"Ionized" and alkaline water

Snake oil on tap
On this page:

For another take on "alkaline water" bunk, read or listen to Brian Dunning's Skeptoid "Kangen Water"

"Ionized water" is one of many products and panaceas that the wonky-water wellness industry flogs onto the large segment of the general public that lacks the scientific background to distinguish scientific fact from pseudoscientific hype when the two are closely intertwined. The purpose of this page is to critically examine some of the claims about "ionized" and alkaline waters from the standpoint of modern chemistry and physiology in order to provide you with the information you need to make your own informed decision before opening your wallets to the hucksters of these products and whose claims are totally lacking in scientific support.

What most of these outfits actually sell are grossly overpriced electrical devices that purport to produce "ionized" and alkaline water by the process of electrolysis. Many of these "water ionizers" appear to have their origins in Japan and Korea, two countries whose populations seem to be particularly susceptible to being taken in by pseudoscientific water-treatment schemes. In North America, distribution of these dubious devices has depended largely on multi-level marketing schemes that enroll science-ignorant dealers to exploit even-more-vulnerable consumers while enabling the manufacturer to maintain a low profile to regulatory agencies such as the FTC.

It doesn't help that quackery-filled "alternative health" books such as pH Miracle Living and Alkalize or Die by "Doctor" Theodore Baroody (whose scientific credentials seem highly dubious) plug alkaline water as one way of preventing cancer or of increasing one's lifespan. There is even a company that offers complete "alkaline diets" for which they make ridiculous claims. Even the otherwise respectable Kurzweil and Grossman's Fantastic Voyage (see below) goes off the track on this craze.

In multi-level marketing scams, the parent company keeps a low profile and makes few claims that would attract the scrutiny of regulators such as the U.S. FTC. Instead, they recruit thousands of "independent agents" who are provided with sales iterature containing false and misleading claims which they then transmit to their customers or put up on their own Web sites. These agents, few of whom are well-enough educated to evaluate these claims or to realize that they violate the FTC rules on deceptive advertising, are as much victims as are their consumer customers.

Consider, for example, this outright lie that can be found at some Kangen Water sales sites:

"It is well known in the medical community that an overly acidic body is the root of many common diseases, such as obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood-pressure and more..." [link1, link2]

To further mislead science-naïve readers, another Kangen page employs the common ruse of misrepresenting the 1931 Nobel Prize work of a famous pioneer of biochemistry. Don't believe any of this deceptive garbage! (Note: Kangen is frequently misspelled as "Kangan".)

U.S. FTC online file-a-complaint form

A "rebuttal" to this IonBunk page can be found here. But unless you have some solid background in chemistry and physiology (as the author and most of the "authorities" he cites clearly do not), beware that many of the statements are misleading, wrong, or are just plain nonsense.

Alkaline water not for you? One enterprising outfit offers a machine that is supposed to produce acidic water; For only $2500 you too can enjoy the benefits of pH 2.5 water— good for curing "Hong Kong foot" and many other ailments! Of course, cranberry or citrus juices are much less expensive sources of equally acidic water.

You won't find anything about the benefits of alkaline water in any standard textbook on nutritional biochemistry, and anyone with training in physiology or biochemistry would consider the claims in favor of it ludicrous, but the alkaline/ionized water quacksters and promoters have woven a nexus of scientific-sounding nonsense and outright lies in order to convince a gullible and scientifically-naïve public that drinking partially electrolyzed water (produced by their over-priced "machines") is the key to health.


The bottom line

Here, in a nutshell, are a few basic facts that I believe anyone with a solid background in chemistry or physiology would concur with:

Beware of claims that you can change your blood pH!
(See this article published by a U. Missouri extension health specialist.)

The Science

What is "ionized water"?

To a chemist like myself, the term is meaningless. True, it is possible for water to contain dissolved ions (electrically-charged atoms or molecules), but that's something else again. Almost all waters found in nature acquire ions such as calcium and bicarbonate as they come into contact with rocks and sediments. Even the purest rainwater contains some hydrogen- and bicarbonate ions that are formed when it picks up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Pure water consists almost entirely of H2O molecules loosely bound in a network-like structure in which individual molecules are constantly changing partners. Water molecules exhibit a very slight tendency to dissociate ("ionize") into hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions:

H2O → H+ + OH

but the extent of this reaction is severely limited by the fact that the reverse of this reaction is much more rapid, so that on the average, only about two out of every billion H2O molecules are dissociated. No electrical device or chemical additive is capable of increasing these ion concentrations in pure water above this very minute level which is so small that for most practical purposes pure water can be considered to be ion-free, as evidenced by the fact that it will not conduct an electric current.

