Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Electrolyzed Water?

Looks like there is a new invention making the rounds. Its a new miracle cleaner! And it makes “electrolyzed water”! It works better than chlorine! Its safe to drink! Its good for the environment! It will cure cancer! It will eliminate starvation is poverty stricken countries.

Alright, I got a little carried away. But you can guess that when I saw the claims being made, maybe I was a bit piqued and what the heck they were talking about.

So here is the story. One thing I will not do in this post is evaluate how good of a cleaner it is. While the entire story is about how a housecleaning staff as a hotel thinks its great stuff, they at least tried it and I have not. However, unlike the housecleaning staff, I know what it is and apparently they do not.

What is amazing to me is they they actually describe, in detail, exactly what this stuff is but then continue to refer to it as electrolyzed water.

Here is their description:

It turns out that zapping salt water 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.

So, depending on which side you take you electrolyzed water from, you are either cleaning with Hydrochlorous Acid or sodium hydroxide. These chemicals are pretty familiar to many of us. Hydrochlorous acid is the active agent for chlorine when you put it in your pool. It certainly kills bacteria as any pool owner knows as long as the concentration of it is high enough.

Sodium hydroxide is a powerful alkaline when made into a aqueous solution. Its what is in Drano to clear pipes, its used as paint stripper and other uses that requires a strong reaction to take place. It also happens to be a key component in the making of biodiesel. All of these happen in high enough concentrations.

I am trying to make clear that, like all chemicals, its not just the chemical itself that is important, its the concentration also. You can water down pure cyanide enough for it to not be dangerous to you at all (which is why homeopathy is such a joke).

As for its use: well first off, they never make clear in the article (or other ones) which water is being used, there are three sources. There is the sodium hydroxide side, the midle salt water, and the hydrochlorous acid side. I think the idea is to take the latter for disinfecting and then use the sodium hydroxide solution for degreasing. The benefits of hydrochlorous acid is fairly well known, so there is not an extraordinary claim there. Sodium hydroxide could certainly be a degreaser. However, they claim that you can drink it.

Patrick Lucci, Electrolyzer's vice president of marketing, likes to bombard prospects with scientific studies, then give 'em the old razzle-dazzle. He'll swig the processed salt water before he mops the floor with it.
"Try that with bleach," he said.

So what concentration are we really talking about here? Further, how are they assessing its effectiveness?

"I didn't believe in it at first because it didn't have foam or any scent," said housekeeper Flor Corona. "But I can tell you it works. My rooms are clean."

Sorry Flor, but unless you actually swabbed your tub or sink before and after you cleaned with it and then had it analyzed, you really have no idea if its any cleaner than using plain old water or nothing at all.

So, this may not be total nonsense, but they way they are presenting it surely is. The cleaning agent isnt water any more than the ammonia you buy is, which is also a very low concentration of ammonia gas dissolved in water.  If the hydrochlorous acid is strong enough to clean with, its probably not that great to drink, same with the sodium hydroxide side. Neither side are probably that great for continued use on metal which tends to be susceptible to tarnish when exposed to acids and bases, which is why soap is a good cleaner, as it is relatively neutral.

Submit to Skeptical Blog Anthology 2009

File Under: