Biofilm Build up in Pipes – How to Control and Prevent Problems


Busy Healthcare setting where Green Drain is used to help prevent biofilm build up in pipes

There are all kinds of biofilm, but the ones that inhibit drains can be some of the nastiest. They’re not only smelly and unsightly when you peer down, but drain biofilm can lead to serious health problems.  

What is Biofilm?

Biofilm forms when microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses, algae and protists stick to each other and grow on a surface. The surfaces can be anything moist from a drain, rocks or unbrushed teeth. Biofilms protect themselves with a sticky coating called extracellular polymeric substances. 

The Problem with Biofilm

Researchers have found biofilm has caused a range of serious health problems including Salmonella, Shigella, E. Coli, Campylobacter and Yersinia.

Drains are breeding grounds for bacteria that cause illness. One UK study of domestic drains found sessile populations of bacteria colonize drains conduits with the species dependent on individual locations. L. paracasei was detected in one drain, M. osloensis was detected in another while E. coli was found in two drains.

The risk in the home is especially great when a plumbing problem causes old water from the drains to come up into the sink. Homeowners should disinfect sink surfaces and have their plumbing fixed as soon as they experience a problem.

But the risks are far greater in healthcare settings. The biofilm in pipes can contain more serious infectious viruses and bacteria. The biofilm from the drainpipe can come back up through the sink when we turn on the tap. Sick patients often have compromised immune systems, so they are highly susceptible to contracting an illness or infection from the biofilm.  

How Does Biofilm Build up in Pipes?

Drain lines and plumbing systems are the perfect environment for biofilm to grow. The pipe is wet and receives a constant source of bacteria (food) for the biofilm to feed on. All pipes are at risk of developing biofilm. In the home raw meat juices, vegetable waste and fats are deposited down the kitchen sink and in the bathroom there’s hair and body oil. Sinks in commercial, industrial and healthcare environments are subject to risky waste products that contain high levels of bacteria and/or viruses.

There’s been increased awareness that bacteria biofilms can bio foul drains. In the last five years, there has been an explosion of outbreaks in the transmission of nosocomial pathogens and resistance genes. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 15% of all hospital patients suffer from infections caused by exposure to pathogens. The infection may occur through staff, other patients, hospital waste and water splashing out of the sink on to equipment and surfaces.

Clinical epidemiologists have recognised that sink drains in hospital wards harbour pathogens and are a significant risk to surgical, intensive care, neonates and cystic fibrosis wards.

How to Control and Prevent Biofilm Problems

The problem with drains and pipes is they’re hard to see down and even harder to reach, which makes cleaning them extremely difficult.  

Most homeowners think they are cleaning away the gunk in their drains with hot water and detergents, but it’s not enough. The sticky coating protects the bacteria to ensure its survival, making it hard to destroy biofilm.

Hospitals have been using strong chlorine-based disinfectants or caustic soda to remove biofilm from drains and pipes however even these are ineffective against biofilm.         

A more effective method is a physical barrier which blocks odours, bacteria, viruses and pests coming up from drains and to ensure a safe healthcare environment for patients and staff. 

The Green Drain™ Clinical Version is a system that is retro-fitted in healthcare facility drains. Its flexible membrane allows water to run free through the drain, then it closes and seals as soon as it detects that water has stopped flowing. By replacing the traditional trap seal, it provides a mechanical barrier to any diseases, insects and odors. 

The beauty of Green Drain™ Clinical Version is, it doesn’t have parts that trap grease, hair and debris like standard drains. The membrane is self-cleaning, so there’s no need for hazardous chemicals to remove build-up. The handling and safe storage of caustic chemicals means a safer work environment for staff. 

The Green Drain™ Clinical Version comes in four different sizes to fit all new and existing floor drains. This system is ideal for healthcare settings, preventing and and protecting the environment from airborne contaminants and disease transmission. 

For more information about sink and drain pathogens, see our case studies pages. For more information about Green Drain the Clinical Version, call us on 1300 29 32 32 or contact us online.