Acidic and alkaline water, pH

All water and all aqueous solutions contain both H+ and OH ions. If the quantity of H+ exceeds that of the OH, the water is said to be acidic. If there are more OH ions than H+, the water is alkaline. Pure water, which contains equal numbers of both ions, is said to be neutral. Chemists express the degree of acidity or alkalinity on the pH scale which runs from about 0 to 14. Acidic solutions have pH values of less than 7, alkaline solutions more than 7. Pure water, being neutral, has a pH of exactly 7. Each unit on the pH scale represents a hundred-fold change in the ratio of the two kinds of ions; for example, if the pH is 8, there are 100 times as many OH ions than H+ ions (that is, [H+] = 10–8, [OH] = 10–6.)

Whether a water is acidic or alkaline, it will always contain equal numbers of positive and negative electric charges. Since alkaline water contains an excess of OH ions, it must also contain some other kind of positive ion in addition to H+ in order to equalize the opposite charges. This extra positive ion is almost always a metal ion such as sodium, calcium or magnesium. Similarly, an acidic water must always contain negative ions in addition to OH; the most common of these is bicarbonate HCO3. This means that waters whose pH differs from 7 are never "pure" in the chemical sense.

Charge Balance: all ionic solutions must contain equal numbers of positive and negative charges.


Electrolysis refers to the breakdown of a substance by passing an electric current through it. This is accomplished by placing a pair of oppositely-charged electrodes (usually of platinum or some other unreactive metal) in the solution. Positive ions that find themselves close to the negative electrode will acquire electrons, and negative ions near the positive electrode will lose electrons. In the case of pure water, the reactions are as follows:

At the negative electrode:        2 H+ + 2e H2
... but since the H+ ions come from water, the overall reaction is

2 H2O + 2e → H2 + 2 OH

at the positive electrode:        4 OH 4e+ 2 H2O + O2
... but since the OH ions come from water, the overall reaction is

2 H2O → 4e- + O2 + 4H+

Note that the consumption of H+ ions at the negative electrode leaves an excess of OH ions in the vicinity of this electrode, making the water in this region alkaline. Similarly, the consumption of OH ions at the positive electrode makes the water near this electrode acidic. If the regions near the two electrodes are surrounded by a semi-permeable barrier that inhibits diffusion of these ions into the bulk of the water, small local excesses can build up, but with pure water to start with, the acidity or alkalinity would be undetectable. Eventually the H+ and OH ions find each other and recombine:

H+ + OH → H2O

... so the net reaction for the electrolysis of pure water is simply the production of gaseous hydrogen and oxygen:

2 H2O → 2 H2 + O2

... leaving the pH of the water at 7.0, just as it was before electrolysis.

In other words, electrolysis cannot change the pH of ion-free water. None of the sites hawking these "water ionizers" mention this, of course, nor do they bother to tell you the even worse news:

Pure water cannot undergo significant electrolysis

One more thing about the electrolysis of water having very low ion content: because of the very small number of ions in such water, it conducts electric current very poorly, so the process is extremely slow and inefficient. This means that if your water supply is free of dissolved minerals, no significant amount of electrolysis will occur.

For electrolysis to occur to any practical extent, additional ions must be present in order to transport the current. For example, the large-scale electrolysis of water to manufacture highly pure H2 and O2 is carried out by adding sulfuric acid. The sulfate ions help carry the current, but they do not react at the positive electrode because H2O is more easily decomposed.

... so if your water comes from a well and contains dissolved salts or "hardness ions" such as calcium or magnesium in medium concentrations, electrolysis might be possible, but it will not be effective in removing impurities. It should be noted that groundwaters are usually somewhat alkaline to start with.

Many "water ionizer" devices depend on the addition of ordinary salt to make the water more conductive. Electrolysis of a dilute sodium chloride solution liberates hydrogen gas and hydroxide ions at the cathode, producing an alkaline solution that consists essentially of sodium hydroxide NaOH which can be drawn off as “alkaline water”. At the anode, chloride ions are oxidized to elemental chlorine. If some of this chlorine is allowed to combine with some of the hydroxide ions produced at the cathode, it disproportionates into hypochlorous acid HOCl, a weak acid and an oxidizing agent. Some ionizer devices allow the user to draw off this solution for use as a disinfecting agent. In many cases the two streams can be combined to form a mixture consisting of both HOCl and sodium hypochlorite (equivalent to diluted ordinary laundry bleach), depending on the pH desired.

So buying a "water ionizer" is a very expensive way of obtaining a solution that is essentially the same as diluted laundry bleach. But would you want to drink this "eau de Clorox"? Don't try this at home!


But drinking ionized water does make me feel better!

The most likely reason for this is the placebo effect.

Studies have shown that placebos can relieve the symptoms in about 40 percent of those who suffer from chronic ailments. They are probably even more effective for those who are inclined toward "alternative medicine" or the "wellness" industry. In other words, if you "believe" that something might help, it may well do so, and the more people are made to pay for it, the more eager they will be to have their beliefs confirmed.

