Sometimes, simplicity can be the highest form of elegance and usefulness.
In an industry that has traditionally been beset by a host of complex chemical mixtures for specific cleaning tasks, a "new" substance is now at the forefront of innovation: Electrically-charged or activated water.
While it cannot replace all of the cleaning chemicals that professionals have used for years, activated water in spray bottle form is now turning heads as a viable alternative to cleaning chemicals for a large number of common cleaning needs.
If activated water proves to be cost effective, it could change the industry for good.
However, apprehensive end-users remain skeptical that activated water is simply marketing hype and no more effective than plain tap water.
Today, cleaning departments and businesses must try to meet the demands of the organization for clean and healthy buildings with ever tightening budgets and reduced staff.
End-users in the professional cleaning industry are therefore looking for versatile products that are cost effective and perform well with minimum impact on health and the environment.
Activated water technology would seem to fit the bill, but for some, the benefits of using activated water to replace the tried and true chemical cleaner sounds too good to be true.
Fortunately, with widespread use, testimonials of field experience and third-party scientific testing, this perception is slowly being replaced by more realistic assessments.
According to the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) Surface Solutions Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, activated water delivered through low-pressure sprays and manual wiping successfully removed many contaminants such as carbon deposits, dirt, oily films and soap residues from 44 different hard and resilient surfaces.
In recent years, there has been a significant shift from cleaning for appearances to cleaning for a healthier environment, including the prevention of diseases transmitted by microbial contamination of surfaces.
So, can activated water help safeguard a facility from infectious agents in any meaningful way?
According to third-party testing, which is in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency''s (EPA) Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) protocol, the answer is yes.
An activated water handheld integrated sprayer was shown to remove or inactivate 99.9 percent of Salmonella, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other bacteria on surfaces.
The Science Of Activated Water
Although the process of changing plain tap water into a cleaner and sanitizer may appear to be a "science project," the concepts behind it are simple to grasp.
Dr. Robert W. Powitz explains the concept well: "Water electrolysis is applied to create charged nano-sized gas bubbles or ''nanobubbles'' in water. These electrically-charged bubbles attach themselves to dirt particles, causing the particles in turn to become charged and repel from surfaces, which enables soils to be suspended in water and wiped away. The main ''ingredient'' behind the germ-killing effect of modern activated water devices is electroporation, a scientific process that applies a low-level electrical field to bacteria or viruses. This electric charge creates holes in the membrane of the cell, known as ''porating'' the cell wall and thus breaks down the walls of bacterial cells, pathogenic viruses and other germs, effectively killing them."
"We have enabled activated water to kill microorganisms by breaking down the cell wall in less than six seconds," says Chris Deets, marketing director for Activeion Cleaning Solutions LLC. "But, it''s not a miracle cleaner. The process doesn''t work on heavy grease or grossly soiled surfaces and isn''t yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on food preparation surfaces in restaurants."
While activated water can sanitize surfaces, registered disinfectants should still be used in critical care environments
such as in hospitals and other health care facilities.
"While effective on windows, mirrors and lightly-soiled hard surfaces, activated water won''t replace all of your cleaning products," says Andrew Bales, director of emergency preparedness for Mason General Hospital. "For restrooms, shower walls and heavier concentrations of petroleum-based soil, activated water is not as effective as other products. Chemicals and processes designed for those specific tasks should be considered."
Additionally, cleaning professionals may also find that activated water is ineffective on some scuffs and embedded markings.
Black heel marks, for example, present challenges for this technology.
These marks usually do not respond to activated water and, in fact, to most traditional chemicals, without agitation.
Because of these limitations, activated water could replace many general purpose cleaning products, but should be used to complement other needed products in the janitor''s closet.
Since activated water is generally non-toxic and won''t harm the user or the environment, it is acceptable to use trial-and-error methods to determine the appropriate application specific to your facility.
Housed in thick, robust plastic and featuring a brass nozzle as well as a comfortable rubber trigger, the spray bottle of activated water will stand up to most of the common abuse, dings and nicks that go along with cleaning and transporting.
Tommy Little, manager of building services for Georgia Tech University, describes his experience over about a year''s time: "We have been using activated water spray bottles since June 2009. We first started a pilot program using 30 units and we recently implemented another 130 units. To date, we have replaced three units at no charge due to a defect."
Because activated water has a "wow" factor and can add "pizzazz" to a cleaning operation, it can draw attention from some building occupants who may have bad intentions.
Since the spray bottle is eye-catching and high-tech, some facility managers are concerned that theft will occur.
Similar to protecting chemicals, equipment and other tools of the trade from being stolen or vandalized, owners and managers must be diligent with effective inventory management measures.
The cleaning products and procedures of the past have had mild to serious negative impacts on worker and occupant safety and health.
The cleaning industry has recently been rated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a leading source of workplace injuries, so it is important that we strive to create a safer atmosphere for end-users as well as building occupants.
"The more harmful chemicals we can remove from our campus, the safer we''ll be," notes Bob Pils, director of housekeeping and maintenance for Colgate University.
The downsides of using powerful, toxic chemicals may be increased sick days, illness, absenteeism and decreased morale and productivity.
Thus, activated water, along with other less toxic products and methods, is helping to reverse these trends.
According to a manufacturer''s literature and third-party validation, facilities of medium size can save 186 gallons of gas, four barrels of oil and one metric ton of coal from entering the environment by switching to just two handheld activated water spray bottles.
Add appearance and health benefits — along with long-term cost savings — and professionals can be increasingly confident that handheld activated water spray bottles may be both cost effective and better for health and the environment than traditional chemical-based cleaners.
Is it perhaps time to charge your operation with activated water?
David Mudarri, Ph.D., is a former senior indoor air quality scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the author of the upcoming book, Clean and Healthy Schools for Dummies published by Wiley & Sons in conjunction with the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA).