Is Miracle, Safe Sanitizer Too Good to be True?

drop of waterDid you know that by mixing tap water and table salt you can create a substance that degreases, kills bacteria, cleans and costs less than a penny a gallon? Too good to be true, right? But for decades, this method has been used in Russia and Japan, and it’s slowly gaining acceptance in the U.S.

The thing is, you can’t just pour some salt in a container of water and shake it up. You have to scramble the ions in the salted water with an electric current and create electrolyzed water. Most of us don’t have electrolysis machines in our home, but some U.S. businesses are buying them and finding the results favorable.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Sheraton Delfina in Santa Montica is using the electrolyzed water for cleaning rooms and disenfecting produce in the kitchen and the staff, the workers who actually use the stuff, are calling it “el liquido milagroso – the miracle liquid.”

In Santa Monica, the once-skeptical Sheraton housekeeping staff has ditched skin-chapping bleach and pungent ammonia for spray bottles filled with electrolyzed water to clean toilets and sinks.

“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.”

Management likes it too. The mixture costs less than a penny a gallon. It cuts down on employee injuries from chemicals. It reduces shipping costs and waste because hotel staffers prepare the elixir on site. And it’s helping the Sheraton Delfina tout its environmental credentials to guests.

The hotel’s kitchen staff recently began disinfecting produce with electrolyzed water. They say the lettuce lasts longer. They’re hoping to replace detergent in the dishwasher. Management figures the payback time for the $10,000 electrolysis machine will be less than a year.

“It’s green. It saves money. And it’s the right thing to do,” said Glenn Epstein, executive assistant at the Sheraton Delfina. “It’s almost like fantasy.”

Is this the answer to one of our chemical dependencies in the U.S.? Our dependency on toxic substances that do everything from disinfecting our toilets to treating athlete’s foot to washing produce to eliminating the need for chlorine in swimming pools? Is there actually a safe, green, inexpensive option out there that few people are paying attention to? An alternative that’s “10 times as effective than bleach in killing bacteria?”


But we’re a skeptical society, and we’ve been taught that if something is too good to be true then it probably is. One Minnesota food scientist, Joellen Feirtag, was skeptical, but she’s not anymore.

She installed an electrolysis unit in her laboratory and began researching the technology. She found that the acid water killed E. coli, salmonella, listeria and other nasty pathogens. Yet it was gentle enough to soothe her children’s sunburns and acne.

She’s now encouraging food processors to take a look at electrolyzed water to help combat the disease outbreaks that have roiled the industry. Most are dubious.

“This sounds too good to be true, which is really the biggest problem,” said Feirtag, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. “But it’s only a matter of time before this becomes mainstream.”

Could our skepticism be holding us back from embracing this miracle liquid?

Here are some of the ways that electrolyzed water is being used all over the world.

  • In New York, a poultry processor uses it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses.
  • In Minnesota, grocery clerks spray it on conveyor belts in check out lanes.
  • In Michigan, it’s used to mop floors to keep lethal chemicals away from inmates.
  • In Russia it’s being put in oil wells to kill microbes.
  • In Europe, it’s used to treat burn victims.
  • In parts of Latin America and Africa, its used to sanitize drinking water.
  • In Japan, its use has eliminated the need for chlorine in swimming pools.

So besides our skepticism, what’s holding us back from embracing this technology? Are chemical companies fighting the dissemination of information on it? (I have no evidence of that, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.) Is there a scientific reason to believe that while the benefits of ionizing water may be great, there are harmful effects, too? Or are we just too skeptical for our own good?

Image credit: Snap under a creative commons license

  1. Dan Vasey

    The process described produces chlorine bleach at low cost; it is possibly also more dilute. Clorox and many other chlorine bleaches contain hypochlorous acid and only a little free chlorine. The sodium hydroxide in them is what gives them that slippery feeling. And guess what? They are produced by the electrolysis of salt water.

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