How Does Ionic Cleansing Work?

Ionic Cleansing In Principle

Ionic cleansing, or ionic foot bath, purports to remove toxins and other impurities in your body through the soles of your feet. Marketers of early ionic cleansing devices such as the Aqua Detox, an apparatus used in spas and sold to private consumers in the U.K. in the early 2000s, claimed the apparatus produced a frequency of positive and negative ions, which resonates through the body, stimulating your cells and rebalancing energy. Marketers of other ionic cleansing foot bath apparatuses, and practitioners that use them, claim that the devices remove pinworms, parasites, mucous, nicotine and even heavy metals. Purportedly, those who receive ionic cleansing experience better mental clarity and increased energy after treatments.

Ionic Cleansing Process

Ionic cleansing utilizes a foot bath apparatus that includes a bowl you fill with saltwater and electrodes contained inside that delivers a low-level electric current during treatment. You place your feet in the foot bath for around 30 minutes. The water in the bowl eventually turns the color of rust and develops a marked sludge on top. Those being treated believe that the water changes color because of the toxins being released through their feet.

Ionic Cleansing In Reality

Ben Goldacre, journalist for "The Guardian," explained how ionic cleansing works in practice in his September 2004 "Bad Science" column. Goldacre placed metal electrodes in a bowl of salt water and attached them to a car battery with nails: the water in the bowl turned reddish-brown. Goldacre recruited a colleague to receive an ionic cleansing treatment using the Aqua Detox device. Samples from Goldacre's experiment and from the spa treatment were sent to the Medical Toxicology Unit at New Cross for analysis. Results indicated that the change in color in both samples was the result of rusting that occurred as the metal electrodes corroded in the saltwater. No urea or creatinine -- the small molecules of toxins that pass through the body through the sweat glands -- was present in the water sample from the ionic cleansing treatment, Goldacre stated.

Ionic Cleansing Benefits

Dr. Stephen Barrett, co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud, describes ionic cleansing devices as medically useless, and reminds potential consumers that actual detoxification occurs in the liver, which modifies foreign substances so they can be processed by the kidneys. However, the concept of removing toxins through the feet may have one benefit. A similar expose of detox foot pads -- adhesive devices that purported to remove toxins through the feet -- by ABC's "20/20" in April 2008 indicates that some people may feel better after treatments simply because they expected they would.