Twenty-five years ago my son, Conor, would have been a boy in a bubble. He was born with an extremely rare and dangerous condition; a severe immunodeficiency that made the simplest childhood activities – a scraped knee, a cold, even contact with other children – potentially life-threatening. The first time I held my newborn son, he was sealed in an incubator in a neonatal ICU. We gave him his first stuffed animal in a plastic baggie. I was scared and overwhelmed; this was not how I expected to take care of my first child.
With only 10 percent of our son’s immune system functioning, it was critical that my wife, Jen, and I make our home as safe as possible. We soon discovered we couldn’t find household disinfectants or antiseptic soaps that we felt comfortable using. We weren’t shooting for a sterile environment but rather control of germ “hot-spots.” We realized that harsh chemicals around Conor would be another tax on his severely overburdened immune system, forcing him to process yet another source of foreign, unnatural “invaders.”
We knew it was possible to kill germs without toxicity because it happens in our own bodies. We produce antibodies that are deadly killers yet they do not harm us. Plants defend themselves against invading germs too, producing essential oils to do the job. So we took matters into our own hands. Along with my Mom, Joy, an aromacologist, and using natural processes as our guide (called “biomimicry”, mimicking nature), we set out to make a formula that would kill germs and could be used around Conor.
After researching, screening, sampling and comparing hundreds of plant extracts we settled on a formulation that uses natural thyme oil. We took this first formula to a microbiology lab to run germ kill tests. The lab owner thought we were nuts bringing in this concoction and crazy theories of “selective killing.” We finally convinced him to take our money and do the testing. Three days later he called us back excitedly saying, “Do you have any idea what you have here? How unique and valuable this is?”
We spent the next three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars (including my mom’s inheritance from the passing of her father), doing research and improving the formula – primarily because we learned that any germ killing claims on a product such as “disinfectant, sanitizer or antibacterial” are regulated by the government (in the interest of protecting public health) and there are strict performance standards to be met if we wanted to sell the product.
People say if we were traditional chemists, we wouldn’t have come up with this innovation. We looked at the problem from a different perspective and were “unencumbered by experience.”
As a result, we have dispelled the idea that something must be toxic to be effective. We met and surpassed all the performance standards and set a new high bar for the safety profile of a disinfectant product. In fact we developed the first botanical disinfectant – in the world.
Although Conor struggles with his condition, which continues to confound his doctors, he is out in the world with his peers. He leads a relatively normal life. He goes on family vacations, trains in gymnastics, and attends school, thanks in part to CleanWell, the germ-killing formula that my mom and I developed from a plant essential oil. We are proud of our son and proud of the products we have created.