top of page

What is a biofilm and why is it important in cleaning?

Biofilms are everywhere, and they present huge problems for commercial cleaning companies

Biofilms are everywhere and REACT can help eradicate them through specialist cleaning
Different pathogens can coexist in a biofilm [Picture credit: Isabella Centeleghe, Cardiff University]

‘Biofilm’ is not a term with which many people are familiar. Yet biofilms are central to some of our most important global challenges. They can contribute to antimicrobial resistance, and they can undermine water security and food safety. And they should be of critical concern to the cleaning industry. We’ve recently published a report, Biofilms & barrier technologies: The future of commercial cleaning, with support from the National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC). This report explores the challenges and risks posed by biofilms and the potential of new ‘barrier technologies’ to overcome them. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blogs on biofilms and barrier technology. In the first of this series, we ask two simple questions: what is a biofilm – and why is it important in commercial cleaning?

What exactly is a biofilm?

Biofilms are immobile communities of micro-organisms that stick to each other and to surfaces. They form when free-floating bacteria attach and adhere to surfaces in response to specific environmental conditions. These include changes in pH and nutrient concentration. In the colonisation stage, attached micro-organisms multiply and recruit new members. They all become embedded in an extracellular, slime-like substance consisting of DNA, polysaccharides, and proteins. Biofilms can quickly cover entire surfaces, and they can also exist in aggregates in fluids or mucus layers in living creatures. While some are visible to the naked eye, many biofilms will go unnoticed.

Depending on the conditions, it doesn’t take long for biofilms to form. A biofilm can colonise, grow, and cover a surface in four to eight days. Biofilms present health risks to humans and animals, largely because they offer refuge for potentially pathogenic bacteria, viruses (including COVID-19) and fungi. Without the right care they can create food safety issues, contaminate water supplies, and ultimately cause harmful infections. Away from health, biofilms can also physically damage surfaces by causing discolouration and corrosion. This can potentially limit building lifespans, as well as negatively impacting appearance.

Nowhere is safe from biofilms

Biofilms are everywhere. They form in all environments, even on and inside humans and animals and in inhospitable conditions. Almost all bacteria found in homes and workplaces will form biofilms if given enough time. And very few surface types are safe from colonisation by biofilms. In fact, you’re probably already familiar with biofilms without even knowing it. Those hard-to-clean pink areas on your shower tiles or at the base of your taps are biofilms.

Not all biofilms are bad. They’re used extensively in the treatment of industrial waste and wastewater. Biotech researchers continue to find new ways of harnessing the unique characteristics of biofilms in all sorts of contexts. But potentially harmful biofilms do need to be tackled to limit health and broader economic risks. This is increasingly important given our changing climate and the higher risks of pathogens spreading more easily in a highly globalised economy.

Why is tackling biofilms so important for commercial cleaning?

Biofilms are challenging to control. Unlike unbound bacteria of the same species, they are resilient to antimicrobials, such as many cleaning products, antibiotics, and pesticides. None of these products are able to penetrate the outer film layer to reach and kill the bound bacteria inside. However, controlling biofilms in workplaces and public spaces is vital to maintaining cleanliness, and promoting health and safety. And, in turn, this will help to restrict the spread of infectious diseases and limit the effects of future pandemics.

As they’re so difficult to remove and prevent using conventional cleaning products, the commercial cleaning sector must find new ways to keep workspaces and other public places safe. Therefore, it’s essential to find the right cleaning methods to tackle an increasingly prevalent problem. This is where barrier technologies have huge potential. Look out for our next blog in this series, which will focus on how to tackle biofilms with the latest in cleaning technology.

Visit our new webpage in our Resources section to download the report Biofilms & barrier technologies: The future of commercial cleaning today >>

To find out more about REACT Specialist Cleaning and how we use modern and effective cleaning methods in your workplace, contact one of the team today.

Post by Shaun D. Doak

Shaun is the CEO of REACT Group plc., a business dedicated to specialist cleaning, hygiene, and decontamination. He is deeply committed to making sure that every one of our company’s clients receives the highest possible level of service. An expert in HVAC and commercial and industrial cleaning methodologies, Shaun has extensive experience in the facilities management and renewable services sector.


bottom of page