Is Simple Solution a Miracle Germ Killer?

Image courtesy of Excelyte/IET.

There’s a new product on the market that's being billed as the green “germ killer of the 21st century.”

This mixture, produced from natural elements, is effective against bacteria, viruses, mold and a host of germs, according to different reports. Marketers of this disinfecting agent say it is more effective than bleach at eradicating influenza, staph, salmonella and E. coli. Testing by one company that makes the product, Integrated Environmental Technologies, has shown that it's also an effective weapon against swine flu, also known as H1N1. It kills anthrax and neutralizes sarin, mustard gas and nerve gas.

This antimicrobial solution is safe to use in sensitive settings such as schools, nursing homes, airplanes, restrooms and animal shelters. Some hotels have even forgone bleach and ammonia for this liquid, according to the Los Angeles Times. As for its environmental footprint, the product is completely biodegradable.

So, what is this miraculous compound? It's called anolyte, and believe it or not, it starts with a simple solution of salt and water. The key active ingredient of anolyte is hypochlorous acid, a naturally occurring molecule synthesized from an electrolyzed solution of brine.

“The beautiful part about anolyte is that it’s a totally green product,” says Bill Prince, president of Integrated Environmental Technologies (I.E.T.), one of several companies trying to expand the use of this nontoxic, earth-friendly germ killer. I.E.T. produces two solutions, EcaFlo Anolyte and EcaFlo Catholyte, and the process begins with units that contain electrolytic cells.

The company's technology includes electrolytic cells that consist of titanium anode and cathode tubes separated by a semi-porous ceramic diaphragm. When a saline solution is passed through the two energized cells, the current temporarily alters the properties of the water, producing two different cleaning agents: EcaFlo Anolyte, an EPA-registered disinfectant, and Catholyte, which can be used as a degreaser, cleaner and detergent. The technology enables the manufacturer to precisely control the pH of EcaFlo solutions without the use of additional chemicals or reagents. Need a visual? Check out a diagram of the process by Boing Boing.

The two cleaning agents quickly degrade into salt and water.

"It’s just water, and we change the properties of it to produce extremely high levels of hypochlorous acid," explains Prince to FoodNavigator. "In this form, we haven’t found any germ or pathogen it won’t kill. We’ve been shown to be efficacious against all families of viruses, including H1N1."

Some critics say the solution may be too good to be true.

"Some of these people are making claims that will get everybody in trouble," Richard Wullaert, a Santa Barbara water consultant, told the Los Angeles Times last year. "It's time for some serious conferences with serious scientists to give this credibility."

Meanwhile, anolyte has been used as a sanitizer in Russia and Japan for decades. It has been used to treat burn victims in Europe, and to sanitize drinking water in Latin America and Africa. In 2000, the American Chemical Society produced a report showing that electrolyzed water rivals chlorine and heat for killing E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) purchased I.E.T. EcaFlo equipment for the Interagency Biological Remediation Demonstration project. The equipment is being used to produce the EcaFlo Anolyte solution — marketed as Excelyte — for use after a bioterrorist attack.

The first use of anolyte in Europe has focused on controlling destructive pathogens in vineyards.

Closer to home, Excelyte was named a corporate sponsor of University of Texas Athletics. The product will be used to protect Texas' student-athletes and employees from staph infections in athletics facilities including training rooms, showers and locker rooms. The company is also working on Excelyte hand wipes.

Though it's safe for home use, the high cost of the units needed to produce the solution may put them out of reach of most homeowners. For now, it could be a more reasonable investment for hospitals, hotels or schools.