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Viva La Différence!

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | September 9, 2013

How consumers do laundry depends greatly on where they live.

Getting clothes clean means something very different to someone in Kansas City compared to say, someone in Mexico City; which, in turn, is different from how someone does laundry in Phuket versus someone in Frankfurt. Euromonitor International puts the global market for cleaning products (2012) at $147 billion (retail), with laundry care products accounting for more than 50% of sales, said Peter Smallwood, principal, Chemical Associates, who was a featured speaker at CESIO’s 9th World Surfactant Congress and Business Convention, which was held in June in Barcelona (see also p. 50 Happi, August 2013). Smallwood noted that despite all the talk about enzymes and other additives, surfactants still account for 25-75% of the material value of a cleaning product.

But how much consumers spend on cleaning product really depends on where they live, personal wealth, clothing type and ambient conditions. Annual per capita spend on household cleaners ranges from $10 in China to more than $90 in Japan, according to Smallwood, who cited Euromonitor data.

In the developed world, washing is a chore. With their busy lifestyles, consumers look for good performance involving the minimum of effect. Laundry is done by machine and not heavily soiled. There are differences in the washing habits from country to country and region to region, as US water is moderately soft and water tends to be hard in Europe.

In North America, most homes have soft water. Detergents tend not to contain bleaches, liquids dominate, and there is a slow shift to high-efficiency washers, both front and top loaders. Volume wash water is 30-60 liters, total volume water used is typically 120 liters, detergent quantity is 1-2g/l, (30g/kg washing), total wash time ranges from 8-18 minutes, and wash water temperature can range from 10-55°C.

“There is a slow move to high efficiency washers,” Smallwood added.

In Northern Europe, wash machines rely on a horizontal front entry basket with reversing/pause action, so clothes are lifted out of water and dropped back in. Volume of wash water is 8-15 liters, detergent quantity ranges from 5-10g/l, total wash time is 50-60 minutes and wash temperature is 40-60°C. Interestingly, while traditional powder detergents contain bleach, liquids do not.

“Europeans are are more reluctant to use liquids,” explained Smallwood. “(But) there is a rise in the use of (peroxide) bleach boosters.”

He further went on to say there is an increasing use of unit doses in Northern Europe, and Southern Europeans who wash at lower temperatures are more likely to use hypochloride bleach boosters.

And while European and US consumers are using more unit dose detergents every day, Smallwood noted that half of the world washes laundry by hand; this washing is  carried out in ambient temperatures in either still (tub or bucket) or flowing water. Clothing is soaked, scrubbed, squeezed or beaten to drive dirt out. The wash water is used multiple times. Consumers in emerging markets have a preference for bar/cake soaps that are used to scrub clothing and as well as other types of cleaning. In recent years, these bars have been blended with LAS. While bars containing enzymes have been introduced in China, Smallwood noted that there’s been slow shift from bars to fragranced powders in emerging markets.

Overall, however, powders are the most popular laundry detergent form, regardless if clothes are washed by hand or by machine. Citing Euromonitor data, Smallwood noted that powders account for 70% of detergent use in China, followed by liquids (20%) and bars (10%). In India, however, liquids are not available, so powders hold 75% of the market and bars, 25%. Russia’s market is segmented by powders (90%), bar (7%) and liquid (3%).

In some emerging markets, such as China and Russia, washing machines are not always trusted to get clothes clean. In other countries, hand washing is considered a social event and part of the daily routine. The used wash water can be used in household cleaning.

But regardless of their geographic location, there are several global cleaning trends that influence why consumers purchase particular cleaning products and include cost, efficiency, convenience, appearance/fragrance and environmental sustainability, according to Smallwood. Environmental issues include biodegradability (linear alkyl benzene sulfonates replaced branched dodecylbenzene sulfonates), toxicity (alkyl phenol ethoxylates were replaced by alkyl alcohol ethoxylates) and eutrophication (phosphate builders are being phased out).

Sustainability issues include a general move toward ingredients made from renewable resources. Smallwood pointed out that petrochemical-derived ethylene oxide has been replaced by glucoside and that Solvay is making EO from fermented ethanol. Also available are sophorolipid surfactants produced by yeast fermentation.

Finally, more research is underway to reduce washing temperatures. Unfortunately, many fats melt at 40°C, but surfactants are more soluble at higher temperatures and many chemical processes work better at higher temperatures. Some solutions to these problems include using branched hydrophobes that have higher solubility yet retain their surface activity; use of enzymes that work at lower temperatures; increasing the antibacterial activity of detergents and increasing the activity of bleach at lower temperatures.

“Surfactants are a key component of cleaning products and cleaning products are a major market for surfactants,” concluded Smallwood. “But developments in the cleaning product industry, such as changing formulation preferences and demand for better performance at lower temperatures, are driving the requirement for new types of surfactants.”

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