A sustainable solution to traditional cleaning chemicals
By Adam Nasr
November 11, 2019
Electronically activated water (EAW) has been around for a while now but has struggled to hit main stream adoption. Part of this is due to high startup costs, part is due to pressures to compete from cleaning chemical suppliers and manufacturers, and some due to the resistance to what can be a major shift in cleaning strategy. I recently took the leap and switched my main cleaning chemical system to an EAW system and have been surprised by how well it has been received.
Electronically activated water (EAW) systems work by using electrolysis to create two cleaning solutions from water and standard water softening pellets. The first can be a sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution for general cleaning and the second can be a hypochlorous acid (HOCL) solution for sanitizing/antimicrobial cleaning. The EAW generates a concentrate that is then diluted into ready to use (RTU) form at satellite dispensing stations similar to other commercially available chemical dilution stations through the use of transport tanks that can be refilled when empty.
From a cleaning standpoint, EAW makes great general use cleaners, but it is not a magic bullet that will eliminate all your chemicals. For our purposes as a school district, specialty cleaning chemicals are not needed as often as a hospital or other environment with a higher cleaning standard. We still keep other high-level disinfectants on hand for any viral or other “outbreak” type situations, but they are not frequently used. EAW is a maintenance cleaner and, from time to time, a more powerful detergent or acid type cleaner will be needed for heavy soiling or porcelain. For this reason, it is important for facilities management to conduct a proper needs assessment to understand what they are using the chemicals for. Also, it is important that they make sure to assess what they are cleaning with (i.e. microfiber, cotton rags, etc.) as that will have an impact on the effectiveness of any cleaning program.
EAW solutions have a very clean smell, almost like a light swimming pool chlorine. Anyone that cleans knows that this is important because, from a perception standpoint, smell can be an important indicator of cleaning effectiveness even though it has absolutely no relation to it.
The life of the concentrate is 90 days for the general concentrate and 30 days for the antimicrobial solution. Once dispensed as an RTU solution, the lifespan is 30 days for the general cleaning solution and 7 days for the antimicrobial solution. Efficacy can be checked with chlorine and pH test strips. Like most commercial dispensers, they can be set to dispense RTU solution into a bottle or bucket, which has helped the learning curve of end users. It should be noted that EAW generators are a machine and, like any other, it will need maintenance from time to time. The onboard diagnostics display should be able to help with status reports, and the manuals available should be detailed enough to make doing in-house repairs and maintenance an option if there are qualified staff on a facilities team who are able to do that kind of work.
One of the biggest barriers is the upfront cost of the systems. In order to use EAW at seven different sites, we needed to think more like a distributor rather than just a consumer since we are now manufacturing our own cleaning solutions. By setting up a system to deliver fresh concentrate when needed, we were able to limit the amount of generator stations to two. Including installation and service for 4 years, the price of the system was just over $20,000. We were able to finance this through an outsourced service vendor who bid their price according to their national contract. By doing this and then financing it through them at 0% interest as part of the contract price, we are paying about $5,200 a year for 4 years. When we added up our general cleaning chemical concentrate cost from before we were spending around $16,000 a year, thus netting us over $10,000 in savings per year.
All said, EAW should be acknowledged as a sustainable solution to traditional cleaning chemicals. While it isn’t going to fix all of our cleaning problems, it does help green cleaning programs and budgets. From a long-term standpoint, we will be monitoring and reporting any problems that may occur, but are currently happy with the switch and the methods that make it possible. A decision like this depends on a lot of moving parts, so any facilities management that decide to go with EAW should make sure a broader comprehensive conversation with all their stakeholders takes place before they take the plunge.
Adam Nasr is the Director of Facilities at Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.