Ozone and laundry

By August 30, 2013Keeping It Green

I know what you’re saying: “what does ozone have to do with laundry?”

All I’m saying is that ozone doesn’t just occur in the stratosphere and can be used in laundry, even though it’s toxic to humans.

This probably sounds unlikely at best and insane at worst, but it’s true! This article in Laundry Today gives us some insight into what ozone is, what it does, and how it can be used in an industrial laundry setting.

First, let’s go back to chemistry class. Ozone is also known trioxygen, which as you could probably guess means “three oxygen.” That’s all ozone is: three oxygen atoms. O3. We’re used to oxygen existing normally as O2, since this compound is more stable than a single oxygen atom. Because of the number of its electrons, single oxygen atoms will react (oxidize) readily with other compounds. In the same way, by having an ‘extra’ oxygen atom, ozone is unstable and is a powerful oxidant. This means ozone reacts and degrades organic material, making it toxic to things made of organic material, like us.

“Hold on,” you’re saying, “doesn’t ozone protect us from UV radiation?” Yes, the presence of ozone in the stratosphere helps to block UV radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface, but it’s toxic when it comes into contact with us (such as when we breathe it in). So when it’s thousands of feet up in the air, it helps us in one way, but when it’s at ground level it only harms us when it’s present in more than tiny quantities.

So how can a toxic substance clean? Chlorine is also toxic, but we use it at home to whiten fabrics and to disinfect. Like ozone, chlorine is also a powerful oxidizing agent, so in the same way, ozone can be used to clean. One property that makes using ozone attractive is that it works best in cold water. That means that energy can be saved in the water heating step, but the caveat is that more energy may be consumed when drying. This is due to cold water’s tendency to ‘cling’ more to fabric due to higher surface tension and the fact that heat drying consumes a lot of energy by heating that water into steam so it can evaporate.

There’s more to ozone (and oxygen) than you probably thought! Same goes for laundry. Since the practice is based in chemistry, from detergents to water to heat, there is science and environmental implications behind all aspects of the process. This means CLEAN and all launderers have a lot of responsibility when it comes to the environment. That’s why we do all we can to keep it green and think about what chemicals we use (including water) and how we use them so we can minimize our impact on the planet.