When Covid hit in 2020, Rayne Guest thought it could be a big moment for her business. Her company, R-Water, offers a machine that produces a simple but effective surface disinfectant on site, reducing pollution. Independent testing, she says, found that a main ingredient in her disinfectant, TK60--hypochlorous acid--could kill Covid-19 on surfaces in just 20 seconds.
But there was one problem: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put only products sold in bottles or other packaging on its "List N" of products that kill Covid-19--the "holy grail" of disinfectants, says Guest. Her product was specifically designed to avoid the need for plastic bottles that would end up in landfills.
"Here we were, having all the supply-chain issues, during which people couldn't get disinfectant, and we had these devices lined up, ready to go in our manufacturing facility, able to produce hundreds of gallons a day," says Guest. "It was really, really frustrating."
As it turned out, while the list drew the world's attention early in the pandemic when little was known about Covid-19 transmission, scientists have since determined the virus spreads through the air, not on surfaces.
But the enthusiasm for disinfecting surfaces isn't going anywhere. Now, she says, a growing number of facilities want alternative products to help mitigate the damage they have seen that harsh chemicals can have on furniture, fixtures, and equipment.
R-Water had its best year ever from 2019 to 2020, growing annual revenue by 900 percent and booking $1.5 million in sales. With new distribution channels in place, she's forecasting 2022 to be the company's breakout year with the device in 1,000 locations.
Guest founded R-Water in 2012. She had been assigned to a recycling program in Anguilla, a Caribbean island where her employer was building a resort, she says, and discovered that toxic residue from landfills had seeped into the aquifer and contaminated the drinking water. People were getting sick.
Guest got to work developing a sustainable disinfectant that would reduce waste from cleaning supplies. Her solution? Make cleaning-and-sanitizing products on site, doing away with the need for all those individual bottles that end up in dumps, leaking their chemical dregs. But her employer shelved the project. So she set out on her own.
"I'd really like to eliminate archaic chemicals that are the root cause of so many problems," she says.
When she first started, Guest reached out to engineer and angel investor Craig Franklin. She explained how her machine took salt, water, and electricity and produced two cleaning solutions that rivaled competitors' and didn't need to be transported.
"I thought, 'Wow, she's gonna clean up the planet,'" says Franklin. He invested $50,000 to get her set up in San Marcos, Texas, and an additional $50,000 to hire a team of engineers from Texas State University.
The device takes salt pellets that customers can buy at any hardware store ($10 for a 50-pound bag) and, through a process called water electrolysis, creates a disinfectant. It can make 450 gallons of solution every 24 hours. R-Water sells bottles to put the disinfectant in, or customers can choose to use their own. Ideally, Guest notes, customers will continue to reuse the same bottles.
The product can also be a cost saver. Each R-Water device can produce up to 300 gallons of disinfectant per day and can be rented for under $1,000 a month. Guest says if you use the device at 10 percent capacity, it costs roughly $0.70 per gallon, far less than the average disinfectant, which costs about $20 for a gallon.
By 2017, Guest got the product to market and into about 50 schools, universities, extended-care facilities, municipalities, jails, restaurants, and car dealerships.
Guest envisions a day when her machines are in grocery stores and says that she is talking with large retailers.
"I'd like to see the technology everywhere," Guest says. "People [would] go in and fill up bottles every week when they go grocery shopping for their homes--and save money in the process."
R-Water's device has been regulated by the EPA since 2015. And the agency did end up approving TK60--TK stands for "total kill"-- for List N in August, but the agency still hasn't updated its website to add it, says Guest.