A recent study has shown that placebos can be effective even when "medications" clearly labeled as "placebos" are administered! For more on the placebo effect, see here and here.

An alternative explanation

But if you are drinking electrolytically-produced "ionized" water, there is another plausible physiological explanation. The hypochlorite ions present in most such waters (see above) may make their way through the digestive tract and end up in the large intestine, where it comes into contact with the hundreds of species of [mostly] bacterial organisms that colonize everyone's colon. It is now believed that these so-called gut flora can actively alter the nature of many food and metabolic products that enter the colon, and they vary greatly between individuals. It may be that the hypochlorite acts to kill off or suppress some organisms whose normal function is to remove substances to which one's body is allergic or otherwise harmful.

But there is also a possible downside...

Hypochlorous acid HOCl (always present even in alkaline hypochorite solutions) is now known to trigger a number of cellular processes connected with cancer, either through inducing mutations in DNA sequences, or by making epigenetic changes to certain DNA bases. It is known, for example that HOCl leads to the formation of 5-chlorocytosine, which is believed to suppress some genes that normally act to inhibit cell proliferation and tumor growth. (C&EN, 2011.03.14, p 40)

This is certainly not to say that "ionized water causes cancer", but there is far more evidence for this than for the patently false claims by Kangen and others that it prevents cancer.

Acid-base chemistry in physiology

Don't be taken in by the pseudoscience peddled by quacks, cranks, kooks or crooks! (sample) Instead, take a look at these references provided by real scientists for the education of medical students:

...and any claims that "acidity" promotes cancer is deceptive nonsense.

Acid-base chemistry plays a crucial role in physiology, both at the level of the individual cell and of the total organism. The reasons for this are twofold:

  • Many of the major chemical components of an organism can themselves act as acids and/or bases. Thus proteins contain both acidic and basic groups, so that their shapes and their functional activities are highly dependent on pH.
  • Virtually all important metabolic processes involve the uptake or release of hydrogen ions. The very act of being alive tends to change the surrounding intracellular pH (usually reducing it); this will eventually kill the organism in the absence of buffering agents.

About two-thirds of the weight of an adult human consists of water. About two-thirds of this water is located within cells, while the remaining third consists of extracellular water, mostly interstitial fluid that bathes the cells, and the blood plasma. The latter, amounting to about five percent of body weight (about 5 L in the adult), serves as a supporting fluid for the blood cells and acts as a means of transporting chemicals between cells and the external environment. It is basically a 0.15M solution of salt (NaCl) containing smaller amounts of other electrolytes, the most important of which are bicarbonate (HCO3) and protein anions.

Respiration, the most important physiological activity of a cell, is an acid-producing process. Carbohydrate substances are broken down into carbon dioxide, and thus carbonic acid:

C(H2O)n + O2 → H2CO3 → CO2 + H2O

Interestingly, the ingestion of "acidic" foods can make the body more alkaline. This comes about because the weak organic acids in such foods are partly in the form of sodium or potassium salts M+A. In order to maintain charge balance, some of the CO2 produced by normal metabolism of these food acids must be converted into bicarbonate (that is, M+ HCO3) which is a weak base.

See here for more about drinking water and the role of water in your body.

Maintenance of acid-base balance

It is remarkable that the pH of most cellular fluids can be kept within such a narrow range, given the large number of processes that tend to upset it. This is due to the exquisite balance between a large number of interlinked processes operating at many different levels.

  • Acid-base balance in the body is maintained by two general mechanisms: selective excretion of acids or bases, and by the buffering action of weak acid-base systems in body fluids.
  • Over a 24-hour period, the adult human eliminates the equivalent of about 20-40 moles of H+ as carbonic acid H2CO3 which breaks down into CO2 (exiting via the lungs) and H2O (through the kidneys.) In addition, the kidneys excrete perhaps 5% of this amount of acid, mostly in the form of H2PO4 and NH4+. Owing to their electric charges, these two species are closely linked to salt balance with ions such as Na+ or K+, and Cl.

The major buffering system in the body is the carbonate system, which exists mainly in the form of HCO3 at normal physiological pH. Secondary buffering action comes from phosphate, from proteins and other weak organic acids, and (within blood cells), the hemoglobin.

Disturbances of acid-base balance

Deviations of the blood plasma pH from its normal value of 7.4 by more than about ±0.1 can be very serious. These conditions are known medically as acidosis and alkalosis. They can be caused by metabolic disturbances such as diabetes and by kidney failure (in which excretion of H2PO4, for example, is inhibited.)

Numerous other processes lead to temporary unbalances. Thus hyperventilation, which can result from emotional upset, leads to above-normal loss of CO2, and thus to alkalosis. Similarly, retention of CO2 caused by bronchopneumonia, for example, can give rise to acidosis. Acidosis can also result from diarrhea (loss of alkaline fluid from the intestine,) while loss of gastric contents by vomiting promotes alkalosis.

