The marketers are at it again coining the term “Engineered Water” to describe devices that claim to modify tap water to make cleaning solutions. This new term is often being used synonymously with terms like “onsite generation of cleaning products” or “chemical free cleaning”. However, some of these systems can NOT truly call themselves chemical free.
Does so called Engineered Water make an effective cleaning agent, and in turn is it ‘chemical free’? Let’s start by reviewing some of the systems out there and provide some insights on how they work.
Steam: These type of systems heat water to boiling to create steam. This definitely would be a method of chemical free cleaning and really doesn’t require additional explanation.
Electrolyzed Water Generated Chemical Solutions: This type of system passes a current between two electrodes immersed in water containing a small amount of salt (Sodium Chloride). The process creates two chemical solutions that are collected and used for cleaning. This process has been around a long time and is scientifically well understood.
1. Chemical Solution #1: This is a dilute solution of ‘sodium hydroxide’ in water. Sodium hydroxide is a common chemical used as an additive in cleaning products, drain openers, and other chemical solutions.
2. Chemical Solution #2: This is a dilute solution of a chemical called “Hypochlorous Acid” or generically, acidic bleach. Hypochlorous acid is well known in its capacity to kill germs.
Devices on the market that use this eletrochemical method to generate cleaning solutions include Orbio sc-500™ and Orbio os-3™. Newer competitors that offer devices using similar electrochemical methods include HSP Clean2O™, R-Water, and Geneon Technologies. None of the aforementioned systems are claiming to be chemical free, but sometimes, they are being confused in the market as ‘chemical free’.
These type of systems are NOT chemical free, as the chemical solution is generated onsite.
Ozone: Solutions of ozone dissolved in water are known to be effective at killing germs and deodorizing. Companies making devices that generate ozonated water may also make claims the solution is an effective cleaning product. Ozone is itself a chemical and in high concentrations can be quite toxic. Companies marketing devices that make low level ozone cleaning solutions include Tersano, CleanCore and Minuteman International (X-17 Extractor).
Nanobubbles: More recently, Tennant Company has launched what is said to be a new and improved version of their ech2o™ system that has been offered as an option on many of their scrubbers. The new system called ec-H2O nanoclean™ purports to make cleaning solutions by electrochemically producing nanobubbles* in water solutions. The original ecH2O claimed to make an innovative cleaning solution using electrochemically generated positive and negative ions in water to clean surfaces. The original ec-H2O system came under attack by competitors, where some companies such as Advance Machine and Alfred Karcher Company claiming that the system cleaned no better than plain tap water.
*here is a short definition: Nanobubbles are tiny gaseous (typically air) cavities in aqueous solutions that have the ability to change the normal characteristics of water.
The scientific literature does describe the use of nanobubbles in water for cleaning applications. The question that remains is: do these nanobubble solutions clean better than water alone? The consumer will have to decide whether the long term value of equipment equipped with these special devices is worth the extra cost and maintenance.
Why is there interest in Engineered Water? People love a good story, and what better story to talk about than making your own cleaning products or not using any chemicals to clean and still producing the same results.
Let’s talk about those so called “nasty’ chemicals…
A big part of the sales pitch when presenting Engineered Water systems is a discussion about all those toxic, cancer causing, nasty, unsafe, deadly, environmentally harmful, terrible chemicals we use for cleaning.
The truth is that the basic building block of effective cleaning products that make them work so effectively is a chemical called a “surfactant”. Tiny amounts of a surfactant in water transform the water from an inherently bad cleaner into a very good one. It does this by making water wetter, or as scientists would say, reduces the surface tension of the water. Modern day surfactants used in shampoos, skin soaps, cosmetics and cleaning products are readily biodegradable and are very low in toxicity. Remember, water can be toxic if consumed in sufficient quantities.
In a previous blog post, we discussed how cleaning products work by making water wetter (reducing surface tension). Interestingly enough, it appears that Engineered Water systems do little to reduce surface tension of water. That chemical ingredient that reduces surface tension is a surfactant. These ingredients are encountered in our daily lives and are regularly consumed (milk, various foods), applied to skin (cosmetics, skin lotions), used to wash our bodies and hair (soap and shampoo), used to wash dishes (Dishwash liquid), and much more. Read out blog post titled Making a Powerful Cleaner from Ordinary Tap Water.