Local start-up turns saltwater into disinfectant

Alaska Safe Marketing Director Lindsay Phillips holds a bottle of Disinfectant 275. (Sept. 15, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

When Mike Merritt, manager for Ace Hardware and Viking Marine Supply, tried to place an order for hand sanitizer and bleach, he was met with a surprise.

“Our warehouse was out,” Merritt said. “The largest hardware warehouse in the world, in the middle of a pandemic, and we were out of practically all disinfectants. Come to find out — the world was out of bleach.”

Rather than waiting for the supply chain to unsnarl itself, Ace and Viking co-owners Bootslyn and David Roemhildt decided to take things into their own hands. As Alaska Safe LLC, the Roemhildts turned a corner of the Viking Marine Supply store into a manufacturing center for alcohol-free disinfectant. Alaska Safe’s first batch of “Disinfectant 275” was ready on Aug. 22 and, by Monday, Sept. 14, they were exporting to Anchorage.

Using a process patented by Netherlands-based disinfectant manufacturer Aquaox, Alaska Safe is able to create a potent antiviral out of salt and water, two ingredients rarely in short supply around Cordova. Saltwater is mixed with pure water of neutral acidity and then pumped between anode and cathode rods whose electrical charge separates the solution into sodium hydroxide, or lye, and hypochlorous acid. Disinfectant 275 is so named because it contains 275 parts per million of hypochlorous acid.

Even at concentrations that reliably kill viruses and bacteria, hypochlorous acid does not irritate the eyes or damage fabrics. A study published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery recommended hypochlorous acid solutions as a nontoxic anti-coronavirus agent — safe enough even to be used as a mouthwash

“It’s nice having a product that I don’t have to keep locked up away from my kids,” Merritt said.

Mikie McHone wields a fogger used to rapidly disinfect indoor spaces. (Sept. 15, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Unlike alcohol-based hand-sanitizer gels, Disinfectant 275 has a watery consistency and can be sprayed. And, while alcohol-based sanitizers often have a noticeable odor, Disinfectant 275 has a relatively slight smell, reminiscent of a swimming pool.

“I used some alcohol-based hand sanitizer the other day and it smelled so bad that I got a headache,” David Roemhildt said. “I assume most people smell what they put on their hands, as a natural reaction to see if it’s ‘good’ or bad,’ but that alcohol sanitizer would knock you over!”

Alaska Safe also allows customers to refill exhausted Disinfectant 275 containers at a reduced price rather than purchasing new ones. Ace Hardware and Viking Marine Supply also use foggers loaded with Disinfectant 275 to sanitize their shelves.

Alaska Safe has produced several hundred gallons of the disinfectant so far, and has the capacity to produce thousands of gallons more if needed, said Marketing Director Lindsay Phillips.

“What amazes us every day is that we can make something so important and useful out of simple and abundant ingredients: water, salt and electricity,” Bootslyn Roemhildt said.