The idea, widely promoted on commercial quackery sites, that people need "alkaline" water supplements to "balance body pH" or "neutralize" acidic foods, has no scientific support. It is pure, deceptive sales hype.

QuackWatch article on "Acid/Alkaline Theory of Disease"


pH testing of urine and saliva is a common scam used by dubious practicioners to prescribe dietary supplements or special diets. Urinary pH depends on many factors and is a useful clinical diagnostic only in the context of numerous other measurements on urine and blood chemistry (reference). So unless you are under the care of a physician for nephritic disease, diabetes or a urinary tract infection, daily pH testing is just another form of navel-gazing. An exception might be for people subject to kidney stones or gout, since low urinary pH promotes precipitation of uric acid. For such patients, citric acid or a citrate salt (which are metabolized to bicarbonate) are often prescribed for raising urinary pH.

The pseudoscience

There are hundreds of web sites offering up misinformation on the dangers of "acidic" and "high ORP" waters (see here, for example) which make statements that are unsupported by scientific evidence.

"The Benefits of Alkaline, Ionized Water" is a typical screed which begins with just enough solid science to create an illusion of credibility, but quickly descends into crackpot physiology and chemistry. And sites such as this one which falsely claim that acidity causes cancer are beyond contempt. Beware of authors such as Hidemitsu Hayashi who claims to be a doctor but reveals his lack of basic medical expertise by endorsing quack remedies.

In order to flog their electrolysis units, these hucksters (mostly independent agents showing little evidence of any knowledge of chemistry or physiology) spin a number of yarns that are simply untrue, but which are easily believed by many people who are not familiar with modern chemistry and physiology. Here is a summary of some of the more common claims with my comments.

 The fables

 The facts

"Ionized water" machines actually bring about the electrolysis of ordinary water. If the water is pure enough to be potable, the amount of electrolysis that actually occurs is too small to be significant.
These devices separate the alkaline water (produced at the negative electrode) from the acidic water (produced at the positive electrode), allowing you to draw them off separately. This will not work with pure water because it is physically impossible to have water that contains an excess of OH (alkaline) without the presence of a charge-compensating metallic ion such as Na+ or Ca2+. Similarly, any water that is acidic (excess H+ ion) must contain a compensating impurity ion such as bicarbonate or sulfate. Thus ordinary drinkable water which contains only very low concentrations of metal ions will yield only weakly alkaline solutions.
Alkaline water is important for maintaining proper body pH and preventing acidosis.

The pH of intracellular bodily fluids such as blood is controlled by an exquisitely-balanced set of reactions involving removal of (acidic) carbon dioxide through the lungs, removal of (alkaline) ammonia through the kidneys, and the buffering action within the blood by bicarbonate, and to a smaller extent by phosphate and certain proteins. In the most important of these mechanisms, carbon dioxide produced by cell metabolism reacts with water to form carbonic acid H2CO3, and this reacts with carbonate in the blood to form bicarbonate

H2CO3 + CO32– → 2 HCO3

which is carried by the blood to the lungs, where the carbon dioxide is then regenerated and expelled:

H2CO3 → CO2 + H2O

The pH of blood is especially critical and must be maintained within the range of about 7.35 - 7.45. If the blood pH falls outside this range the condition is known as acidosis or alkylosis. Temporary acidosis can be induced by holding your breath, preventing release of CO2. Temporary alkylosis can be induced by hyperventilation, causing excess release of CO2. Chronic acidosis or alkylosis can be very serious and is often associated with kidney failure.

The pH of ordinary drinking water will have little effect on the pH of the stomach contents because gastric fluid has an overwhelmingly low pH (Gastric fluid is essentially a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid.) Hundreds of millions of years of evolution have adapted humans to tolerate drinking waters having a fairly wide range of pH (5-8). Any water that is sufficiently alkaline to significantly affect gastric pH is unlikely to be considered potable by most people. Further, the enzymes that digest proteins in the stomach require a low pH in order to function properly, so if one were to ingest sufficient alkali to reduce gastric pH, it would also interfere with digestion.

If you really want (or need) to reduce gastric acidity, products such as Milk of Magnesia or Alka-Seltzer are cheaper and more effective than "water ionizer" machines. But bear in mind that acidosis and alkylosis are serious conditions that require medical intervention and can be properly diagnosed only by measurements of blood electrolyte and CO2 content.

