Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Water-based, Chemical-free Cleaning

February 1, 2011

There seems to a lot of talk today about cleaning with water, so it''s no surprise that I received a question about how real this might be.

So, I looked at some articles that Stephen Ashkin has done and also decided to talk to the folks who are saying that "yes, we clean with water."

In the end, we relied on our own in-field testing using adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meters and visual confirmation.

Can you effectively clean and sanitize with water?

The answer seems to be "yes" and "maybe," depending on what you think water is in the three stages of its cleaning life: Before cleaning; during cleaning; and after cleaning.

In approaching this task in these three segments, we uncovered some interesting findings.

Before Cleaning

In all the samples we tried, the water was water before cleaning — actually, tap water.

We took it from different taps, and the only thing we could claim was that all samples were indeed tap water.

So far, the answer is "yes," as we are starting the cleaning process with water.

During Cleaning

This is where water gets interesting.

While no chemicals were added to the tap water, some of it was electrolyzed, some activated and some was ozoned.

Cleaning with activated water through a handheld sprayer delivered remarkable results as a general-purpose cleaner.

How did this work? A spray bottle unit has a battery that is charged, like my cell phone.

Tap water is put into the spray bottle and, as the trigger is activated, the tap water takes on a small "charge" from the battery, which changes the water into a mild acid and a mild alkaline that does the actual cleaning.

It''s this change that gives activated water its power to clean as well or better than many general-purpose chemicals.

We used ATP testing and visual confirmation to determine the cleaning and sanitizing power of each water-based cleaning system.

This general strategy is at work in all the "water" cleaning technologies we examined, even if the change to the tap water is brought about differently.

Cleaning with liquid ozone technology added an extra molecule of oxygen to water to deliver a germ kill rate that was unexpected.

A floor machine with the same technology as the handheld sprayer delivered electrolyzed water for the cleaning of hard surface floors that was amazing.

In addition, we tested another handheld device that uses regular tap water as a powerful general-purpose cleaner.

Again, all took regular tap water, modified it in some way, and used it to clean as well as competing chemical-based products.

So, I have to conclude that during the cleaning process, the tap water is still water; but, it has indeed been changed by one technology or another.

It is water, but not the same.

I wonder what the material safety data sheet (MSDS) materials say about this?

Yet, by any measure, these water-based cleaning strategies work.

But, this is not the real advantage of the water-based cleaning strategy; it''s what happens after cleaning that offers the real surprise.

After Cleaning

In each water-based cleaning technology, after a short period of time, the modified water loses it change and reverts back to plain tap water — yes, it becomes plain tap water again.

While this in itself is an interesting and somewhat mysterious event, it has enormous consequences for our health and our environment.

The way we are cleaning our properties today results in the dumping of six billion pounds of chemicals into our environment each year.

As a direct result, we are polluting two-thirds of our streams and waterways.

Twenty percent of office workers experience some form of aggravation from the chemicals that they breathe or absorb — that''s over 10,000,000 of us.

We inhale, ingest or absorb the after-cleaning chemical residual from the way we clean, leading to a low-dose and long-term buildup of toxins in our bodies and contamination of our indoor and outdoor environments.

With an after-cleaning result of plain water from these water-based technologies, the risk to our health and the environment may be suddenly and dramatically reduced.

And, notwithstanding the sanitizing power of these innovations, the impact on our health and the environment has amazing potential.

The Chemical Free Cleaning Network ( has done a good amount of research on these technologies, as well as other non-chemical cleaning strategies.

So, how real are these water-based, chemical-free cleaning strategies and technologies?

Well, as far as we can test and verify, they work — and work well.

I guess that the blinding flash of the obvious has been the realization about the positive impact of chemical-free cleaning on our health and our environment.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland, He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice, performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.