Thief River Falls -- For Amber Edwards, getting people to rethink which cleaning products they use in their homes in the age of COVID is one of her chief concerns.
Edwards is the vice president of Sunset Environmental, a South Dakota-based company that says it has cleaning products 200 times stronger than bleach, which are not toxic to people or pets. The company opened a branch in Thief River Falls in March, where Edwards has lived since 2017, working for Sunset from her home. There, along with a small sales and administrative staff, she works to get the word out about her company’s products.
“To retrain humans is the hardest thing in the world, especially on a limited budget,” Edwards told the Herald.
Sunset got its start six years ago, with a focus on recycling and providing sustainable solutions for food producers. The company specializes in diverting manufactured food waste to farmers and ranchers, who use that waste as animal feed. Though this still makes up the bulk of the company’s business today, Sunset expanded to produce powerful, yet safe, disinfectants and a hand sanitizer. The goal is to get consumers and industries to stop using harsh disinfectants and cleansers that may only wind up strengthening a virus.
“We don't use chemicals because viruses can become immune to them, and then you get your superbugs,” said Duane Eckman, a sales representative for the company. “Then companies come out and make the chemical stronger, and then eventually you get sick from it.”
The company sells its products online and partners with a Texas-based company that can travel to disinfect entire buildings, such as schools or hospitals.
Sunset’s disinfectants, called CoverShield and Selectrocide, were created before the coronavirus pandemic marched across the nation. They can be used in conjunction or separately to kill a wide variety of viruses, bacteria, mold and algae, including coronavirus. The CoverShield is a positively charged liquid suspension that, when sprayed onto a surface, attracts, then electrocutes, whatever germ comes into contact with it. This happens at the microscopic level, making the charge unnoticeable to people. The Selectrocide is used to maintain that shield by clearing away the detritus of zapped germs and is a powerful cleanser in its own right.
“It'll kill anything; it doesn't discriminate,” Edwards said.
The science surrounding these products isn’t new. The compound that makes up the CoverShield has been around for more than 80 years. What makes Sunset’s product different is an additive that increases the cleanser’s molecular bond to a surface, making it last for four months. Selectrocide can be used as a daily cleanser on any surface, from windows to kitchen countertops.
In the early days of the pandemic, disinfectants flew off the shelves at local retailers and supermarkets and, at times, are still hard to find. That hasn’t been the case for Sunset, and sales have been slow for the company, though sales reps have landed large clients, including air carrier JetBlue. The products are also being used at Dulles International Airport, west of Washington, D.C., and talks are in the works to get the products into national retailers for regular home use.
The company’s small size -- there are only 10 employees -- and small budget, make it difficult to raise awareness of its products. Edwards says she is also battling a consumer mindset that connects certain cleaning products to certain surfaces: window cleaner is for windows, and floor cleaner is for floors. Edwards wants to change that, but it’s a tough sell.
“We say stop using harsh chemicals, stop using everything and just use this one product, so it's hard,” she said.
The company recently left its office in Thief River Falls and is looking for a larger space where they can manufacture locally. Edwards wants to get the disinfectants into consumer-sized spray bottles, so people don’t need to worry about properly diluting them with water. Until then, she’s continuing her work to change how people think about their cleaning products.
“It's really just the one-on-one education and talking to people, and, hopefully eventually, we'll have talked to enough people where it'll catch on a little bit more,” she said.