The oxygen produced during electrolysis invigorates the body. The amount of oxygen that water can hold is very limited, and it is not significantly absorbed by the gut anyway. You can acquire far more oxygen by just taking an extra breath. For more on the myth of oxygenated waters, see the OxyScams page.
"Ionized water" acts as an effective antioxidant and free-redical fighter, and can even halt or reverse ageing. There is no reason to believe this. Some sales sites reveal their ignorance of chemistry by stating that the enhanced oxygen content causes the water to act as an anti-oxidant (any high-school chemistry student should be able to debunk this one!) It should also be pointed out that evolution has allowed our bodies to develop anti-oxidant enzymes such as peroxidase that are millions of times more efficient than anything that an electrolysis device could produce even if it did work! Finally, although anti-aging nostrums are widely marketed to the notoriously credulous seekers of alternative-health products, there is absolutely no evidence that any of these is effective; See The antioxidant myth: a medical fairy tale that was published in the 5 August 2006 New Scientist. See also this video that shows how the color of iodine is bleached by adding "alkaline water"; what's really happening is that the hypochlorite ion in the water is oxidizing the iodine to [colorless] iodate ion.

Adding to the confusion is the practice of some vendors to incorporate some of the false and misleading claims regarding structured or "clustered" waters with the standard ionization bunk; see here for an example.

Typing "ionized water" into any Web browser will yield hundreds of hits on outfits offering to sell you this worthless quackery. One of the most egregious sites promotes "the Alkalarian approach to optimal living" and "the pH miracle for weight loss" together with nonsense about microscopic blood examination.

Fantastic Voyage fantasies

As mentioned above, the Kurzweil-Grossman book contains a number of un-truths about "alkaline water", suggesting that neither of them has ever taken a course in chemistry or physiology. Several of their misleading statements are outlined below; anyone questioning my comments on them can check any standard textbook on human physiology.

K&G's misinformation
My comment

How can alkaline water with a pH of 9 or 10 be expected to affect the body when the pH of the stomach is 2 or less?

1It is important to remember that hydrochloric acid is present in the stomach only when food is there.

2If acid were present all the time, it would eat a hole in your stomach lining.

1The stomach always contains some gastric secretion and is always acidic; eating food stimulates the production of more acid.

2Nonsense; the stomach lining is protected by a mucous film which is continually replenished.

The body keeps blood pH stable by utilizing alkaline buffers to neutralize acidic liquids (such as colas, which have a pH as low as 2.5) and other acidic products and byproducts. But as the blood stream receives these acidic substances, the alkaline buffers get used up. Drinking alkaline water helps reduce the burden on the limited alkaline buffers which are needed for the body s natural detoxification processes. The principal buffer is bicarbonate which is continually generated when glucose, the body's immediate cellular energy source, is metabolized. Acids convert it into carbonic acid which breaks down to CO2 and water and is exhaled by the lungs. This is the main route of elimination of acids from the body, although the kidneys play a secondary role.
In alkalinized or ionized water, it is not actually the water that is ionized — it's the minerals; primarily calcium, potassium and magnesium. Alkaline water has as its main benefit that it assists in the absorption of alkaline minerals. Classifying these mineral ions as "acidic" or "alkaline" is nonsense, and the author has it backwards: these ions all form insoluble carbonates in alkaline solution and would become even less available. Transport of these ions across cell membranes is facilitated by specialized protein assemblies that are largely independent of local pH.

Some absurd sales claims about "ionized water"

Vendors who seek out the sucker market tend to go for even more outrageous flapdoodle. The text in the left column below is taken verbatim from a typical water-ionizer sales site as it existed in Sept 2002. Similar twaddle describing how "ionized water" cures all sorts of ills can be found in many other places. The shading indicates statements that I consider untrue, meaningless, or misleading.

[Claims which I consider misleading, false, or meaningless are in purple print]


 The hype

 The science

..ionized alkaline water is grouped together in smaller clusters of 5-6 water molecules instead of the 10-13 found in tap water. This makes it "micro-clustered", meaning it will be more quickly and easily absorbed, and will hydrate the tissues more effectively.

The hexagonal molecular structure resulting from electrolysis is what makes ionized water wetter than tap or bottled water. These smaller "hexagons" of water molecules are half as large as the molecular chains that come out of the faucet, and permeate cellular membranes quicker so that Alkaline Water is more hydrating and quicker to refresh after strenuous exercise.

There is no scientific evidence to support the assertions about the existence of water clusters or its beneficial effects on tissue hydration. See the Water Cluster Quackery page for more information on this bunk.

The diagram on the left is incorrect and misleading. There is no way that H2O molecules in liquid water can be stabilized or retained in the hexagonal configuration shown.

Alkaline water

  • Increases energy, decreases recovery time and  improves capacity for aerobic activities.
  • "Reverses the aging process, lowers blood pressure and helps the heart work less hard." 
  • Neutralizes and flushes toxins and acidic waste from your body. Your body can focus on achieving optimal health.
  • The electrolysis process rearranges healthy minerals that are native to your tap water according to their electrical charge. As a result, alkaline ionized water contains essential calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium minerals in a form that can be assimilated.
  • Cancer does not thrive in an oxygenated and alkaline environment while health does.

There is no credible scientific evidence for any of these statements, which you will find only on Web sites promoting commercial products.

