How to wash clothes

History of washing powders – go back in time with us and learn what motivates our actions

Go back in time with us and learn about history of washing powders from the soap age, through washing powders, until the era of unconventional and innovative solutions. Learn what motivates our actions and need for creating Perlux.

WASHING POWDERS
PAST AND PRESENT

SOAP AGE.

The need for cleanness, we would say today – hygiene, was already recognized in deep antiquity. Although there was no knowledge about microorganisms and their negative impact on human health caused by lack of hygiene, the ancients perceived the relationship between health and cleanness. This is confirmed by traces of clean water supply installations and sewerage systems.

An important role in improving the hygiene played Phoenicians, who found out around 5000 years ago that adding a mixture of vegetable ash (seaweed) and olive fat (olive oil) to water improved cleaning and washing properties. Today we know that soda contained in the ash saponified fats contained in olive oil and the product similar to soap that improved cleaning and washing process was created. This was the beginning of soap and soap industry, which played a significant role in improving human health and hygiene.
This technology was spreading thanks the Phoenicians, very busy merchants. At the beginning of our era, all the people of the Mediterranean were able to manufacture products similar to soap.

Real soap, the so-called “hard soap” was created in the eighth century AD in the Middle East. The Arabs developed its productions in the Mediterranean. During the Middle Ages, the production was located in Marseille, Genoa, Venice and Spain; in places where olive fat, soda from seaweed ash and Arab influences existed. And this is where the names “Marseille soap” and “Castilian soap” come from.

In Poland, saponaria, the plant commonly growing in the country was used for washing. The first soap-stores appeared only in the fourteenth century.

Popularization and cheapening of soap was at the end of the eighteenth century, when French chemist Leblanc developed a technology of obtaining synthetic soda. It accelerated the development of soap trade. Soap became a common commodity. In 1884, the first soap bar called “Sunlight Soap” was introduced to the market, and it was manufactured by the Lever Brothers plant at Port Sunlight in the amount of 450 tons per week.

Hand wash using washboards or tadpoles with the help of soap and soda, and bleaching by exposing fabrics to sunlight was still very popular in the early twentieth century, giving employment to thousands of professional washerwomen.

The true intellectual washing adventure began only in the twentieth century.

TWENTIETH CENTURY, ERA OF WASHING POWDERS

The development of sciences, especially in the twentieth century made ​​it clear how complex physicochemical process was the process of washing. It was found that the condition for good wash is meeting by the washing detergent many, often conflicting conditions. A good detergent should:

  • Reduce the surface tension of water, which determines good wetting of fibre and emulsification of fat being an ingredient of dirt
  • Disperse pigment from dirt (move dust particles from fabrics into the wash)
  • Create protective colloid, i.e. prevent re-deposition of pigment from dirt on the fibre surface, which results in fabrics turning grey
  • Soften water, which reduces incrustation (precipitation of limescale inside fibres) and increases the effectiveness of surfactants;
  • Provide alkaline reserve in the wash, which improves the effectiveness of removing dirt.

In the washing process, in addition to removal of dirt, washing detergent should also interact with fabrics in order to improve or recover their original properties. For this purpose, washing agent should provide the functions, such as:

  • Chemical bleaching;
  • Removal of stains and damages of fibres, which is possible only with the help of “enzymatic effects” (biochemical dissolution of starch, protein, cotton lint, fat);
  • Softening fabrics and reducing the effect of picking up static by fibres.

Most of the aforementioned conditions could not have been met by using soap and soda.

The first technological breakthrough came in 1907. The era of washing powders began, the first genuine washing powder with chemical bleaching function was developed. Consumers were freed from the need for onerous bleaching of fabrics. In 1913, first washing powders containing enzymes for soaking were introduced to the market. In the 1930s, “dethronement” of natural soap and soda began – the era of synthetic detergents (in other words surfactants) called at that time synthetic soap came. In the 1940s, phosphates were used to soften water more efficiently than soda and improve washing results, as well as optical brighteners that replaced the ultramarine as an agent for improving shade of white. Next decades brought new ideas and discoveries that improved the comfort of washing. Massification of production favoured lower prices and widespread availability of washing powders.

