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By Nathan Schiff, PhD
Associate Editor - Institutional

Can you recall that fresh and pleasant smell in the air, right after a thunderstorm? It's due to ozone. That same ozone is also responsible for imparting a distinctive fresh smell and feel to bed sheets which are hung out to dry on a clothesline; on a day when the sun is shining and a gentle breeze is blowing in the air.

When used in laundry wash water, ozone allows for shorter wash cycles resulting in significant energy and water/sewer surcharge savings. Enhanced soil removal, powerful disinfection and reduced garment wear-and-tear are some of the added benefits. For this reason ozone laundry systems are gaining rapid international acceptance over conventional methods which require substantial amounts of hot water. This article examines some of the factors which make ozone so unique when applied to laundry systems

What is Ozone and how is it Produced
Ozone is created when air is exposed to either: ultraviolet light, lightening or man made high voltage electric arcs. This causes some of the oxygen (O2) molecules to fracture into 2 Oxygen (O) atoms. These atoms then combine with other O2 molecules, forming a molecule of ozone; consisting of a group of 3 oxygen atoms (O3) . Ozone is very reactive and is natures own way of destroying pollutants and cleaning up the atmosphere.

What makes Ozone so Special in Fabric Washing.
Ozone is highly unstable, and this property also makes it a very powerful oxidizing, cleaning and bleaching agent, with special application in laundry washing. Ozone works best in cold water - hot water breaks ozone down before it can perform as intended - it attacks most organic soils and kills bacteria 3200 times faster than chlorine bleach.
Ozone is totally biodegradable and when it completes its function, it reverts rapidly back to Oxygen (O2), leaving no chemical residues behind.


What are Ozone Laundry Systems and how do they Operate
These systems use an ozone generator which is usually integrated with existing equipment. Compressed air is forced through a high voltage electrical arc, which results in the conversion oxygen molecules into ozone gas. The ozone is then dissolved in cold laundry wash water where it exerts its powerful cleaning action. Because it is so reactive, ozone readily attaches itself to fatty and other soils that bind dirt to clothing, destroying them rapidly. As one of the strongest known oxidizing agents, ozone is capable of breaking down virtually any organic soil into innocuous compounds such as carbon dioxide and water. Being a gas in solution, ozone penetrates and opens individual garment fibers, allowing faster cleaning and bleaching of garments with the use of less chemicals. The overall effect results in considerable reductions in the washing and drying cycle times, and whiter, cleaner and softer garments.


Why is Industry and Government excited with this technology
Because of its powerful oxidation properties ozone dissolves soil on contact and does so at ambient water temperatures, instead of conventional 140o -160oF, which drastically reduces heating costs. Some estimates indicate that an 80% fuel consumption saving can be realized.

  1. Ozone's powerful disinfecting properties allows for dramatic reductions in water and sewer surcharges. Since 2 instead of 3 rinses are usually required, quicker cycle times occur, which increases the productivity per machine, per hour. Labor savings, estimated at 20%, can also be realized through shortened wash and dry times made possible by reduced chemical use and handling.
  2. The EPA and FDA have acknowledged that ozone is capable of reducing pathogenic bacterial levels on garments by 99.9992%. Ozone is also recognized for its powerful pollutant destruction capabilities in laundry wastewater and therefore in the purification of wastewater.
  3. Due to the reduced cycle time coupled with the elimination of chlorine and hot water, the life of the garment is often increased. Unlike chlorine with a long garment residual time - which may be detrimental to garments - all traces of ozone are instantly eliminated.

The Future of Ozone Laundry Systems in Canada
This technology is still relatively rare in Canada. Recently BC Hydro partnered with two ozone laundry system manufacturers and installed the technology at two test sites for a three-month trial. The ozone devices were added to existing wash equipment of a local hotel and senior care facility, feeding ozone into the wash water.
Since the study, B.C.'s laundry industry is starting to take notice of the benefits of ozone laundry systems The first ozone laundry system was installed in July 2000 at a local hotel chain, and others may soon follow.

Currently, ozone washing machines provide the best return on investment when used in large institutions such as prisons, hospitals or large hotels with at least 150 rooms..


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