Housing and Residence Life employee Darcia Ash cleans a show kitchen using a chemical-free cleaning agent.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat a difference one atom can make.

A machine converts oxygen molecules (O2) to ozone (O3) and infuses that ozone with tap water, creating a cleaning agent that’s greener and more effective than many strong chemicals. And Ball State’s residence halls are taking advantage of it.

Housing and Residence Life introduced the cleaning agent in 2014 and now uses it in all 10 residence halls to wash and sanitize floors, windows, restrooms, computer labs and common spaces. It’s good for the environment, safe and healthy for employees and has cut annual spending on chemical cleaning products by more than $100,000.

Debby Droppleman fills up a mop bucket near a machine that converts water into aqueous ozone.

Debby Droppleman fills up a mop bucket near a machine that converts the water into the aqueous ozone.

Ball State began one residence hall at a time to see if the cleaning system was a good fit, said George Edwards, associate director of Housing and Residence Life facilities. The crews previously used common disinfectants and hard surface cleaners, so it took some getting used to.

“I was skeptical at first. We tested it out, locked up the chemicals and gave it a fair shot,” said Nannette Bell, a supervisor of custodial services for DeHority Complex, Noyer Complex, Park Hall and Woodworth Complex. “And over time, we got on board with it. We found out that it worked amazingly on floors.”

There were benefits beyond cleaning. Without the harmful smells, mixing of chemicals and traces of residue, staff noticed they were able to get their jobs done more quickly and felt better afterward. Bell, who has worked at the university since 1987, saw the difference. She said the doors looked much cleaner.

DeHority was the second residence hall to use the system. Tonya Price, a custodial group leader, has found it convenient and efficient. Her team has, too.

“They like the fact they can use it on everything.”

Here’s how it works: Oxygen is pulled out of the air and into a machine in which electricity turns the oxygen into ozone. The ozone is then infused with cold tapwater, thus creating the cleaning solution.

The staff can put it in a hose, bucket or spray bottle and then use on hard or soft surfaces, glass and carpets. It’s effective for four hours and then turns back into tap water, making it safe for sewer systems. This eliminates empty chemical bottles being sent to a landfill and leftover chemicals from going down the drain.

Custodian Conor Dilts of Chesterfield wipes down a table in the multi-purpose room in Johnson East.

Countertops are the perfect place for custodians to use the cleaner. Conor Dilts of Chesterfield wipes down this table in the multi-purpose room in Johnson East.

The machine’s use has garnered attention far beyond Indiana.

Last year, the university won the Outstanding Innovation in Facilities Award from the Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers for using the cleaning system.

It’s also one of many reasons some campus buildings have scored highly in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green buildings rating system, which is seen as a worldwide benchmark. One example, Edwards, said, is a LEED Gold certification for the newly renovated Johnson East Complex.

Other green campus initiatives include campuswide recycling, LED lighting, water-saving plumbing fixtures, energy-saving revolving doors at building entrances, reflective roofing materials, electric hand dryers instead of paper and motion-activated lighting.

“Our sustainability efforts respect the environment while balancing students’ wants and needs,” Edwards said. “As new sustainable technologies are developed, we will continue to evaluate their effectiveness and potential cost savings, with students in mind.”

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