Secret ingredient: chemicals in cleaners

It’s not easy to find out exactly what’s in that spray bottle - and if it’s safe.
 
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02.Multipurpose cleaners compared

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CHOICE went shopping at Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, and rounded up 12 common multipurpose cleaners. Only three had detailed ingredient labelling on the package.

We assessed their disinfectant claims and found that each had differing claims as to how they work. Seven claim (or imply) to be hospital- or household-grade disinfectants, while five limit themselves to vague statements related to cleaning.

A disinfectant “kills” microorganisms as opposed to simply “removing” them. Any product that says it disinfects, even if it is just implied through claims such as “kills 99.9% of germs”, is subject to the TGA standard for disinfectants and required to pass performance tests. The rigour of those tests depends on the claims the product makes.

The standard also requires manufacturers of hospital- and household-grade disinfectants to label the quantity of the active ingredient on the bottle, but this may not always happen. The Ecostore Multi-Purpose Cleaner, for example, claims it’s “proven to kill key nasty germs such as Salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas and Enterococcus bacteria”, which implies it’s a disinfectant, yet isn’t labelled with the quantity of its active ingredient.


Hospital-grade disinfectant

  • Listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and subject to TGA disinfectant standard 
  • Evidence for quality, safety and efficacy reviewed by TGA 
  • Must pass performance test for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, E. coli and S. aureus 
  • Must include quantity and name of the active ingredient on the bottle 
  • Possible claims include “kills germs” or any of the bacteria subject to the testing (above); claims must be supported by product testing

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Household/commercial grade disinfectant

  • Exempt from the ARTG but subject to the TGA disinfectant standard 
  • Not tested or reviewed by the TGA 
  • Must pass performance test for E. coli and S. aureus 
  • Must include quantity and name of the active ingredient on the bottle 
  • Possible claims include “kills germs” generally, or E. coli and S. aureus
  • Manufacturers “advised to hold evidence” of claims

 

Other surface sprays

  • Excluded from the ARTG and not subject to TGA disinfectant standard 
  • TGA performance tests not required; must be fit for purpose under the ACL
  • Claims limited to: removal of/reduces non-specific microorganisms to a sanitary level, an improvement in hygiene, or antibacterial action

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So how do these disinfectant guidelines work in practice?

The three main home brands of multipurpose cleaners we looked at make very different performance claims.

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Aldi’s Power Force Multi Purpose Cleaner is a hospital-grade disinfectant. Under the TGA standard, this product must pass tests to remove certain bacteria (see above), provide evidence for these claims, and undergo pre-market assessment for safety, efficacy and quality through the TGA. A hospital grade claim also requires the product to be listed on the ARTG.


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Coles Multi Purpose 4-in-1 Household Cleaner implies it is at least a household/commercial grade disinfectant by claiming it “kills 99.9% of germs”. It is subject to the TGA standard and it must pass an efficacy test. However, the evidence doesn’t need to be given to the TGA for assessment, and the manufacturer is only “advised to hold evidence” of the claims.

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Woolworths Homebrand Cleaner doesn’t claim to kill germs or call itself a disinfectant, and so isn’t subject to the TGA’s standard. It simply claims to be “tough on dirt and grime”. Regulation for these claims falls under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), where there‘s an onus on manufacturers to ensure products are safe, fit for purpose, and don’t make false or misleading claims.
 

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