Electrolyzed water replaces cleaning chemicals in Superior schoolsIt sounds too Earth-friendly to be true — that you can get kitchens and bathrooms sparkling clean and disinfected without bleach or antibacterials or other harsh chemicals, that you can solve all your cleaning needs with tap water, table salt and electricity.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
It sounds too Earth-friendly to be true — that you can get kitchens and bathrooms sparkling clean and disinfected without bleach or antibacterials or other harsh chemicals, that you can solve all your cleaning needs with tap water, table salt and electricity.
But Patti Grosnick says she’s seen it work, and she should know. Grosnick is in charge of 42 custodians for the Superior school district, where she has been using a device that uses an electric charge to activate salt water into two compounds — a disinfectant and a cleaner-degreaser.
Superior isn’t alone. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been using a similar system for two years at its conference center. And similar technology has been used in Japan and Russia for decades.
Sometimes called electrolyzed water, it’s been slow to catch on in the U.S., its supporters say, because companies that make chemical cleaners stand to lose millions of dollars once people see the system work. In one case, a large cleaning chemical company bought a patent to keep it under wraps.
The system works by sending a low-voltage dose of electricity through salt water. That separates the water’s sodium ions and chloride ions. The sodium ions are given a negative electrical charge, which creates sodium hydroxide, commonly called lye.
The chloride ions are exposed to a positive charge, which creates hypochlorus acid, the active ingredient in bleach. It kills germs at a lower dose and much faster than bleach, according to PathoSans, the Illinois-based company that makes the device Superior is using to turn water into cleaning solution.
Because you make the stuff in your own home, business or institution, there’s less liquid being shipped cross-country, and there’s no need for throw-away plastic containers, so the carbon footprint is reduced. It’s about as Earth-friendly as you can get and still get rid of grease, germs and bacteria, Grosnick said. They even use it as a floor cleaner.
“I’ve done (bacteria) swabs before and after, and I know it’s working. It’s as good, or sometimes better, than the chemical solutions we used,” she said. There’s no smell or even bubbles, Grosnick said “so some of our guys were skeptical that it was working. But we’re using it in all our buildings now.”
When it washes down the drain, it’s as harmless as salty water.
“I thought it was a good idea to get away from all the chemicals and the exposure to the students, as well as the cleaning staff,” Grosnick said. “I’m a true believer in it.”
The one drawback, she noted, is that the activated solution has a relatively short shelf life: about six months. Her staff makes it in 55-gallon drums at one location to be used in refillable bottles across the district. There’s no mixing and no confusion about possible chemical reactions.
It can’t burn your skin or irritate your eyes and won’t eat into plastic like bleach can, its supporters say. The stuff is so safe that some kitchens are using it to disinfect vegetables and fruits. Other people have claimed it can cure athletes’ foot. Some people are using it to remove stains from carpeting and to clean windows. Trucking companies are using it to keep stainless steel tankers spotless inside and out.
Grosnick already had purchased a similar device that made just the cleaning solution for about 18 months. She’s been using the PathoSans dual-solution unit since Christmas.
Yen-Con Hung, a professor of food science at the University of Georgia-Griffin, has been researching electrolyzed water for more than a decade. He said it’s starting to catch on with larger companies across the U.S., including major beverage makers who need to clean out their lines frequently.
“It can be much more effective than bleach at killing bacteria, yet it’s safe,” Hung said, speaking generally and not about any specific brand. “Five years ago, this technology was moving very slowly. But now, it’s growing very rapidly.”
So far, Superior schools are the only big customer for PathoSans in the Twin Ports area, where it’s being marketed by Dwight Gruetzmacher.
Virtually free to operate — with water and a small electrical current — the institution-size machines cost about $10,000 to $15,000. Smaller systems for homes (one is called the Toucan-eco) cost about $350. But they should pay for themselves quickly. One hotel in California expects to recover the $10,000 cost of a similar unit in less than a year in chemical savings and fewer employee sick days.
The Grand Hyatt New York hotel in Manhattan and Holland America Line cruise-ship company are using the PathoSans technology. Some grocery stores are spraying the stuff on vegetables and seafood to kill salmonella and other bacteria that can spoil food.
“It can extend the shelf life of vegetables by three days or more. It’s so safe you can spray it into your mouth,” said Gruetzmacher, who markets the product through his company, NoChem Health Services.
Gruetzmacher said he’s working to introduce the technology to other school districts, hospitals and businesses in the area, trying to convince Northlanders that the same technology has been cleaning up in Russia and Japan for years.
“It’s just starting to catch on over here,” he said. “But the potential upside is so big; I think it’s eventually going to be the way everybody goes. If it works better and is safer and better on the environment, why not use it?”
For more information go to pathosans.com or call (218) 940-8794.