BSCs use oxygen cleaners on surfaces such as marble, tile, desktops, glass and grout, says Stewart. And at high dilutions for a stronger solution, hydrogen peroxide products can even be used to pull stains out of carpet.

Oxygen cleaners have found acceptance among BSCs because as multi-purpose cleaners, they can greatly reduce the number of products needed, says Sherman. Fewer products also mean less chance of using the wrong product on a surface or mixing the wrong chemicals together, adds Stewart.

Schools have shown the largest demand for oxygen-based cleaners because they are safe to use around young children, says Stewart.

“The ability to safely kill common bacteria and viruses in an environment that rapidly spreads flu and other illnesses was another important feature to [the education] market,” he adds.

Bio-based products
Besides oxygen, another popular form of non-butyl-based chemicals are bio-based cleaners. Bio-based products are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products, renewable domestic agricultural materials or forestry materials, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

One of the most common ingredients for bio-based products is citrus. Citrus-based products are cleaners and degreasers that remove grease, grime, gum and smoke film from hard surfaces such as stainless steel, porcelain and tile. These cleaners also work well as carpet spotters, says Sherman.

Since the primary ingredient is d-limonene, an extract from citrus peels, citrus-based products have a built-in, strong orange scent, which is useful for deodorizing, says Doyen.

Contractors should note that not all d-limonene products are the same. Some use d-limonene comprised from a mixture of citrus fruits, such as oranges, limes and lemons, while others use 100 percent cold-pressed orange oil.

“This results in a huge difference of quality,” says Sherman. “Using 100 percent orange oil makes for a better degreaser with faster cleaning action and it also leaves less residue behind on the surface.”

A more recent cleaning ingredient is soy. Soy-based products contain methyl soyate, a petrochemical replacement derived from soybean oil, and is blended with a water-rinsing surfactant.

“The reason [for adding surfactants] is the product for all practical purposes is an oil,” says Jason Davenport, director of marketing, Franmar Chemical, Bloomington, Ill. “Imagine cleaning your countertop with vegetable oil. It would be pretty hard to clean the residue off without using some sort of soap.”

Unlike hydrogen peroxide, soy is unable to pull stains out of a surface. Soy-based cleaning products are degreasers and solvents able to remove “surface coatings” such as soap scum, grease, urethanes, and epoxies, says Davenport. Many BSCs choose soy-based products for graffiti removal because of their ability to safely remove paint and ink. In addition, “aqueous” or water-based soy products have been developed that work well on water-based stains, such as coffees and teas, says Randy Frees, president and CEO of Soy Technologies, Nicholasville, Ky.

Soy-based products are effective on a variety of surfaces including wood, concrete, tile, stone, brick, stainless steel and aluminum. However, contractors need to use caution when working on plastics such as plexiglass.

“Soy-based products can penetrate the surface and turn the plastic soft,” says Frees.

Bio-based products are gaining popularity with BSCs because of the extra health and safety benefits non-toxic, natural products have, says Geoff Greeley, Racine Industries, Racine, Wis. BSCs who promote green services are significant users of bio-based products because the products help reduce the consumption of limited resources such as petroleum, adds Jason J. Welch, microbiologist for Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.

Similar to that, government facilities lead the way in bio-based product use due to the Federal Bio-based Product Preferred Procurement Program, which requires all federal agencies to give preference to the purchasing of bio-based products, says Welch.

Tomorrow’s ingredients
Aside from citrus fruit and soy, manufacturers have also turned to corn and coconut for their bio-based products, and there are more ingredients on the horizon.

“Wheat germ, sunflower seed oils and palm kernel oils are other alternative resources we are looking at,” says Welch.