My Water's Better Than Your Water

Back in March, College Planning & Management published an article about the state of green cleaning. The piece observed that the green cleaning industry seems poised to enter a new phase: eliminating many general cleaning chemicals in favor of water.

The article reported on two water-only cleaning systems including electrically activated water (EAW), which Philadelphia-based ARAMARK uses in its “Blue Cleaning” program.

Following publication, readers responded with questions about the effectiveness of EAW. One reader asked if CP&M had confirmed that electrically activated water is effective. Another asked the magazine to respond to the charge that EAW works no better than tap water.

At the time the green-cleaning article was published, there didn’t seem to be any reason to question the technology. ARAMARK is a well-regarded facilities management and custodial service provider. The company commissioned tests to satisfy itself that EAW works and decided to roll out an EAW cleaning program to customers across the country.

Nevertheless, the doubts expressed by readers provided an incentive to look into the matter.

A Raging Debate About Water
What we found was a raging debate among large corporations that make and market floor-cleaning equipment.

For example, Broendby, Denmark-based Nilfisk-Advance makes floor scrubbers that use tap water. The Minneapolis, Minn.-based Tennant Company makes scrubbers that use what the company calls ec-H2O or electrically converted water.

At the end of 2010, Nilfisk-Advance commissioned two independent laboratories to compare cleaning results of ec-H2O with tap water. Between them, Professional Testing Laboratory, Inc of Dalton, Georgia and Environ Laboratories LLC of Minneapolis conducted three tests.

Nilfisk-Advance characterized the results of those tests as proof that ec-H2O cleans no better than tap water. Indeed, the reports from the testing labs do appear to confirm the claim. To review the research, go to:

The Tennant Company has responded by questioning the validity and relevance of the tests. In one prepared statement, for instance, Tennant said the study “appears to have been carefully engineered to produce a particular result to help position their (Nilfisk-Advance’s) competing solution. It does not prove that ec-H2O performs no better than water…. Rather, it proves that both ec-H2O and water removed this water-soluble soil sample.”

Camarillo, Calif.-based Hygiena, a microbiology and life science company, provided the soil samples for the test described in Tennant’s prepared statement. After looking over the procedures used in that test, Kim Metzler, the Midwest regional sales manager with Hygiena says, “The test appears to be honest and accurate. It proved that water and EAW cleaned soil off of a prepared surface in a controlled environment. But there is nothing in the test to prove or disprove the performance of either tap water or EAW outside of that environment — in the real world where dirt and bacteria build up in layers.”

Peer Review
And the debate goes on. “I’ve been following this discussion for several years,” says Allen Rathey, president of Boise, Idaho-based Healthy Facilities Institute, a company that strives to provide educational information for creating and maintaining clean, healthful indoor environments. “These companies all have their own studies.

“In my opinion, Nilfisk and Tennant are both good companies. Both have commissioned studies that say their product works. Because they have sponsored the studies themselves, I do not believe they can be considered unbiased. I urge these companies to have their data peer reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal. I don’t believe either has done that.”

But Does EAW Work?
Plain water has been considered a good cleaning solution for centuries if not millennia. There is little doubt about that.

Does running a current through water make it into a better cleaning solution?

“When you run electricity through tap water with a little salt, in some cases, you create a mild form of bleach on the acidic side and lye on the alkaline side — so you have created a cleaner,” Rathey says. “There is no question about that.”

Then Why Are We Arguing About This?
We are arguing about this because corporations with major financial interests on each side of the question are battling each other for market share. That makes it difficult to get a straight answer.

If you’re in the market for sustainable cleaning technology today, whose claims should you believe? Until objective science catches up with this emerging industry and figures out whether EAW cleans better than tap water or whether tap water cleans better than EAW, you should probably listen less to equipment manufacturers, and pay strict attention to what their existing customers have to say.

A lot of customers are using cleaning technology branded by these companies. Are they satisfied? Do they like the way EAW cleans? Do they like the way tap water cleans?