SoyClean – Nontoxic Cleaning Products Made from Soybeans
When a friend told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) about a line of nontoxic cleaning products made from soybeans, we were intrigued, but skeptical. It seemed counter intuitive to use soybeans, which contain a high percentage of oil, to clean glass, carpet, and laundry. We requested a few sample products to try, and we were impressed by the results.
We were even more impressed to learn that SoyClean products are environmentally friendly, nontoxic alternatives to many harsh chemical cleaners and solvents. We interviewed Kurt Brannian, Director of Marketing, at the SoyClean warehouse and distribution center in Brooklyn, Iowa. When we arrived, he told us, “We’ve got a variety of different products, everything from Paint Stripper to Grill Cleaner to Penetrant and Lubricant to Cutting Fluid. The overall theme is soy-based, nontoxic, and biodegradable. It’s safe for the user, safe for the environment.” Then he took the cap off of a bottle and extended it to us to smell.
BRANNIAN: What’s the first thing you think about when you think about paint stripper? It’s opening the lid, and then stepping back a little bit because you know those fumes are going to come right out at you. If you get in too small of an area, it can about knock a person out. That’s one of the neat things about our SoyClean Paint Stripper: There are no toxic fumes.
BPGL: This is paint stripper, but there aren’t any fumes. It smells milder than our dish soap!
BRANNIAN: Whenever someone comes by, I’ll have them take a sniff of the Paint Stripper,” That’s something you usually don’t tell friends to do. It’s kind of amazing that a product with no toxic fumes will remove multiple levels of paint. And that’s due to soybeans — something that we pretty much take for granted here in Iowa.
BPGL: I’d assume from the name that soy oil is the base of all of the cleaners. Is that straight soy oil, or do you add something to it?
BRANNIAN: It’s actually soy methyl ester. That’s the base of the Paint Stripper, the Grill Cleaner, the Penetrant and Lubricant. The Wood Sealer is more of a raw soy oil. For the metal working, we don’t have that here on site, but that’s going to come from specialized soy beans that have high oleic and low linoleic acid content. You might think it all comes from the same thing, but, really, there are significant differences.
This is an evolution and an ever-improving process. Just straight vegetable oil wouldn’t give you that great cutting fluid that they use with the premium properties. It took a lot of tests to find out which soybeans would lead to the best cutting oils and fluids.
BPGL: What’s a cutting fluid?
BRANNIAN: Here’s a simple explanation: You’re cutting or machining metal, where metal is on metal. You have to cool that, or you’re going to ruin your tools and the product you’re working on, because it will get too hot. For example, GE Jet Engine in Canada is dealing with titanium, the toughest stuff you can find. So they use our soy Cutting Fluid because soy has natural performance characteristics that make it work better to cool the metal than traditional cutting fluids do.
BPGL: Do you sell your Cutting Fluid in 55-gallon drums or in small quantities for home use?
BRANNIAN: Drums and totes and things like that. It’s in our industrial product line.
BPGL: Are SoyClean products organic?
BRANNIAN: No. They aren’t organic, in that the majority are made using soybeans grown in regular fields. But you have to remember that SoyClean is not intended to be consumed.
BPGL: Yet, you can use SoyClean Grill Cleaner on the grill where you cook your food. I understand the Grill Cleaner has gotten a lot of publicity on both coasts. What’s the story?
BRANNIAN: A television station in California did a segment on our Grill Cleaner a number of years back. They gave some out for viewers to use, and the people were really positive. I don’t know what a TV commercial costs, but if we’d spent $50,000 or $100,000, we couldn’t have come up with anything half as good as having the people who were actually using it show it on their grills.
BPGL: You got some good publicity with the Wall Street Journal, too, we hear.
