It sounds too good to be true – technology that can produce highly effective, non-toxic cleaners and disinfectants using only tap water, salt, and electricity? For less than a penny per gallon? Technology based on science that is hundreds of years old?
Look, I’m an unabashed tree-hugger. I’ve dedicated my life to ridding the world of poisonous cleaners and am constantly on the lookout for environmentally preferable cleaning alternatives. But when I first heard about so-called Electro Chemical Activation (ECA), my reaction was typical: What’s the catch?
Now, after years of research and work with regulatory agencies, I’ve become one of ECA’s biggest advocates. Not only is it the real deal, it’s the approach of choice for a small but growing number of businesses interested in producing their own non-toxic cleaning chemicals and sanitizers on site.
Here’s how it works: ECA systems, which can be the size of a medicine cabinet, mix tap water and salt, and then pass the brine solution through a low voltage electrolytic cell. Inside the cell, the salt water is charged and the negative and positive ions of NaCl and H2O are separated. They are then recombined to form two new end products: a mild detergent and a sanitizer/disinfectant. The detergent is an alkaline solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and the sanitizer is a neutral pH solution of hypochlorous acid (HOCl), a form of free available chlorine (FAC).
The compounds, more than 99 percent water, are suds-free, colorless, and non-toxic to humans and aquatic life. You don’t need gloves or masks to use them, and they have none of the potentially harmful side effects associated with traditional toxic cleaners, including lung damaging fumes, skin burns, rashes, or other allergic reactions.
Equally important, the ECA compounds can work better than their toxic counterparts. HOCl is known to be up to 100 times more effective than bleach in killing bacteria, viruses, and harmful spores. The sodium hydroxide solution is a highly effective all-purpose cleaner that can be used for a wide variety of applications, from replacing dish and laundry machine detergents, to scrubbing or mopping floors, to power washing or cleaning biofilms in water or beverage lines. It is also approved for use as a produce wash.
After use, the ECA compounds can be disposed down the drain without worry. They quickly dissociate back into their original forms – H2O and NaCl – with zero impact on aquatic life.
Since ECA technology uses only salt, water, and 120 volts of electricity, the compounds cost less than a penny per gallon to produce, allowing typical institutional users to recoup the price of an ECA system in eight to 18 months. Larger users can show an instant return on investment with savings in water, energy, and chemical expenses, as well as increased production time.
And since the cleaners and sanitizers are manufactured on site, at customized rates to match demand, users experience reductions in chemical use and expense, shipping and packaging costs, water usage, waste, as well as an overall decrease in carbon imprint.
Recently, there have been several developments that make ECA a more viable alternative than ever. Some ECA systems are now registered with the EPA to manufacture a “hospital grade disinfectant,” creating a non-toxic option for health care facilities. Earlier this year, ECA was also approved by the FDA for use as an “on site generator of a pesticide” for all food production facilities.
At the same time, ECA technology has evolved. ECA cells are now more efficient in their salt conversion rates and can produce higher volumes of cleaners and sanitizers. The systems have more sophisticated automation and built-in quality controls that can be monitored offsite.
Companies have developed new uses for ECA as well. Solutions can now be used to do things like clean trains or buses, remediate damage from environmental disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or make “active ice” and “active water” that will kill spoilage bacteria and extend the shelf life of meat, fish, produce, or cut flowers.
But not every ECA system is built the same. Buyers should be careful to compare each device to see how much salt it will use (and leave behind as a residue), how many parts per million FAC it can produce, at what pH, and how many gallons per hour it can manufacture.
Here’s the truth: ECA’s biggest challenge in the coming years won’t be performance, but perception. Big chemical companies have spent billions of dollars over the last century in an effort to convince us that cleaning means big bubbles, pungent scents, or bright neon colors, things that often harm the environment and do nothing to boost efficacy.
Fortunately, a growing number of businesses are taking a fresh look at their cleaning processes and choosing to eliminate toxins, boost employee health and safety, and give Mother Nature a break.
ECA technology is a game-changing, disruptive device in a $7 billion per year US market. It can fundamentally change the way we clean, sanitize, and disinfect. And it’s as simple as plugging in.
Anselm Doering is the president and CEO of Brooklyn-based EcoLogic Solutions, a B Corporation-certified manufacturer and distributor of environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and technologies for the institutional marketplace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.