Exploring Ozone use in Odor Elimination
We have heard about how the ozone layer in our middle atmosphere protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Ozone is generated in electrical storms by bolts of lightning — that’s why it smells so fresh during and after a heavy storm. It’s also used in the cleaning and restoration industry. But what exactly is ozone?
What is ozone?
Ozone, also known as “heavy oxygen” or “activated oxygen,” is simply a molecule of oxygen consisting of three oxygen atoms (O3) instead of two (O2).
“Normal” oxygen consists of two oxygen atoms bonded together. The bond that holds these two oxygen atoms together is relatively strong, resulting in a stable molecule.
However, this bond, although strong, is not unbreakable. When an O2 molecule comes into direct contact with a certain wavelength of ultraviolet (UV) light or an arc of high voltage electricity, its bond is “severed,” rendering the two atoms separate, each of which can be referred to as O1.
Single atoms of oxygen want to attach to receptive molecules with which they come into contact.
When an atom of oxygen bonds with another molecule, the process is called “oxidation.”
Oxidation simply refers to the process of an atom of oxygen attaching itself to a receptive molecule, which changes its structure. Oxidation essentially turns something into something else; oftentimes the change is dramatic.
One example of oxidation is the transformation of water into hydrogen peroxide. There is one more oxygen atom in hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) than in water (H2O).
Hydrogen peroxide is a good example for this article, as we are all familiar with its ability to sanitize and disinfect. Its properties are so powerful, in fact, the hydrogen peroxide in bottles at the local pharmacy and grocery store has been diluted to three percent.
Even at three percent dilution, H202 is extraordinarily effective at killing bacteria, fungi, viruses and a wide spectrum of germs. By way of comparison, 90 percent hydrogen peroxide can be used as rocket fuel.
Ozone, on the other hand, is not combustible at any concentration, yet its sanitizing capabilities are unequaled. It oxidizes molecules, kills bacteria, fungi, viruses and germs, and changes the structure of odor molecules, so they quite literally no longer exist.
In short, when it comes to deodorizing, ozone removes the odor completely by removing (molecularly altering) its source — permanently.
One of the best aspects of ozone is it removes odors with no manual labor like scrubbing and wiping. It performs its sanitizing and odor removing while you’re off doing something else, and when finished, ozone automatically turns itself back into pure oxygen, leaving no residue.
Types of ozone generators
Ultraviolet generators produce ozone in the same way our sun creates and maintains the protective ozone layer between the troposphere and stratosphere.
Typically weaker, and usually less expensive, this type of generator has one or more ultraviolet bulbs mounted inside the unit that emit specific wavelengths of UV light, which separate the atoms of O2 molecules as ambient air is blown past the bulbs by an internal fan.
This type of machine normally offers a lower ozone output, and the bulbs weaken over time. They also are prone to breakage, so the bulbs need to be replaced regularly.
Corona discharge generators produce ozone with what’s called a “corona discharge tube” or “plate.” Generally offering a stronger and more reliable output than UV generators, corona discharge generators manufacture ozone in the same way lightning does — by ripping the O2 molecules apart with electricity.
A high-voltage electrical current is passed through a dielectric material (material that transmits electrical force without conduction) in the form of a tube or plate while ambient air is blown through the tube or over the plate by a fan mounted at the rear of the unit.
More powerful, and requiring less or no maintenance, corona discharge generators are typically the choice for restoration companies and those looking to do the job more effectively and in less time.
Ozone and safety
The fact is life as we know it on Earth would not exist if it weren’t for the protective layer of ozone high above us. And, although ozone can be temporarily and mildly irritating to lung tissue if breathed in high concentrations over an extended period of time, ozone is not “toxic.”
Experts agree that the danger in the use of ozone as a remediation tool has been inordinately overrated.
There is a common belief that users need to hold their breath and run after turning on an ozone generator, but this is simply not the case.
As a comparison, most think nothing of standing next to or leaning up against a car spewing carbon monoxide or sitting with the windows down on a busy freeway during bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Carbon monoxide, however, is toxic. In fact, there are at least 2,500 human deaths reported each year in the U.S. due to carbon monoxide exposure. (Trivia fact: If you oxidize carbon monoxide (CO), you get non-toxic CO2.)
