Chennai’s Kavitha Ramakrishnan has not shopped for detergents, washing powders, dish wash bars or liquids, toilet cleaning fluids, floor cleaners and the like for the last few years. Instead, she relies on her microbe friends for these assorted jobs. She has opted for organic home sanitation by microbes or ‘activated effective microorganisms’ (AEM).
Wait, aren’t microbes supposed to be eliminated by sanitation?
It’s a myth that all microbes are bad and that sanitation calls for killing them all. We hold on to this illusion, although we rely on microbes to turn milk into curd, to make our idli batter and bread dough rise, and to make many of our antibiotics.
And don’t forget, our body is home to innumerable beneficial microbes.
So then, there are good microbes, bad microbes, and indifferent ones. Activated effective microorganisms (activated EM) are among the good guys.
“The use of activated EM is very beneficial and convincing for surface hygiene in households and bathrooms. We tested and demonstrated this several times, to Government officials, in corporate offices, in hospitals etc,” declares Dr Lucas Dengel of EcoPro, based in Auroville.
EcoPro promotes eco-friendly approaches in environmental hygiene and sanitation, supplying effective microorganism (Maple EM.1) to interested users. Trained in medicine at the University of Mainz, Germany, Dr Dengel is a UNICEF-recognised expert on public hygiene.
Are these microbes harmless to humans? Has this been proven?
“These questions have been asked a hundred times and equally often been answered,” Dr Dengel says. “The microorganisms in ‘Maple EM.1’ are Lactobacillus casei, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Rhodospeudomonas palustris. All of them are ingredients in our food–lactobacillus is one of the bacteria that turns milk into yoghurt (and is also present in many other foods); saccharomyces are the yeast used for making bread, pizza dough, beer and wine, and alcoholic drinks; and rhodopseudomonas or other photosynthetic bacteria are occasionally found in pickles and cheeses.”
These microbes are found on all continents and in almost all climates and ecosystems, and so, are suitable for use across the globe. These are not genetically engineered bacteria, but harmless ones occurring in nature.
Effective Microorganisms (EM) have to be activated to unfold their cleansing action. However, a word of caution. “EM1 is meant to be activated by the customer and user. If the user does not follow the instructions for activation and mixes pathogens into their AEM, it might become unsafe,” Dr Dengel says.
In 1980, Professor Teruo Higa, from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, discovered a group of naturally-occurring beneficial microorganisms, which he named as ‘Effective microorganisms’. He found that growing crops using EM products could enrich the ecosystem and promote sustainable waste management. Check out Professor Higa’s famous book An Earth Saving Revolution, a means to resolve our world’s problems through Effective Microorganisms – EM.
Soon, it was found that AEMs had dirt-removing and deodorising action, and its use in household cleaning began to be explored and found effective.
By the way, AEMs (also known as EMa) can be used to accentuate the composting process too.
It was at a workshop at a local organic store in Chennai, Restore, eight years ago, that Kavitha was introduced to AEMs. Today, she and many of her friends swear by it as a genuine way of cleaning. While she sources the activated AEM from Restore, users can also buy EM and activate it themselves.
“For one thing, my water usage has come down. With AEM, the rinse water need not be washed out of the bathroom floors, it can be left behind to continue its beneficial microbial activity. Likewise, when this AEM rinse water gets into the sewerage system, it continues its waste degrading activity. Do note that I am not adding toxins to the environment in the process. And of course, there is no irritation to the eyes, nose, and skin, as there is no contact with strong chemicals, and there is no synthetic odour hanging in the air in our house or garden,” says Kavitha.
She says, “You arrive at the right proportion with practice. Nothing will go wrong on using a different concentration.”
How to Use EMa: EcoPro’s Recommendations
- Surface cleaning of floors: Add 50 ml of EMa to a bucket of water for cleaning of floors with cloth or scrubber.
- In bathrooms, for tiled walls, in sinks, inside and around toilet bowls: Apply undiluted in appropriate amount and keep overnight; use a small household sprayer.
- Laundry: For example, by adding 50 ml of undiluted EMa per run of a washing machine, or by soaking and rinsing washed clothes with 50 ml per bucket of water.
- In kitchen and refrigerator: Clean with appropriate amount of dilution of 1:500.
- In drains, toilets, and sinks: Pour 20 to 50 ml undiluted EMa after the last use in the evening and keep overnight.
- On leather (against mould): Undiluted, in appropriate amount, every ten days.
- On carpets and mats: Clean with a dilution of 1:50, in appropriate amount, according to need between twice a week and once a month.
- In shoe boxes, on shoes, (also inside cars): Clean with a dilution of 1:50, in appropriate amount, occasionally.
- In closets, chests, on shelves: Moist slightly, occasionally.
- Garden pond and water tank (non-drinking water): Add to make a dilution of 1:10,000, occasionally
*A word of caution: Do not apply undiluted AEM on surfaces that suffer when applied with acids such as vinegar or lemon juice.
If you are sourcing unactivated EMs, here’s how to activate it. When done right, there is no odour. Use a food-grade plastic container because glass or metal containers are inappropriate, as the formation of gas can exert pressure and cause the container to break or explode.
In 20 litres of chlorine-free water, add one litre of EM, one kilo of jaggery (dissolve organic jaggery in water and then add it to the 20 litres of water). To have chlorine-free water, use stored rain water, well water, or dechlorinated tap water by exposing it to sunlight for 24 hours.
Mix it well and then close it so that the container is air-tight for 5-7 days; opening the lid once after two days, and after that, once a day till day seven, to release the formed gas.
On the seventh day, the activated AEM is ready. Keep it sealed and store it in a cool place away from light and heat.
Once activated, it has to be used within 1-2 months because it loses potency over time. The unactivated fresh Maple product (bottled EM.1) has a shelf life of at least 12 months, if the seal has not been removed.
Besides AEMs, Kavitha also likes to use bio-enzymes (that she makes from citrus peels and sugar or jaggery in water) to clean tiles; soap nut powder with ash and a little baking soda to wash dishes; vinegar for cleaning ceramic ware; baking soda for cleaning the fridge and eliminating odours; and lemongrass oil for cleaning the floor.
Household cleaning most certainly does not require synthetic cleaning agents. So why load your house and the environment with harsh chemicals when you don’t even need them?
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)