Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
May 2014 Feature 4

Biofilm Myths And Facts

Exploring the science behind an unpleasant problem caused by poor cleaning.

May 5, 2014

When you think of biofilm — think of slime.

Although that may conjure an unpleasant picture, biofilms are unpleasant problems resulting from poor cleaning.

Renewable Cleaning, i.e., a non-chemical approach, is the best way to prevent or remove them.

What’s A Biofilm?

Myth #1: Biofilm is a buildup of organic or biological matter.

Not so, since even as skin flakes, skin oils and other organics provide "germ-food," they do not constitute biofilm.

Fact #1: Biofilm is actually the “house” microbes build for themselves.

It’s a somewhat slimy, polymeric house but it provides them shelter and protection from the elements themselves, including disinfectants.

Myth #2: Biofilm can be removed using the right disinfectant and dwell time.

Not true.

Biofilms have been known to survive submerged under pure disinfectant for 20 minutes or more.

Fact #2: Scrubbing — aka, good, old-fashioned “elbow grease”— is the best way to prevent and remove biofilms.

According to a study, Influence of Biofilms by Chemical Disinfectants and Mechanical Cleaning: “Water conducting systems in hospitals (endoscopes, nebulizers, tap water systems, dental units, etc.) are often important reservoirs of conditional pathogens. The sanitation of those systems by in vitro efficient chemical disinfectants is very difficult. An explanation may be that microorganisms are growing in such systems in wall adhering biofilms wherein they are protected from biocides ... A criterion for the efficacy of sanitation procedure is not only the good disinfection result but also the removal of biofilms … Investigation showed that aldehydes and peracetic acid can reduce multiplying microorganisms without disrupting the biofilm ... The best result was achieved by mechanical cleaning.”

As noted by the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI): "...old-fashioned scrubbing is sometimes the best 'intervention' when it comes to biofilm."

Myth #3: There is only one kind of biofilm.

Not true, different microbes each produce their own protective matrix or “community.”

Fact #3: According to the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI): “On environmental surfaces, different kinds of bugs can form biofilms together in a community. Some of them can cause corrosion of certain materials and leave spots on a table, contaminate the water you drink and food you prepare, produce odors in rooms from air conditioners, harbor and protect pathogens making people sick and cause other problems in our daily life. However, it is extremely difficult to get rid of and kill biofilms.”

What Can Be Done?

Simply put: Clean better, and consider interventions such as steam vapor.

According to a study in the American Journal of Infection Control, “Biofilms on environmental surfaces: Evaluation of the disinfection efficacy of a novel steam vapor system,” researchers from the University of Michigan have validated proprietary steam vapor devices as effective against biofilms and associated pathogens during very short contact or dwell times.

 

Ruben Rives is the founder of the nonprofit Renewable Cleaning Group.



Defining A Biofilm

According to the Healthy Facilities Institute:

“Biofilms are around us everywhere in our rooms, offices and even in our own bodies. By scientific definition, a biofilm is microbes (bacteria, algae, yeast or fungi, protozoa and viruses, hereafter called ‘bugs’) that grow collectively in adhesive polymers (mainly extracellular polymeric substances) on live or non-live surfaces. You may have already seen different forms of biofilms, for example, green coatings on rocks, black spots on the wall in buildings and white films on the top of juices in open glasses left standing for several days. Sometimes you can also feel biofilms as slimy coatings on the inner surfaces of faucets and slippery materials on the floor in a shower room. Most times, however, you cannot see biofilm directly with your naked eyes. On a clean-looking surface, like a stainless steel counter top in a kitchen, the stainless steel is shining but very likely not biofilm free. Using different microscopes, scientists can see them and you may find dispersed cell aggregates in young biofilms and sometimes find peaks, valleys, caves or tunnel-like structures in mature biofilms.”