The film left behind from cleaning products can be a growth medium for microorganisms, a particular problem in moist places. This results in layers that are hard to clean. Biofilm is where microbes establish a colony, similar to slime on a rock or plaque on teeth.

“Biodegradable means that microbes feed on it,” says Rathey. “So those residues can actually feed microorganisms.”

What’s more, once biofilm becomes entrenched, it becomes very difficult to remove.

“Biofilm protects all these living organisms,” says Hicks. “It’s kind of like putting plastic wrap over something.”

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, which detects the amount of organic matter that remains after cleaning, shows how these layers grow. If a BSC chemically cleans a desktop and does an ATP test, the test will measure acceptable levels of organic matter. However, if the desktop isn’t touched by anything and the BSC retests in a few hours, the surface can repopulate to unsafe levels.

Biofilm can leave cosmetic problems, too, by causing discoloration or creating a dingy look over time.

“Biofilm is a big deal and you have to physically remove it,” says Hicks. “Steam vapor is one of the things that attacks it and pretty much blows it away.”

Steam vapor cleaning doesn’t make sense for all applications. But with so many uses and advantages, Hicks thinks it has a place in most BSCs’ arsenal of tools.

Susan Thomas Springer is a freelance writer based in Sisters, Oregon.

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