Acid Alternative

A new multi-functional cleaner is making acids and acid-based cleaners for industrial and institutional use obsolete in many cleaning applications.

By Dianne Sone

Cleaning Acid Alternative

Ask anyone who handles acids or acid-based products what concerns them most and, predictably, they’ll tell you it’s the risk involved in handling toxic substances.

Two such substances are hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid. Both are extremely toxic, yet they are the most commonly used acids in industrial and institutional cleaning products for the removal of calcium, lime, and rust. Inhibitors are added to acids to make them less corrosive and safer for the surfaces they clean, but they do nothing to improve the safety of humans or the environment.

The ill-health effects from exposure to commonly used acids are well known. Contact with the skin and eyes causes varying degrees of irritation and sometimes injury to cell tissue; and inhaling toxic fumes affects the mucous membranes, throat, and respiratory tract.

Additionally, corporations have to absorb the cost of complying with government and industry safety and environmental regulations covering the shipping, handling, storage, and disposal of toxic substances. Failure to meet environmental compliance can result in substantial penalties.

Since the toxicity of a chemical cannot be changed, the only way to improve the safety factor has been to control and minimize the hazards. This is generally done through ventilation, process or personnel enclosure, control of the process conditions, or process modification through substitution of a less hazardous material.

In an example of the latter option, a compound was discovered that could be used as an alternative to acids. Up until then, only acid mainly hydrochloric acid could remove scale. The first generation acid-replacement product was launched in July 1997.

A blend of organic salts and surfactants, the cleaner is formulated to handle a variety of cleaning applications that previously required multiple acid-based cleaners. Unlike acids, it does not pit, streak or blacken metals.

The results of independent laboratory tests showed the compound to be:

  •   Non-corrosive as defined and tested in accordance with the U.S. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.
  •   A mild skin irritant as per the 1992 OECD Guideline for Testing of Chemicals, Number 404 “Acute Dermal Irritation/Corrosion.”
  •   Biodegradable. The test method used was Part 507 Oxygen Demand (Biochemical) of the Standard Methods for Examination of Water and Wastewater, 1985, 16th Ed.
  •   An effective replacement for hydrochloric acid which is typically used in hard surface cleaning of concrete, tile, and grouting; and an effective replacement for organic acids which are typically used as bowl, bath, tub, and tile cleaners.
  •   Its metal corrosion rate is also 1/10th of the minimum standard required by OSHA, DOT, and TDG for corrosiveness when tested in accordance with NACE Standard TM0169-76.

It is currently being used on tile and grout, stainless steel, copper, brass, cement, terrazzo, porcelain, and brick to remove rust, calcium, lime, mildew, soap scum, mold, and grease. In many applications the product will replace alkaline cleaners.

In light of the claims made by the manufacturers and users of this first generation acid-replacement technology, all of which are supported by independent testing, products like this could be the industry’s solution to the challenge of creating a safe, truly multi-functional product with the desired level of performance.

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