This is not to say one should not vacate the building while an ozone generator is running; in fact, as adamant as I am about the exaggeration of ozone’s noxiousness, I’m just as insistent that safety protocol be followed when using it in the cleaning/restoration industry. An ozone generator, when used correctly, can be one of the safest tools in your cleaning arsenal.
Proper operation protocol
Proper procedure calls for the operator to be sure the area is evacuated of humans and animals, and if extremely high levels are to be generated over an extended period of time, it is wise to remove plants and cover aquariums.
Signs that read “Do not enter: Ozone treatment area,” marked with the time it is safe to enter, should be posted at all entrances.
Ozone degrades (turns back into “normal” oxygen) quickly — in about 30 minutes. For this reason, it has to be generated on site. (It cannot be kept in tanks.) The huge upside to this quick degradation process is that, despite its unparalleled oxidizing/deodorizing/sanitizing capabilities, it leaves absolutely zero residue.
Since the composition of ozone (O3) is merely a third oxygen atom attached to a normal oxygen molecule (O2), the process of reverting back to oxygen is merely a detachment of the third atom from the other two, more strongly bonded atoms.
These remaining single oxygen atoms, which don’t join with and alter the molecular composition of odor molecules, rejoin with other single detached oxygen atoms, creating normal O2.
Benefits to offering ozone treatment
If your business offers carpet cleaning, duct cleaning or virtually any cleaning service, ozone treatment can be the best value-added service you offer.
Cigarette, pet, musty, moldy and cooking odors all can be permanently removed quickly and easily with ozone. I’ve found that by simply mentioning the benefits of ozone to customers, a surprising number of people jump at the chance to have their homes, businesses, RVs, cars or other areas treated. It’s easy to get customers interested in ozone.
They’re already your clients who look to you for guidance in the realm of cleaning and sanitizing. In my company, Guarantee Cleaning Services Inc. in Bend, OR, for example, we offer carpet and duct cleaning, and we have an oriental rug cleaning plant.
Within days of mentioning to a few clients that we now offer ozone treatment services, we started getting calls. One call in particular was from a local real estate company who was unable to sell a beautiful, reasonably priced home because it smelled strongly of old, disgusting cigarette smoke.
The previous owners of the house had smoked indoors for 20 years, and the real estate company had tried everything — cleaning the carpet, washing the walls, ceiling and appliances — everything. They had even tried fogging the home with “odor neutralizers.”
Still the odor remained. Prospective buyers would take a few steps into the home, take a breath and immediately turn to leave. Nobody was interested in buying a home that smelled like an ashtray.
The real estate agent listing the home called me in desperation. “I hear you have something that can get rid of cigarette smoke smell,” she said.
I met her at the house, and, sure enough, it absolutely reeked of cigarettes. It was nauseating.
I explained I’d perform an ozone treatment in the home for $395 and would not charge her if it “didn’t work.” She jumped at the chance, of course — $400 to make a $500,000 home sellable! With the guarantee, how could she lose?
I set up the generator to run overnight, and the following morning I got a text from her. “The house smells great! It smells like… nothing!”
When I responded, letting her know I was happy to hear the good news, she replied, “Who’s this?”
Confused, I texted again to remind her I was the one who set up the ozone generator for her. When she replied, she explained the message was meant for her business partner.
The fact that she was so genuinely excited about the condition of the home after ozone treatment that she rushed to message her business partner was especially satisfying to me.
As it turned out, the home sold very soon after that, and nobody entering the home from that point forward mentioned anything about an unpleasant odor — because it was gone, for good.
So let’s recap the benefits of ozone:
- Ozone is unequalled in its ability to sanitize, disinfect and deodorize.
- When used correctly, ozone can be one of the safest services you offer.
- Ozone is completely non-residual, leaving behind only clean, pure oxygen.
- An ozone generator can generate revenue for you while you’re somewhere else being productive.
After the initial purchase cost of a quality ozone generator, you can immediately begin to reap the profits it generates, without spending another penny. Set the timer, press the button and let it go to work for you.
How many tools in your company can offer that kind of return on your investment?
David Hart, founder and CEO of RamAir International, is a 27-year veteran in the cleaning and restoration industry. He is the inventor of the OzoGen 10kV High-Output Ozone Generator and is authoring the standard on how ozone is used in forensics remediation for the Restoration Industry Association (RIA). To contact him, visit his websites ramair.co and ozogen.com.