Ditch the bleach – for electrolyzed water


What is it? A simple mixture of table salt and tap water whose ions have been scrambled with an electric current.

For more than two centuries, scientists have tinkered with electrolysis, the use of an electric current to bring about a chemical. That's how we got metal electroplating and large-scale production of chlorine, used to bleach and sanitize.

Zapping salt water, it appears, with low-voltage electricity creates a couple of powerful yet nontoxic cleaning agents. Sodium ions are converted into sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases like detergent, but without the scrubbing bubbles. Chloride ions become hypochlorous acid, a potent disinfectant known as acid water. Scientists say is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.

‘It is 10 times more effective than bleach in killing bacteria,’ said Yen-Con Hung, a professor of food science at the University of Georgia-Griffin, who has been researching electrolyzed water for more than a decade. ‘And it's safe.’

But there are drawbacks.  Electrolyzed water loses its potency fairly quickly, so it can't be stored long. Machines are pricey and geared mainly for industrial use. The process also needs to be monitored frequently for the right strength.

Most of the growth so far has happened outside the United States. Russians are putting electrolyzed water down oil wells to kill microbes; Europeans use it to treat burn victims; electrolyzing equipment is helping to sanitize drinking water in parts of Latin American and Africa.

It's big in Japan. People there spray it on sushi to kill bacteria and fill their swimming pools with it, eliminating the need for harsh chlorine. Doctors use it to sterilize equipment and treat foot fungus and bedsores. It's the secret weapon in Sanyo Electric Corp.'s ‘soap-less’ washing machine.

In the US New York poultry processors now use it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses, Minnesota grocery clerks spray sticky conveyors in the checkout lanes, Michigan jailers mop with electrolyzed water to keep potentially lethal cleaners out of the hands of inmates and in Santa Monica the Sheraton Hotel uses if for cleaning throughout the hotel!

PuriCore of Malvern, Pa., and Oculus Innovative Sciences of Petaluma, Calif., have developed treatments for chronic wounds. Albuquerque, N.M.-based MIOX Corp. sells municipal water-purifying systems. EAU Technologies Inc. of Kennesaw, Ga., caters to both ends of a dairy cow, with alkaline water to aid the animal's digestion and acid water to clean up its manure.

Integrated Environmental Technologies Inc. of Little River, S.C., is working with oil companies to keep wells free of bacteria and with high schools to sanitize sweaty wrestling mats and grungy football equipment that spread skin infections.

Electrolyzer Corp. of Woburn, Mass., is going after the hospitality market. The Sheraton Delfina purchased one of its machines. So has the Hyatt Regency Chicago and the Trump International Beach Resort near Miami.


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First Published in October 2009

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