Invisible bacteria keep the office clean while you sleep

Summary

Spraying office furniture with micro-organisms sounds like the opposite of cleaning, but that’s exactly what one Antwerp company is doing

Out of thin air

It may sound hard to believe: You spray a substance all over a dirty room, and when you come back a few hours later, the dust on the floor and furniture is gone. The computer screens are squeaky clean, and the room smells like a lush forest on a spring morning.

Did an army of tiny elves come and do the job for you? 

Actually, that’s not too far from the truth, as the spray contains a special type of bacteria that form complex, self-cleansing ecosystems, which eat up all the fine dust. It’s similar, says the company that produces it, to the way trees filter polluted air.

The microbial substance and spraying technique were invented by BioOrg, based in Antwerp. Despite being founded by just two people, its goal is to revolutionise the market for cleaning products, with the introduction of a safe, biological substance that does the job of dangerous chemicals. 

There are a lot of different types of bacteria occurring in nature. Most are benign, so you might not even notice their existence, but they do serve important functions.

Some eat fine dust, others prefer to digest molecules from combustion engines. There are even microbes specialised in cleaning up specific allergens.

Walk in the forest

“That’s how it all started,” says Filip Willocx, who co-founded BioOrg in 2009. “First we looked for the right bacteria. We turned entire libraries of microorganisms upside down and went on several field trips to forests in France, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.”

Business partner Koen De Coster was the one who came up with the idea of using microbes as an invisible cleaning army. They scoured the forests, specifically looking for areas that both looked beautiful and smelled good.

“In the end, we selected nine different bacterial strains,” says Willocx, “which are all champions in digesting specific forms of pollution very rapidly.”

We’re restoring the natural balance between humans and the environment

- Filip Willocx

To prove their technique works, Willocx and De Coster have been testing the cleaning product since January in a variety of Antwerp’s provincial governmental buildings. The results, they say, have been positive. 

The fine dust is gone, even from hard-to-reach areas, and the fingerprint smudges on computers and other office equipment disappeared hours after being sprayed. The employees have also said they appreciate the fresh smell, and some even noted that their allergies improved.

Should the cleaning staff be worried about their jobs? “Not at all,” says Willocx. “Someone will still have to spray the bacterial mix, and there will always be dirt that has to be cleaned with a microfibre cloth.”

The use of bacteria in cleaning is nothing new. Water treatment facilities have long used microbes to turn sewage into water that’s safe to drink. “Our philosophy is that we’re restoring the natural balance between humans and the environment,” Willocx says. “We really have to stop poisoning the inside of our buildings and the outside world. That’s why we only work with benign bacteria and not aggressive chemicals.”

Willocx admits that the idea of having micro-organisms crawling all over your furniture sounds scary. “But then I tell them that the skin carries around one kilogram of bacteria, and their intestines even more,” he says. “Or that the food they adore – cheese, salami, bread, wine and beer – is the result of a complex process that wouldn’t be possible without the help of micro-organisms.”

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