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By Tyler Williams

For many people, the cleaning process usually brings to mind the image of a building completely free of dirt, grime, and germs, so that it sparkles in cleanliness. But what if there are actually potential problems with this cozy image? What if many commonly used cleaning products bear as many risks as benefits?

Understanding Safety Data Sheets

It is well understood among cleaning professionals that many products used in the industry are very strong chemicals that can be caustic, dangerous to breathe or touch, and harmful to people with allergies. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the exact ingredients in chemical products to be documented in the form of Safety Data Sheets, often referred to as “SDS.”

OSHA’s instruction to chemical manufacturers and distributors states that the SDS are intended to help workers who handle hazardous chemicals, and are required to be presented “in a consistent, user-friendly 16-section format.” This implies that SDS must be detailed enough to fully list all of a chemical product’s ingredients, cautions, and warnings, so that product users can be fully informed and take appropriate safety measures.

The SDS for any common cleaning product can be found simply by Googling the chemical’s name and “SDS.” Carefully reading it can be very instructive. For example, the SDS for one well-known brand’s sanitizing product in use today states that it causes severe skin burns and eye damage, that workers should wear protective gloves and clothing when using, and if swallowed, to immediately call a poison center or doctor. There are many other SDS that have strong cautionary messages and warnings such as this one.

The Search For “Cleaner Cleaning Agents”

The search for effective, but less harmful cleaning methods has been underway for quite some time. It’s important to continue to change cleaning culture and displace harsh, caustic chemicals with non-toxic cleaning and disinfecting solutions that work as well, if not better, than the hazardous alternatives.

Creating awareness to the dangers of many common cleaning products through public education is critical. Unfortunately, humans can absorb environmental substances—including cleaning chemicals—into our bodies in three ways:

1. Inhalation of particles and gases that are in the air
2. Ingestion (non-dietary) of contaminants that are touched by the hands and then touch the mouth
3. Dermal intake (absorption through the skin)

When analyzing the true definition of “clean,” it’s ironic how many cleansers and disinfectants are not very clean themselves. Many emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which may cause serious health effects including eye, nose, and throat irritation. They can also damage the central nervous system and some can even cause cancer.

Many products also have fragrances to make them smell nice. However, these scents are generated through the use of additional chemical, as many as hundreds, which can also contribute health issues for people who are sensitive to them. For that reason, the use of added fragrances, commonly seen in the U.S., is banned in some countries.

The Breakthrough of ECA Technology

The science of electrochemical activation, or ECA technology, has been around for many years. It entails running an electrical current through water to activate a chemical process and produce other substances that can be useful in various industries. About 15 years ago, the cleaning industry began to implement it. Utilizing a simple ingredient list of just salt, water and electricity, it can generate effective cleaning and disinfecting solutions. These highly efficacious solutions provide optimal cleaning results without the use of harsh chemicals that are proven to emit harmful VOCs. It’s important to look for companies that produce high purity solutions that have no additives, additional fragrances or dyes. They should also be supported by third-party certifications to ensure they are effective and safe.

If you look at the SDS for ECA cleaners, you won’t find the typical cleaning product warnings about causing severe skin burns, or the instruction to call a poison control center if accidentally ingested. You also don’t need to sacrifice effectiveness in the process of making cleaning products safer. A recent study on the use of ECA technology to reduce the incidence of foodborne pathogens was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. It revealed that ECA technology has a relatively high anti-microbial efficacy compared to other chlorine-based sanitizers and can be used for a variety of antimicrobial applications with the added advantage of being non-toxic to the handling personnel—eliminating the need for personal protective equipment.

ECA technology has helped multiple industries clean in a safe, yet effective manner, including food production and agriculture, healthcare, education, commercial buildings, and more.

Making Good On Promises

Success is the result of many different ingredients. The cleaning industry must strive to be good at more than just cleaning science and the creation of safe and effective products. It’s important to also be responsible to people, whether they are customers, employees, suppliers, investors, or other stakeholders, as well as to the environment. Cleaning products should be environmentally-friendly, safely disposable, and more sustainable by requiring fewer resources to produce, transport and store.

Williams is director of scientific services for PathoSans, a manufacturer of environmentally responsible cleaning and disinfecting solutions. Williams oversees all product development, quality assurance and regulatory management that surrounds on-site electrochemical generators (OSGs) and product chemistry at PathoSans. He has a decade of experience and multiple patents in electrochemical systems and a BS in chemistry from Purdue University. He is also a founding member of the Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) Consortium which is charged with working with the EPA to advance the awareness and acceptance of HOCl. 

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Facility Executive Magazine