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Who invented Laundry Detergent? The complete History

Thursday 10th May 2018

hen we think of great inventions like penicillin or the motor car, most people will tell you Alexander Fleming or Henry Ford was the inventor. But ask them to name the person that invented laundry detergent and it becomes a bit more difficult.

Well Who Invented Laundry Detergent I hear You Ask? 

This incredible breakthrough can be attributed to Dr. Otto Rohm in 1907 who was the owner of Burnus, a company established in 1836 originally as a candle and soap maker. Otto Rohm introduced the use of enzymes for cleaning laundry in 1907 but it was not till 1914 when his research on the technical applications of enzymes in washing detergents that the revolution really started. 
Soap manufacturing stayed the same until 1916. Germany led the way with the first synthetic detergent due to a shortage of fat relating to the War. Synthetic detergents are non soap washing and cleaning products that have been chemically put together (Synthesized). These synthetic detergents do not combine with mineral salts in water to form soap curd. Synthetic detergent would later become more commonly known as detergent. 

In America Laundry detergent production began in the 1930`s by Proctor & Gamble. It was a process engineer Robert Duncan working for P&G who went to Europe to discover what he could learn about Laundry detergent. At the time Germany were the market leaders in Laundry detergent industry. Their Robert discovered surfactants that were not being used in laundry detergent manufacture at the time in America. On returning to America Robert discovered that surfactants are a two part molecule. Each molecule doing a very different thing, one removes pulls the oil and grease into a water solution, the other allowing the now water soluble dirt to rinse free from the fabric. After considerable testing and working out of licensing agreements with the Germans who created the surfactants. This led to P&G launching Dreft in 1933 the first synthetic detergent. Unfortunately it wasn’t to good on dirty clothes so the Americans marketed it as a laundry detergent for baby’s clothes. 

This meant there was a need for a Laundry detergent that could clean heavy soiling roll up Dave “Dick” Byerly he began work on a heavy duty laundry detergent in 1934. It was not till 14 years later that he created his first prototype. In 1946 this was launched as Tide laundry detergent. By 1949 it became the number one brand. The surfactant was the detergents basic cleaner but it was use of phosphates as builders in its detergents that was the game changer a system still used today by some manufacturers.  

By 1953 sales of detergent completely out passed those of soap for laundry cleaning. 
Innovations continued through the decades in the 60`s we had the pre-wash soil and stain removers these consisted of enzymes in the laundry powders and pre-soaks. Although used back in 1916 these new style Enzymes became commonly known as biological cleaning powders (But not great for those with sensitive skin). There was also a drive by P&G to sell laundry tablets. 

By 1970 there had become a trend for liquid laundry detergents as Laundry tablets disappeared from the market. This was mainly down to the fact that Laundry powders and laundry tablets were clogging up washing machines. This new technology also improved washing of clothes due to the fact that laundry liquids dissolved much faster than laundry powder in water.  Laundry Liquid also dissolved completely at lower temperatures unlike washing powders. 

In the 1980`s the trend was for concentrated laundry powders and liquids for washing machines. This was mainly down to an environmental drive by governments to reduce packaging and our carbon footprint. Whilst this was a great idea clothes washing became complicated for the average user of laundry detergents. These concentrates would often damage clothes and washing machines as the dosing rates could be complicated. 

By the 1990`s laundry detergent manufacturers still believed that concentrates was the way forward and they developed ultra concentrated laundry liquids and powders. But this time they changed the way the dosing was applied. There was all sorts of refillable containers to add directly into the washing machine drum. These containers worked a lot better as there was less confusion over dosing rates for laundry. 

By the year 2000 there was tremendous strides in the manufacturing of plastics. This led to the introduction for the first time ever of dissolvable pre-measured laundry liquids and powders. Although there were serious concerns about child safety as often the packaging was attractive to children leading to a number of cases of poisoning. 

In the 2010`s the laundry detergent manufacturers focused on responding to the problem there capsules packaging had. By making them look less enticing and using containers with more safety features. There was also a big media through TV, press, and social media making it clear to keep the product out of the reach of children at all times. This and the labelling being updated really helped to drive the message home. 

This brings us to the present day even though modern laundry detergents have come a long way improvements are still happening. Thanks to the development of Hybrid Technology by company’s like Lakma. Now we have all the best features of capsules combined together with the cleaning power of laundry powders and its enzymes for stain removal, along with the smart technology of laundry liquid gels and there surfactants that suspend the dirt in the wash before rinsing. This and the addition of descaling agents, to protect your washing machine and its components.

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