The Chemistry of Clothes Washing #4: Marketing

When you walk down the supermarket aisles, don’t be fooled into thinking that the products you are being sold are the best ones the manufacturers were able to formulate.

The people that make consumer products are not in the business of meeting your needs – they are in the business of making you think that they have met your needs.  And very often it is cheaper to re-educate you to what your knees should be than to actually meet them.

And there is no area of household chemicals where this is more true than laundry detergents.

Years ago my grandmother washed clothes in a copper using washing soda and home made soap.  It was hard work, and it took so long that there was one day of the week set aside for it (washing day).

Gradually, as automatic washing machines were invented, off the shelf laundry detergents were also invented.

And then came the battle royal is to how clothes should be washed, and therefore what type of detergent should be used.

There was a time when it was unheard of to wash in anything other than hot water, as obviously the detergents were more active in hot water.

But that all changed in the late 1960s with the introduction to the market of Cold Power.  Unquestionably this has been the most successful advertising campaign in history.  The reason for this is that it made people change the ways they were doing things.

Up until then, no one had questioned the notion of washing in hot water.  But then Cold Power came along and said “you can wash clothes in cold water.”

People believed it.  And the market was “re-educated”.

Even today many people who don’t use Cold Power still wash their clothes in cold water.

A third player for the market were liquid detergents, such as Aura and Dynamo.
So what detergents should we use – powder or liquid, and should we wash in hot water, warm water, or cold water.
Part of the reason for the success of Cold Power was the idea that your clothes were less damaged by a cold wash them a hot wash.  And there was some truth to this.  Hot water will soften fibres temporarily – if the hot fibre then gets wrapped around the central spindle of a washing machine, then it’s going to get bent badly out of shape.

Ppeople then blamed the detergent rather than the washing machine.  It’s worth noticing that these days the washing action is very gentle, and avoids the chance of damage by the spindle.  So damage to clothes is no longer an issue – nor should shrinking be, as these days most clothes are “preshrunk”.  So, what should we use, cold or hot, liquid or power?
Tomorrow we’ll have a look at it.

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