 Acid water should never be consumed.

Those of us who live in Vancouver and other cities where the drinking water comes from mountain runoff and snowmelt have been drinking acidic water for years with no demonstrable ill effect.

(Yes, they had to tear up my street to replace the corroded water mains, but our stomachs all have built-in corrosion protection against the much stronger hydrochloric acid in ordinary gastric fluid.)

Beneficial uses of acidic water:

  • Natural astringent for improving complexions.  It removes skin oil and greasy dirt without harsh chemicals.
  • Natural hair conditioner.  
  • Highly antiseptic for cuts, abrasions, and wounds
  • Soaking in warm acidic ionized water improves healing from athletes foot, rashes, nail fungus infections and insect bites

Claims such as these are widely propagated by water ionizer hucksters without any supporting evidence. If you really want to sample the "benefits" of acidic water, try a dilute solution of vinegar or almost any fruit juice.

One outfit claims the following "Health indications for drinking alkaline water": High blood pressure - Muscle aches after exercise - Morning sickness - Diabetes - Hangovers - Osteoporosis - Body odor - Constipation - Obesity - Chronic fatigue - Diarrhea - Common colds - Migraines.

"Hydrogen-Rich" Water

This can refer to water to which hydrogen gas has been added or, more commonly, to what is sometimes known as "reduced" water containing what is claimed to be "active" hydrogen. See here for more on these schemes.

H3O Hype

While most of the "ionized water" hucksters flog "alkaline" water, here is one that promotes an acidic water that claims to be good for everything from psoriasis and strep throat to halitosis and jock itch. These jokers claim to have found a way of making a "stabilized, highly concentrated version of H3O in solution"... bull-poop that would make any high-school chemistry student laugh; the fact is that the hydronium ion H3O+ is already about as stable as any chemical entity, as long as it is accompanied by enough negative ions (presumably sulfate, SO42– in this case) to maintain electroneutrality. Those who question my skepticism will find solace in an interview with the "world renowned physicist Dr. Tom Beardon" whose name, curiously, does not appear in the ISI database of published scientists.

According to this CBS-11 News story, Alpha-Omega Labs was shut down by the FDA after its owner pleaded guilty to various charges relating to the marketing of this and other products.

Ionized Fabric-ations

The boutique-sportswear industry has discovered the marketability of pseudoscience and quackery (witness the 2007 Lululemon flap), so here is the IonX Recovery Gear cabinet of "ionic" flapdoodle:

"Harnessing the power of negative ions, IonX naturally replenishes energy, restores balance and enhances every stage of an athlete’s workout. . . The patented technology increases blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissue and muscles, while clearing metabolic waste such as lactic acid. Additionally, IonX activates chemicals that improve muscle function, block pain and reduce inflammation." [link]

I was unable to find any credible scientific support for any of these claims. A look at the patent reveals that the fabric is treated with various compounds that are weakly dissociated into ions in water, and are basically the same as those employed as anti-static agents in fabrics and home laundry products. (I presume that the delicious irony that these additives are widely used for exactly the opposite purpose of what the IonX products are purported to do, has escaped these people!) So there are a few "ions" involved here, but it is a basic law of physics that ions are always formed in oppositely-charged pairs, so to suggest that the negative ions exert some special effect outside the fabric is without foundation. And their claims regarding oxygen, nutrients, and alleviation of metabolic wastes are simply absurd. I wonder if those jocks with the backward-pointing baseball caps who used to sit in the back rows of my Chemistry classes will get taken in by this garbage!

You don't need a machine to get acidic or alkaline water!

The cheapest and by far the best source of "acidic" water is cranberry juice, which offers the additional benefits of inhibiting the adhesion of bacteria to surfaces in the urinary tract and on dental plaque, increasing the amounts of "good" cholesterol in the blood, and raising the level of plasma antioxidants (the juice's vitamin C content may be a contributing factor here.) See here for a reliable reference.

If you must have "alkaline" water, try dissolving some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in water; this will give you a bitter-tasting drink with a pH of around 8.3. You can also purchase overpriced "concentrates" such as AlkaLife Drops that are touted by author/quacks such as Sang Whang whose misinformation-filled writings are not supported by science.

Build your own

Instead of purchasing a grossly operpriced "water ionizer", you can build  your own. Googling "build water ionizer" will yield a long list of sites and YouTube videos, with the usually mix of reliability from self-appointed "experts". Basically, you need a source of direct current of around 12 volts (a car battery charger should do), and a couple of electrodes.

Important: Do not use copper, steel, chromium, or other common metals for the electrodes, as these will add toxic metal ions to the water as they corrode. Use only pure titanium (or a "medical grade" titanium alloy) or platinum.  You might find some of these on eBay or a similar source.

I don't recommend building your own, and if you do so, your are "on your own"; I will not respond to requests asking me to evaluate your plans or to seek advice.