In 1990, worldwide production of detergents (without soap) amounted approximately to 7 million tonnes, while washing powder to 12.7 million tonnes. Currently in Poland, annual consumption per household amounts to 17 kg, which is about 200 000 tonnes on the national level.

Together with successes achieved by chemists, tadpole and washboard were heading to the museum of technology. Machine industry was providing more and more ingenious washing machines for ease of use, which further stimulated consumption of washing powders; level of hygiene and standard of living was rising.

However, it turned out that there were limits, which, if they were to be overcome, required new solutions.

First limitations were revealed in the 1960s.

The environment was not able to absorb and degrade huge amount of chemicals that in the form of wash water were discharged from households and industrial facilities. Foaming and eutrophication of surface waters was observed.

The situation was brought under control by the introduction of washing powders based on “soft detergents” and reduction of phosphates.

Another important reason for this was insufficient knowledge among consumers. Low prices of washing powders, aggressive advertising creating psychological relationship between cleanliness and health and the amount of washing powder put into the washing machine caused unreasonable action such as exceeding recommended doses of washing powder, which resulted in unnecessary discharges to the environment. Satisfactory results of washing could have been achieved by using smaller doses.

A side effect of excessive dosing was damaging fabrics by washing powder components due to degradation of the fibres.

It was realized that consumers should be enforced to rationalize dosing of washing powder.

The first energy crisis in 1972 illustrated the need to reduce energy consumption, for example by lowering wash temperature. The science embraced it; in the 1980s, implementing oxidation activators, primarily as TAED, helped lower the wash temperature to below 60°C.

Another problem raised by environmentalists is packaging. Washing powders are usually packed in cardboard boxes or bags made of PE film and they are useless garbage. Cardboard is admittedly easily biodegradable material, but due to large-scale production, its use results in massive deforestation. The film exhausts non-renewable resources of petroleum and it is hardly biodegradable.

Allergologists began to notice that one of the causes of allergies may be direct contact with substances contained in washing powders. Washing powder ingredients are not harmless for health in direct contact and in high concentrations, they pose high potential risks. For example, in Belgium and several other European countries, stringent standards were set for protease enzyme commonly used in washing powders; maximum allowable concentration in air (NDS) is 0.00006 mg/m3. In comparison, NDS for phosgene, a very toxic substance is 0.08 mg /m3.

Storing washing powders in open packaging and putting them in washing machine dispensers resulted in dusting, causing non-conscious effects, such as skin and mucous membranes irritation.

The response to these challenges was the implementation of the “more from less” programme.

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY, ERA OF UNCONVENTIONAL SOLUTIONS

The 1990s of the twentieth century was the period of first solutions based on the concentration of washing powders, which significantly reduced dose weight and volume used for washing. Standard packaging of concentrate contained more washing doses than traditional washing powders, the so-called “regular”. As technological experience was gained and research progressed, concentration of active ingredients was increased to the super-concentrated level, the so-called super concentrated or super compact washing detergents.  In doing so, the problem of packaging waste was reduced. On the other hand, increased concentration of hazardous and noxious substances caused increasing risk of irritation to the consumer. Also, the use of the super compact washing powders increased the negative effects of overdosing.

Revolutionary idea of the twenty first century is to move away from the super compact washing powder for super compact detergent in the form of a “hybrid”.

Hybrid (hybrid: combining together two different formulations) in the form of a twin-chamber sachet is a substitute for super compact washing powder that solves all the problems.

  • Hybrid contains active substances in its formula only in the amount required for achieving good washing results.
  • By locking the liquid phase and the solid phase in two separate chambers, hybrid allows to completely remove fillers from its formula thus relieving the environment.
  • Hybrid frees consumers from having to dose washing powders and isolates them from hazardous substances contained in washing detergents.
  • Hybrid provides control of dosing.
  • Hybrid reduces the amount of packaging waste. Packaging film forming hybrid is a part of its wash formula. After dissolving in the wash, it actively supports washing process.
  • Hybrid is the most perfect form of detergent dosing, it is the crowning of the evolution of washing detergents.
  • The twenty first century belongs to the hybrid.

Ryszard Smuła.

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