The Nontoxic Cleaning Products That Aren’t Trying to Destroy Our Microbes

The Nontoxic Cleaning Products That Aren’t Trying to Destroy Our Microbes

The Nontoxic Cleaning Products That
Aren’t Trying to Destroy Our Microbes

In partnership with our friends at Aunt Fannie’s

When you’re shopping for a surface cleaner, it is a given that you’re looking for something that effectively cleans surfaces. But at what cost? And how much bacteria does it need to kill to be considered effective?

These are questions that Mat Franken, the founder and CEO of Aunt Fannie’s, began to consider when he set out to make his home a less toxic environment for his son. The resulting line of home-cleaning products strips out the harsh chemicals that a lot of people are sensitive to—and keeps the good bacteria, and your skin, in mind.

A Q&A with Mat Franken

Why did you start a line of nontoxic cleaning products?

Most entrepreneurs probably come from a similar place—it’s usually a place of adversity or some sort of challenge. I’ve got two kids. When we had our daughter, she was easy: no mess, no fuss, slept a ton. We thought we were the best parents on the planet. And then my son arrived, and we realized it had zero to do with parenting. He was a difficult baby, not easily soothed, and in the first six months, he developed severe reflux. Over the next couple of years, he started to develop a host of different things, including really serious eczema. It would bleed; it was really, really tough even to look at. I can’t imagine how he felt. He developed asthma and then, over time, also developed vitiligo, which is essentially when your immune system attacks the pigments in your skin and it starts to turn white. He had a host of autoimmune issues.

As a family, we went on a fairly long and circuitous journey that started with the food we ate. Ultimately, he got better, but not well enough to satisfy any parent. It was about that time when we heard from his physician that we needed to think about getting harsh chemicals out of our house.

That’s when I started doing my own research. One of the first things I discovered was that the air in your home can be more polluted than the air outdoors as a result of the chemicals you use. I looked at what might be out there to aid in that wellness from the inside out and also at how could we create wellness from the outside in. Because our indoor environments are generally closed off—they don’t breathe a whole lot these days, unless you don’t have air-conditioning and have your windows open all the time.

I set off to find out what we could do for my family. I realized pretty quickly that we weren’t alone. We wanted to create something that would allow us to get away from the cleaners and soaps that overkill. And if I could help shorten the learning curve for other people like me, then I should get busy.

What were some of the things you learned—myths about cleaning products—along the way?

We’re all conditioned to think that microbes or bacteria are bad. And that we should kill them. What I learned is that most of the trillions of microbes on the planet are not actually harmful to humans. We’ve got microbes between our toes that are different from the microbes in our underarms that are different from the microbes in our eyeballs that are different from the microbes on our skin. They all serve a very distinct purpose.

We’re of the belief that you can create a very efficacious product—one that cleans the way that you want it to clean, gets the job done, and gets the dirt and grime away—without completely killing everything.

What’s the benefit of adding a probiotic to a cleaning product?

In our Microcosmic line, we use really gentle-on-human, plant-based surfactants that remove the dirt and grime as even a conventional cleaner would. But it’s going to be gentle on you: We’ve included a probiotic ingredient, Lactobacillus ferment, which is an idea we co-opted from the beauty industry. We also formulated our cleaning products to have a pH that’s aligned with your skin’s.

The soaps and the cleaners in the Microcosmic line have been dermatologist tested and are certified hypoallergenic. That was important to us, because when we spray stuff on a counter, not only are we getting it on our hands, but we’re inhaling it, and it’s floating up to our eyes. That’s why sometimes, with more caustic cleaners, your eyes can burn or you may feel like your lungs aren’t really enjoying it.

There are so many ingredients we wanted to avoid, obviously. But we really wanted to add good ingredients as well. It wasn’t just about what we were taking out. What could we put in that would get the job done and be good for us?

How does something as unconventional as a probiotic surface cleaner come about?

We have a pretty unique research and development process. For all our lines, we bring in professionals who have distinct and deep experience in related fields, and sometimes we also bring in folks from seemingly unrelated ones. As an example, we brought in a food scientist to help us develop our fruit-and-herb-infused cleaning vinegar products. We’ve consulted ethnobotanists to help uncover ingredients that could be appropriate for use on skin. We’ve used beauty formulators to help develop our cleaning and soap lines. It’s a collaborative process.

Our culture today is so kill-oriented. It’s focused on getting rid of something at any cost. What we want to do is get rid of the things we don’t want, whether it’s dirt or grime, but not in a way that’s detrimental to our own bodies. What these researchers do is help us pull from different cultures and industries, providing the wisdom and guidance to translate their knowledge into product offerings that prioritize both efficacy and wellness.

Mat Franken is the founder and CEO of Aunt Fannie’s.

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