Don't bet the farm on it!

Several companies flog "anolyte water" and similar dubious electrolyzed water devices to the agricultural industry, promising such poorly-defined benefits for livestock as "better digestion", "stronger egg shells" and "better yield", while for field crops they say "conditions grains", "conditions irrigation water", etc. etc. Of course, what they are selling is nothing more than an exceedingly-expensive means of generating what amounts to ordinary laundry bleach.


You don't even need water to get hit by "ionization" scams!

Yes, this outfit offers "ionized bracelets" to willing suckers... no mention of how they work or what they are supposed to do for you.

Here's another that peddles tourmaline crystals as "Nature's source of Far Infrared and Negative Ions". Of course, all matter above absolute zero emits far-ir radiaiton, ordinarily known as "heat". Tourmaline also happens to be piezoelectric: when you squeeze it, a small voltage difference develops between the two ends of the crystal. Nothing special here, but these operators weave this into a fabric of lies about the crystals putting negative ions into and purifying water, reducing cluster size. increasing dissolved oxygen, and having a general healing effect.

And how about Ionized stones? Can rocks be ionized? Well not really, but natural radioactivity occasionally knocks an electron out of an atom, creating an ion pair which can remain locked into the solid for a long time. So in this sense, even the rocks you find in your back yard can be said to be "ionized". But these jokers take it to ridiculous extremes:

By placing an Ionized Stone next to a glass of water or plate of food, the water or food becomes energized, increasing digestibility and nutrient absorption. Ionized stones can also be used effectively in conjunction with Ener-Chi Art -- simply place an Ionized Stone on the corresponding area of the body while viewing an Ener-Chi Art picture.

"Electrolyzed oxidizing water" ("EO" water)

This term is commonly applied to the products of "water ionizing" machines when the marketing focus is on bactericidal properties, rather than on the false claims about the health benefits of alkaline drinking water.

As is explained above, these electrolysis devices produce what amounts to a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite, similar to what can be obtained by diluting some ordinary laundry bleach such as Clorox to the point at which the odor is no longer noticeable. If this is made slightly acidic (by addition of some vinegar or lemon juice, for example), then most of the hypochlorite ion is in the form of hypochlorous acid, which is a bactericide and is the active product produced when chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water.

The only real issues here are

So while "EOW" that contains reasonably high concentrations of hypochlorous acid can act as a disinfectant, I consider it somewhat deceptive when promoters tout it (as some do) as a special, "chemical-free" disinfectant. See also this Food Quality article.

Electrolytic "bleach generators" are legitimate devices for use in industrial and institutional settings in which large quantities disinfectant are required. They are considered a "green" alternative to shipping or handling chlorine gas (dangerous) or hypochlorite solutions (mostly water, and thus heavy). In early 2009, a widely-reprinted article by an LA Times reporter touted the use of machines that produce this "miracle water". But for home use, it hardly seems economical; one could probably buy a supply of laundry bleach that would last several lifetimes for the cost of a "water ionizer"!

Tennant's untenable claims

The Tennant Company is a long-established and reputable manufacturer of industrial cleaning equipment. It is sad to see them descend into silly junk science in pushing their new "ech2o" technology which they say

works by unlocking the vast amounts of energy stored in the water molecule H2O...creating highly oxygenated micro-bubbles. ...the oxygenated water is sent through a water cell where an electric current is applied. Flowing out of the water cell is highly charged, acidic and alkaline water with all the attributes of a powerful cleaner. [link]

Give me a break! "Vast amounts of energy stored in H2O"? "Highly oxygenated"? (How highly?) It sounds impressive, but what does oxygen have to do with cleaning, other than reducing the water surface tension by a minute amount, probably less than is produced by the electrolytes they have to add to electrolyze the water? And how can water (or any bulk matter) violate the electroneutrality principle and carry a significant electric charge? Finally, have any of these people passed high school chemistry, where they would learn what happens when you mix "acidic and alkaline water"?

An article published in 2016 (Cleaning with Bulk Nanobubbles, Langmuir 11203-11211) by Tennant researchers cuts through the B.S. and reveals that their process electrolytically decomposes salt water into nanobubbles of hydrogen and oxygen gas that remain stable for long periods.  These bubbles, through their buoyant action, are believed to prevent dirt particles removed by mechanical scrubbing from re-depositing on the surface.

See this 2011 article about a dispute that challenges the effectiveness of this technology. More recently, Tennant has been sued in Germany for misleading advertising and has been made to withdraw some of its claims in Germany, Belgium and the UK.

Active ions clean up!

ActiveIon™ markets a hand-held cleaning device which "frees you from chemicals". According to their Web page, it does not use salt or generate sodium hypochlorite, which was my original assumption that led to its mention on this page. Instead, it employs electrolysis to generate "nanobubbles" (presumably H2 and O2) which

attach themselves to dirt particles. As the charges from the nanobubbles build up on the dirt particles, they separate from one another and break apart due to repulsion of like electrical charges, and become suspended in the water solution – allowing the dirt to be wiped away.