BRANNIAN: Someone from the newspaper called and said they were going to be running an article on grill cleaners for that grill season. So we sent them a sample, and they tested it out. It wasn’t very many days later when they had an article up. It was pretty neat. They ran a comparison of a variety of grill cleaners and we were the only non-toxic grill cleaner. It ended up that they liked ours the best. Their article said, “In a recent test, we found the most natural product [SoyClean BBQ Grill Cleaner] worked the best. This soy-based product cleaned just as well or better than the less-natural ones, and didn’t have the noxious odor.” That report was in the Wall Street Journal on June 21, 2007.
BPGL: Can you leave your Grill Cleaner on the grill, or should you wash it off prior to cooking?
BRANNIAN: You want to wash it off. Spray it on, then let it set for 5 to 15 minutes. If you’re doing normal maintenance, you can take it off right away. But some people never clean their grill except once a season. In that case, you probably want to let it soak, and then just rinse it off. The Wall Street Journal reporter said to me, “You mentioned that you should rinse the Grill Cleaner off. The funny thing is, that’s not in the instructions for any of the toxic grill cleaners that we tested.” Think about that. That’s kind of scary. I hadn’t really thought about that before.
BPGL: Have you ever heard about anyone accidentally ingesting any of your products?
BRANNIAN: Not a person, but a dog. A customer has put some SoySeal Wood Sealer and Waterproofer in a bowl to use outside. I don’t know if the doorbell rang or the phone rang or what, but she went inside. While she did that, the dog came and lapped it all up. When she came back outside, she was pretty horrified. So she took the dog to the vet. We heard about it few days later, after she went back to the place where she purchased it. She told them that the dog had a little tummy ache for a while, but he was just fine.
We find that our users do things that we tell them not to. For example, we tell them, “Don’t use the Paint Stripper on clothing. It might make the colors run.” We’ve had more than a couple people tell us they had clothing with gum or paint on it, and they were “going to throw this shirt away anyway.” Then they tell us, “The SoyClean Paint Stripper was the only thing that got [the gum or paint] out.”
We had a lady tell us her dog fell into a bucket of paint. I’m not sure if she didn’t know about it when it happened, but the paint was dry on the dog by the time we sent some Paint Stripper out to her. It cleaned up the dog, good as new. If we hadn’t sent her some, what would she have done?
BPGL: Without the SoyClean, it probably would have been a long time before that dog shed all its paint-covered hair. And that brings up a question. Can consumers buy your products in stores?
BRANNIAN: Traditionally, we haven’t done a lot of retail. That’s only recent. Our business has been commercial, industrial, educational, universities, cities, factories, and the like. Only recently, we’ve been able to tell that the attitude of the consumer has become more proactive. You could actually see it change, or hear it change, where people are wanting to do the right thing by using eco-friendly products, more and more.
So, retail wasn’t something we’ve done in the past. But now, because we’ve had people saying, “Hey, you need to get this out here; we’ve got to have that product,” we’ve recently started getting into some retail locations. A lot of what we have found is maybe a little bit counter intuitive: You’d think, we’re so close to the earth here — the soil and crops are so close to us — that we would be leaders in that. But we find that the East and West Coasts have led the charge. I’m painting that with a broad brush, so that’s maybe a little bit unfair, but that’s something we have noticed.
BPGL: When Joe was comparing green cleaning products to the toxic competition, in most cases, the toxic cleaners cleaned more easily. It takes a little extra effort when you use the various natural cleaners to get the same level of clean. Even with your SoyClean Bathroom Tub and Tile Cleaner, it took a little more scrubbing than with the toxic cleaners.
But what was so great — amazing, in fact — was that the SoyClean product had an exceptionally gentle smell. None of the other “natural” products were nearly as gentle. The large corporate “natural” cleaners even made me gag. We’re firm believers that natural cleaning products are better for people — especially for babies, children, and pregnant mothers — but they obviously aren’t all created equal. Still, how do you deal with comments about the extra effort it might take to use your nontoxic product?
BRANNIAN: A lot of times we’re working with a big commercial or industrial client, and they have one use as opposed to a multi-use product. We can make the product stronger and more concentrated. Of course, the cost goes up for them, but we can work closely with that client to meet their exact needs. As far as the ready-to-use version, like the retail version, I don’t have that conversation that much.
