Updated: Jul 11
It seems like everywhere one goes today, there is a plethora of products that claim to be able to kill germs. While most are alcohol or bleach based, there is growing interest in alternatives to these conventional disinfectants, including in hypochlorous acid, a powerful non-toxic disinfectant effective against invading bacteria, fungi and viruses, yet safe and non-irritant, even if accidentally ingested.
HOCI: Science and evolution
Hypochlorous acid, or as per its scientific name HOCI, is a weak acid that occurs naturally in in all mammals. It is made by white blood cells for healing and protection of the body. So, in a way, it has been available for millions year, and continues to be present, in our bodies.
What makes hypochlorous acid unique is that it is a a neutrally charged molecule which is able to penetrate bacterial cell walls. In contrast, the negatively charged molecule of bleach is repelled by bacterial cell walls which have a net negative charge. As a result, HOCl is able to oxidize the cell walls killing the bacteria or enter through the cell wall and destroy the harmful components inside the bacteria.
In the 1970s, it was discovered that HOCl can be generated by running electricity through a solution of saltwater. Specifically engineered elecrolysis cells were found to generate the solution by running electricity through NaCl (table salt) and water. When the resulting free chlorine solution of oxidants hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite (OCl) is of low acidity to neutral, it will be dominated by hypochlorous acid.
Hypochlorous acid has been widely used in various industries including the medical field and healthcare for years, and its technology has been proven. Today, during pandemic times, and thanks to more affordable technology, it is becoming a popular choice for households and small businesses alike.
Hypochlorous acid vs bleach
Research shows that hypochlorous acid is 70-80 times more efficient at killing microbial pathogens than chlorine bleach. It’s lack of electrical charge allows it to more efficiently penetrate the protective barriers surrounding germs.
Hypochlorous acid, unlike chlorine bleach and other alcohol based disinfectants, is also chemical free, safe and non-irritant to skin or eyes, making it ideal to use in setting where
you need a sanitizer but don’t feel comfortable using a toxic chemical. This includes using around the kitchen, bathroom and cars. It even allows sanitization of children’s toys and clothes and fabric without damaging or discoloring.
And while chlorine leaves a strong after smell, the smell of hypochlorous acid is more subtle. The faint smell that is undetectable to some users, while some describe it as similar to the smell of spa or ocean.
While hypochlorous acid offers all these benefits, its main disadvantage is that unlike many other sanitation chemicals, it does not have an ongoing antimicrobial effect. In other words, once it lands on a surface, it reacts with any germs or organic matter on that surface and then deactivates. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, as it leaves no toxic chemicals behind, but will require to be applied more often.