Just Add Water

by Katie Lee

Understanding and embracing the process of aqueous ozone cleaning.

By Stephen P. Ashkin

For nearly two decades, the professional cleaning industry has been embracing green cleaning and sustainability. It has been a slow process, but one that has picked up steam in the past 10 years.

What restaurant owners and managers should know is that we are now seeing new technologies introduced that are taking green cleaning to a new plateau. In the past, green cleaning often referred to using Green-certified, environmentally preferable cleaning solutions. But coming through the door are systems that use no chemicals whatsoever…and still clean effectively.

While once referred to as “chemical free” cleaning systems, in most cases today, we now call these onsite generation engineered water cleaning systems. Among them are the following:

  • Electrolyzed Water: Essentially, these systems use electricity to activate or electrolyze water. This turns the water into a cleaning agent. Manufacturers of automatic floor scrubbers were among the first companies to use this technology. For most day-to-day floor cleaning needs, Electrolyzed water systems have proven very effective.
  • Dry or Vapor Cleaning: Commercial-grade steam vapor (dry vapor) machines have been manufactured since the 1920s. “Commercial grade” refers to devices developed for professional cleaning that heat tap water to temperatures of 240 to 310 °F. This is far hotter than consumer steam vapor machines. About 10 years ago, the University of Washington tested a steam vapor system to clean restrooms and reported hygienic improvements over other more traditional cleaning methods using chemicals.
  • Spray-and-Vac Cleaning: While the developers of the no-touch (spray-and-vac) cleaning system do not recommend this equipment be used without cleaning solutions, disinfectants or sanitizers, tests have found that in many cases, the equipment can clean and sanitize surfaces using just plain water in some cases.

But the system I would like to discuss with restaurant owners and managers is called aqueous ozone. It is not a new technology. The cleaning effectiveness of aqueous ozone has been known for more than 100 years. In fact, among its first uses was the treating of water. However, its introduction and acceptance in the professional cleaning industry is somewhat still in its infancy, but the future looks bright.

What It’s All About

Aqueous ozone is mechanically made through the interaction of electricity and oxygen. The ozone is created by adding ozone molecules to the oxygen is then infused into water, thus the name aqueous ozone. As referenced earlier, studies have long indicated that aqueous ozone can help eliminate germs, odors, stains, mold, mildew and other contaminants on most types of surfaces. Once the ozone has been applied to a surface, it essentially evaporates.

We must also note that the aqueous ozone produced by the machine is safe to the user, building users and the environment.

The Sustainability Factor

Before addressing how ozone can be used to clean restaurant and foodservice facilities, we should address how it helps promote sustainability. This is actually one of the key benefits of this type of cleaning system.

caddy cleaningWhen aqueous ozone is used to clean restaurants, it means that no cleaning chemical ingredients, the energy to manufacturer these chemical products, as well as the fuel and packaging materials necessary to deliver them are required. This also means that no fossil fuels are used because so many cleaning chemicals are made of petroleum byproducts and other non-renewable resources.

And when you consider that an estimated 6 to 8 billion pounds of cleaning chemicals are used in the U.S. each year, you can easily see how putting a dent in this huge amount can benefit the environment and promote sustainability.

Here are some other sustainability benefits as well:

  • No packaging materials are needed and this includes cardboard packaging materials.
  • Less waste is deposited into overcrowded landfills.
  • By eliminating the need for paper products, we are contributing to preserving forests.
  • As we eliminate the need to transport cleaning solutions, we are reducing the number of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.

And while it does not involve sustainability as referenced here, we are saving something else, and that is your cash. Especially in restaurants that use many cleaning solutions and products, aqueous ozone should put a dent into your cleaning budget.

Using the System

An aqueous ozone cleaning system looks like an upright carpet extractor. Water is put into the system to produce the ozone, which must be replenished as the machine is used.

We have two options when using an aqueous ozone machine:

  1. For cleaning floors, carpets, walls, ceilings and similar large surfaces in a restaurant, most machines have a wand attachment. The wand can be applied to the surface to clean it. While it is harmless to people, when applied to these surfaces, it mainly attacks and then eliminates soils and contaminants on the surface. Studies report that aqueous ozone can help break down grease and oil on floors and related surfaces as well as break down biofilm, which refers to a film that houses germs and bacteria. Once the aqueous ozone evaporates, no chemical residue is left on the surface. This is important because many cleaning chemicals do leave a residue. This residue acts like a magnet, drawing grit, dust and soils to the surface just cleaned.
  1. The aqueous ozone can be poured into a sprayer, just like any other cleaning solution. The cleaning worker can then spray surfaces directly or on the cleaning cloth, and wipe down the surface. For many cleaning needs in a restaurant, the aqueous ozone will prove very effective cleaning some surfaces both in the front and the back of the house.

Onsite/On-Demand Cleaning

Another benefit of most all the engineered water technologies is what is called onsite/on-demand cleaning. Picture this. Typically, when cleaning workers are cleaning a restaurant, they must go back and forth to the janitorial closet to gather supplies, get new cleaning cloths, mops and mop buckets, etc.

With most engineered water cleaning systems, including aqueous ozone, this is eliminated. As long as the machine is filled with water, it is ready to go to work no matter where it is. In the professional cleaning industry, this is referred to as onsite/on-demand cleaning. One of the key benefits of this is that it helps improve worker productivity, which can contribute to reduced cleaning costs.

The foodservice industry has become very green-focused in recent years. Many have switched to green-certified cleaning solutions and equipment. Now we have even more options that help reduce cleaning’s impact on human health and the environment. Plus, they further everyone’s goal today of promoting sustainability.


— Stephen P. Ashkin is the founder of the Green Cleaning Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about green cleaning and president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of green cleaning,” on the board of the Green Sports Alliance, and has been inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF).

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