They additionally claim that it kills bacteria and viruses by electroporation, a process that ruptures cell walls and is widely employed to insert DNA into cells. [But viruses do not possess cell walls]. Although the company claims that the efficacy of the device has been verified by third-party tests, they offer no performance data. The scientific literature contains some references to irreversible electroporation as a means of food preservation and water treatment, I am not aware of any research results that verify the claimed mechanism or quantitatively explore its practical utility.

EO water sold for medical uses

There are a number of products on the market, ostensibly directed at the medical profession (but conveniently available to anyone with a credit card) that claim to be for topical use on the skin (for "dermal wound care", burns, abrasions), or for sanitizing instruments and surfaces. Much of this so-called "technology" seems to originate in Japan. What makes me, as a chemist, very suspicious about these products is that they never state explicitly what exactly is in the product; instead, they only make vague references to terms such as "super-oxidized" which, to me, are meaningless and which I suspect are intended purely to impress people (including all too many physicians) whose chemistry background, if any, is far in the past. Most medications that I am familiar with as a lay-person are defined in terms of their chemical composition rather than on the hocus-pocus ways in which they are made.

Oculus Innovative Sciences appears to be the most widely promoted of these products. Judging from {an earlier version of their site}, they are "innovative" only in the sense that they have figured out a way to sell what is essentially hypochlorite laundry bleach at exorbitant prices... or perhaps they are just trying to peddle their stock to science-ignorant investors. My somewhat-jaded view of this promotion seems to be reflected in a 2007 PharmaTracker review.

I am very skepical about this or similar products. All low-pH solutions tend to be bactericidal, but before buying into this, I would like to see some evidence that these products are more effective than a hypochlorite solution of this kind, any mild detergent or soap solution, or even a dilute solution of vinegar.


References to "ionized water"

A few articles on this subject have appeared in the scientific literature. Most are from Japan, and none that I have seen clearly states the composition of the water used— a failure that would probably guarantee rejection by a mainstream medical journal. An extensive list of similarly dubious articles can be found at this huckster site.

None of these papers is very convincing to me, and I doubt that they would have passed muster in the more prestigious journals— which may explain the rather strange publishing venues several of the authors have chosen which are quite outside the medical and physiological fields. One wonders if these journals have reviewers qualified to give papers on this subject adequate scrutiny. It's interesting to note that the last journal in the list also published the now-discredited article on cold fusion in the 1980s.

As far as I know, not a single account of a placebo-controlled clinical study on alkaline/ionized water in humans has ever eppeared in a mainstream, peer-reviewed medical journal.

"Section 403(r)(6) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) (21 U.S.C. 343(r)(6)) requires that a manufacturer of a dietary supplement making a nutritional deficiency, structure/function, or general well-being claim(2) have substantiation that the claim is truthful and not misleading.(3)"

U.S. Federal Trade Commission File-A-Complaint page

More electrolytic pseudoscience

"Detoxifying" foot-baths

Have you ever heard of those foot-baths through which an electric current is passed in order to draw out the "toxins" from your body? To someone who knows no chemistry, it can be quite impressive to see all these evil substances color the water various shades of brown, green, and blue as the current works its magic. Sometimes you see flecks of solids and bubbles of gas appear as your body is "cleansed". Well, this is an old parlor trick, a nice chemistry-classroom demonstration, and, of course, a highly profitable scam. It is offered by numerous quackery practicioners, including some naturopathic and chiropractic physicians, and can go by such names as Ionic Detoxification, Aqua Chi, Bionic Hydrotherapy®, etc. See here for a typical promotion.

Please see here for a more complete description of detox foot baths and how they work.

Ionize your aquarium!

The "ionized water" hokum is new being fed to aquarium owners by a company that flogs "Aquarium Ionization" with unsupported claims such as

  • Prevents and helps cure all diseases while sustaining appetites during infestations
  • Stimulates blood cells with concentrated O2 to maintain healthier immune systems
  • Ionizes passing water molecules [which] aids in the diffusion of nutrients, reduces accumulation of toxins

This device claims to "ionize" the aquarium water that passes through in order to restore its "reactivity", improving the diffusion ofnutrients, reducing accumulation of toxins, supporting nitrifying bacteria, and increasing the bioavailibity of oxygen. As if one pseudoscience were not enough, this one combines several dodgy processes:

[It] uses PATENTED negative ionic energy provided by a proprietary blend of basic electromagnetic physics combined with NASA’s space age far infrared radiation to ensure that aquarium water is constantly being rid of its toxic impurities and remains in a healthy, reactive state.

See this aquarium enthusiast's Junk Science page that takes a critical look at these absurdities.