As we’ve adapted to life in the pandemic, many of us have become hyperaware of germs and have taken our cleaning rituals up a notch.
A new company is trying to convince consumers to shell out $200 on a spray bottle that it says can transform regular tap water into aqueous ozone, which can kill a range of household bacteria, viruses, and fungal spores.
Jonathan Nussbaum launched O3WaterWorks last year, before the coronavirus arrived and there was a global rush on cleaning supplies. His goal was to create a more sustainable alternative to cleaning products on the market, which largely come in single-use plastic bottles and contain toxic chemicals.
Ozonated water is used as a cleaning agent in many commercial contexts. For instance, Dasani uses it to purify bottled water, and it is commonly used to sanitize farms. So how exactly does it work? With O3WaterWorks, its spray bottle takes tap water, sends it through a patented diamond electrolytic cell and converts the oxygen in the water into liquid ozone. The ozone reacts with microbes, breaking down their cell walls, which kills them. “We’re killing these organisms at a molecular level, by oxidizing them,” says Dr. Xu Simon, principal microbiologist at Enozo, which partnered with Nussbaum on the product. But because ozone in water has a short half life, it converts back into oxygen within 30 minutes, without leaving any residue.
Enozo has been working on using ozone as a cleaning solution for years. It filed the first patent for a handheld ozone spray bottle two decades ago; that product is now used to clean commercial buildings, like restaurants and hotels. Nussbaum, who previously founded home decor brand Greentouch Home, reached out to Enozo because he wanted to create a similar product for home use. “Because it’s nontoxic, there are so many more use cases for this spray than a regular cleaner,” he says. “You can use it on toothbrushes, or on your kid’s toys, without working about chemicals.”
To use the spray bottle, you first need to charge it, then fill the 10-oz. reservoir with room temperature tap water. The bottle’s battery is designed to be effective for up to 500 charges, or 600 reservoir fills, which should last several years.
In third party lab tests paid for by O3WaterWorks, the spray was shown to kill household microorganisms, like E. coli. Salmonella, and Staph. Right now, many labs can’t test products on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, since it is considered too dangerous, so a common practice used by virologists is to test on a similar coronavirus strain called 229e. The tests found that it killed 99.9% of this surrogate virus within 30 seconds.
Dr. Alvin Tran, a professor at the University of New Haven who specializes in public health, is intrigued by the product, particularly since it says it can clean things like fruit and toothbrushes. But he notes that using ozonated water in the home is still a relatively new concept. “I would like to see more research and data about a device like this before I recommend it as a public health intervention,” he says. Simple, inexpensive techniques, like handwashing with regular soap, and cleaning surfaces with diluted bleach, have been widely studied and shown to be effective in the midst of health crises. “It’s important for people to know they don’t need expensive products to stay safe,” he says.