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UMass Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute Helps Introduce Detergent Free Cleaning Technology


Karen Angelo, 978-447-1438,

LOWELL ߝ The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell has once again helped a North American cleaning supply company commercialize a line of cleaning products, this time without detergents.

With the assistance of TURI’s Laboratory, Cogent Environmental Solutions of Caledon, Ontario, Canada has developed revolutionary new cleaning formulations for everyday commercial and retail use that eliminate detergents ߝ that is, synthetic soaps ߝ altogether. A truly sustainable technology, Detergent Free Cleaning allows safe, efficient cleaning with food-grade ingredients and without volatile emissions.

TURI’s Surface Solutions Laboratory, under the direction of Carole LeBlanc, provided the technical assessment necessary to validate the cleaning performance of these new Detergent Free Cleaning preparations.  TURI has conducted numerous cleaning studies and provided valuable comparable data on cleaning preparation performance, which assisted in the final directions-for-use instructions.  Data produced was also compared to published data on competitive cleaning preparations.  This work was essential for confirming that the new Detergent Free Cleaning compounds could perform competitively with respect to cleaning efficiency and consumer cost.

TURI was also instrumental in preparing and submitting applications to the Canadian Environmental Choice and Green Seal environmental eco-labeling programs for certification and additional validation.  Both labels are designed to encourage businesses to market products and services that are kinder to the environment and help consumers ߝ both public and private purchasers ߝ to easily identify them.

“I can say that without TURI’s assistance, the concept of Food Based Cleaning or Detergent Free Cleaning would not have resulted in the commercialization of this complete line of safer products, including a calcium, lime and rust remover, a full set of bathroom cleaning products, formulations for carpet cleaning and heavy-duty general purpose cleaning preparations,” says Michael Rochon, principal of Cogent Environmental Solutions.  The products are all now available for both the home consumer and for professional use through Cogent’s exclusive licensee (Chemspec of Baltimore, Maryland, USA, an RPM corporation company) under the brand Advanced Generation Cleaning Products.

“For the Lab’s part, it is satisfying to be involved in a process that rewards companies for doing the right thing.  While no product designed for cleaning should ever be ingested, it is historically significant that these cleaners are food based and that they will be available to consumers, not just commercial end users,” adds LeBlanc.

This latest development is consistent with a long history of TURI’s technical involvement in developing sustainable cleaners and, in particular, in support of Cogent’s pioneering work in the field.  Dr. LeBlanc previously spearheaded an effort to include performance testing of Cogent’s earlier generation of more traditional cleaning products for the Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) Procurement Program.  She also assessed the ingredients of the Ecogent General Purpose Cleaner, an ecologically friendlier cleaner developed by Cogent for compliance with the European Commission’s 2001 published ecological criteria for all-purpose cleaners.  The product was ultimately awarded the European Eco-label, giving official recognition to the cleaner for meeting a high level of biodegradability and minimal impact on aquatic life.

Part of TURI’s mission is to test and find alternatives to toxic chemicals on behalf of Massachusetts companies.  As do many University research laboratories, the Institute also provides fee-for-service technical assistance in helping companies like Cogent in efforts to access new markets for toxic-free products.  The fees generated support the program.

For more information about UMass Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s Surface Solutions Laboratory, visit: or call Carole LeBlanc at 978-934-3249.

For more information about Detergent Free Cleaning, contact Chemspec at 800-638-7370, Consumer sales and Distribution’s Gary Polyoka at or Commercial sales and Distribution’s John Holibaugh at

For more information on research or environmental data, contact Michael Rochon at 519-927-3793, or visit Cogent Environmental Solutions at
Background: Detergent Free Cleaning and the Role of
The Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell

 For the past fifty years, detergents have dominated the cleaning market.  These products contain surfactants as the main cleaning components that may be toxic, especially to aquatic life.  The major function of a surfactant is to absorb onto surfaces and reduce surface tension, thereby allowing for the release of soils; this same surfactant characteristic also interferes with the internal functions of aquatic life and increases the potential for absorption of chemicals into human beings.  While the Surface Solutions Laboratory will continue to work with aqueous (that is, water-based) cleaners containing safer surfactants, some surfactants are, indeed, used in skin preparations to facilitate the absorption of various medications into the body.

The Health Dangers of VOCs
        Over those same five decades, manufacturers convinced consumers that cleaners had to smell and contain harsh chemicals in order to be effective.  Only in the latter part of the twentieth century did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others warn that the overall indoor levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaners, furnishings, building materials and human activities could adversely affect people’s health.  Studies have found that ingredients commonly used in cleaning products are now measurable in the blood and urine samples of volunteers.  This knowledge has helped people to understand that if we are exposed to chemicals in the air and on our skin,           a portion of these chemicals can become part of our body burden.

Designing the New Technology
        These findings led to the idea of entirely eliminating surfactants and other synthetic ingredients in cleaners not found naturally in our environment, in order to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of cleaning.  By using only natural elements such as: salt, food-based organic acids and their salts, sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate, a variety of safe cleaning preparations were created, including those for general purpose, carpet cleaning, bathroom facilities and even calcium/lime/rust removal.
        The resultant patent-pending Detergent Free Cleaning technology, developed by Cogent Environmental Solutions, with the support of Chemspec, an RPM corporation company (and their exclusive manufacturer of other environmentally friendly products) produces healthier buildings and safer facility maintenance and management.  The cleaners consist solely of ingredients that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as direct food additives and do not release volatile organic compounds into indoor air.
Designated Test Center
        As the designated Test Center for Cogent Environmental Solutions, TURI’s Surface Solutions Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Lowell was responsible for assessing and validating the cleaning performance of these new Detergent Free Cleaning products.  TURI’s Laboratory also prepared and submitted applications to the Canadian Environmental Choice and Green Seal environmental eco-labeling programs for certification.  Both applications were successful and the eco-labels were awarded.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell, a comprehensive university with special expertise in applied science and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental, and social health of the region. UML offers its 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students more than 80 degree programs in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management; the School of Health and Environment and the Graduate School of Education.  Visit the website at .

For more information, contact or 978-934-3224