BPGL: One other thing that happened was really odd. When I used the Adhesive and Mastic Remover to take a sticker off a new credit card, it seemed to damage the front of the card. The card’s not shiny anymore. What happened?
BRANNIAN: Basically, it’s kind of amazing that a product that won’t hurt your skin will actually break down plastic. We always recommend that you try a small test area on whatever you’re going to use it on. It does break down some plastics and paint and things of that nature.
For example, we use a specific type of bottle that we know will work with our products. Someone sent us some other bottles to try, so we tried one out and filled it with one of our products. We turned around to clean something, then turned back around, and it was already starting to seep through that plastic bottle.
BPGL: In just a few seconds?
BRANNIAN: It was probably more like a few minutes. But it wasn’t terribly long.
BPGL: We heard a story from one of your customers about using the Adhesive and Mastic Remover to remove SuperGlue from a desktop.
BRANNIAN: Right. The customer told us that he had tried quite a few things to get some SuperGlue off a desk he had leased. I gave him a bottle of the Adhesive and Mastic Remover and said, “We haven’t tested it for that specific use, but check it out.” So he took it back and then emailed us right away. He said, “That worked great!”
BPGL: We’ve both tried several of your products. Joe likes the glass cleaner best. It takes a while as you work it around on the glass, but it’s really a beautiful cleaner. Julia liked the rug cleaner really well, too. In fact, of all the samples, the only one we had any problem with was the using the Adhesive and Mastic Remvoer on Julia’s credit card. We should have followed your advice and tested it on a small area first.
We obviously haven’t tried all your products yet. How many different kinds do you manufacture?
BRANNIAN: We have about 30 household and commercial products. An easy way to categorize the products is: cleaners, sealers, solvents, lubricants, release agents, fluids, and oils.
BPGL: Do you have contracts with various farmers to grow the soybeans just for you?
BRANNIAN: We don’t directly. For our beans, we don’t have to have that, because it’s not going into the high-pressure, high-temperature environment that cutting fluids go through. I don’t know the details, but there are special soybeans that are grown for the cutting fluids. They’re all grown in the US, by the way.
BPGL: Do you distill the oil from the beans, or does someone else do that for you?
BRANNIAN: There’s a process called transesterfication. We don’t do that here. We get the oil after it’s gone through the whole processing.
BPGL: Say you’re making the household products. What else goes into the bottle besides soy methyl ester?
BRANNIAN: It depends on the product. The Diesel Fuel Additive, for example — that is going to be straight soy methyl ester. Basically, what that is, when you think of biodiesel, this is the bio part of it. And then the diesel is separate. We don’t produce biodiesel here, we just have the additive.
The Penetrant and Lubricant is going to be another one where there’s not a whole lot besides soy methyl ester. In other products, we have some other additives, like preservatives and things of that nature.
The SoySeal Wood Sealer and Waterproofer is kind of a neat product. That one doesn’t use the soy methyl ester. It’s a raw, soy-oil based product.
The SoyShield Wood Sealer is made with methyl soyate and recycled polystyrene — Styrofoam peanuts and other, similar products. That’s a whole other example of being environmentally friendly. We wouldn’t have anticipated going into it that you could actually recapture polystyrene and have another added benefit. Disposing of used polystyrene has been a real problem. It sits in landfills for decades without breaking down. Now, in our SoyShield Wood Sealer, the polystyrene combines with the methyl soyate to make a solution that can be used to seal lumber and make it waterproof. The biodegradable methyl soyate helps the polystyrene penetrate the wood. The soyate dissolves in about a week, leaving the polystyrene deep inside the wood to protect it.
BRANNIAN: Whatever you have to clean, just know that now, thanks to advances in the study of soybeans, there are very effective non-toxic alternatives. We don’t have to settle for the traditional products that often contain toxic chemicals that are dangerous to children, pregnant women, and pets – to all of us, really. Using soy-based products is a pretty simple way to make our planet a safer, cleaner, and a more sustainable place to live.
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