This diagram illustrates the workings of an electrolyzed water system. Shown here is a five chamber cell system, while there are other varieties on the market. (Image: Air Cycle Corporation)
By Daniel Krall From the October 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
It seems like every discipline in facility management (FM) is “going green” these days, and for good reason. Green solutions and practices deliver occupational and environmental safety benefits while at the same time often creating operational efficiencies. Commercial cleaning and sanitizing is no exception to this trend. Green cleaning can generate cost savings, provide greater convenience in obtaining solutions, and eliminate the use of harsh chemicals at a facility (which often have negative environmental and safety impacts). One emerging green cleaning and sanitizing option is the use of electrolyzed water.
What Is Electrolyzed Water?
Electrolyzed water describes two solutions—a grease cutting cleaner and a sanitizer—which an electrolyzed water system creates through the process of electrolysis. In electrolysis, salt containing water is subjected to an electrical current. The current, along with ion-selective membranes in electrolytic cells, produces two types of solutions: a high pH, non-corrosive dirt and grease cutting cleaner (sodium hydroxide), and a low pH, high dissolved oxygen, chlorine containing sanitizer and disinfectant (hypochlorous acid). The hypochlorous acid acts as a high efficacy sanitizer, while the sodium hydroxide is a broad spectrum cleaning solution.
Hypochlorous acid, the disinfectant produced by electrolyzed water, is not a weak substitute for typical, caustic chemical sanitizers. In fact, the disinfectant will eliminate most common types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores within one to 15 seconds of application, and has tested to be 80% more powerful at 50 parts per million (ppm) than chlorine bleach at 200 ppm. Meanwhile, the sodium hydroxide can be used to clean carpets and upholstery as well as hard surfaces such as floors, walls, ceilings, and equipment.
These two solutions produced by electrolysis are effective cleaners while also being safe for the environment and people. These characteristics make it a suitable cleaning and sanitizing system for use in high-risk contexts such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities as well as food processing environments. Electrolyzed water also has potential for use in office, education, hospitality, and entertainment settings.
The Cost Savings Question
Electrolyzed water is eco-friendly and safe for use in myriad facility types and applications, from healthcare facilities to entertainment venues. But would that matter if the expense for electrolyzed water was too high? The reality is that electrolyzed water might not be viable for some facility managers (fms) unless it can deliver the desired benefits affordably.
Because it is produced on-site at a facility, electrolyzed water can deliver cost savings compared to the typical process of shipping cleaning and sanitizing chemicals to a facility. Usually, cleaning and disinfecting supplies are purchased in bulk and shipped to the facility, where they are stored, used up, and reordered.
An electrolyzed water system generates cleaner and sanitizer on-site from tap water, salt, and electricity. Making the solutions at the facility minimizes transportation costs and emissions, storage space requirements, and the effort needed to reorder chemicals continually. Electrolyzed water is often produced for as little as two cents per gallon.
A Brief History
Electrolyzed water has been used around the world for decades to clean and sanitize, notably in Japan, Russia, and Europe. In Japan, electrolyzed water is used for everything from sanitizing sushi to filling swimming pools to medical applications. But despite its myriad uses and health and cost saving benefits, electrolyzed water has been slow to see widespread implementation in the United States.
Perhaps for some, electrolyzed water has seemed “too good to be true.” But as the technology has gained acceptance and been publicized in the United States, fms have begun to embrace it.
Richard Cardemon, president of Reliance Machine Company based in Muncie, IN, has implemented electrolyzed water “in a myriad of ways including cleaning and sanitizing of bathrooms and kitchen areas, washing down machinery, and cleaning glass windows throughout the facility.” With electrolyzed water, Reliance has “reduced [its] general cleaning chemical usage by almost 85% and replaced it with electrolyzed water at a cost of less than two cents per gallon.”
Electrolyzed Water Today
The technology is gaining ground in acceptance for use at commercial facilities as well as in the regulatory community. Electrolyzed water is recognized as a disinfectant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and listed for use in food processing by the Federal Drug Administration. As the technology has become accepted by the facility management and regulatory communities, it has become more widely available, in part, as a component of a welcomed trend toward “green” facility management solutions.
Krall is marketing project coordinator at Air Cycle Corporation, a sustainable solutions and technologies company offering recycling solutions, food waste diversion systems, and cleaning and sanitizing systems.