A Chore No More?

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | May 3, 2013

Cleaning house is easier than ever.

Cleaning house: some love it and some loathe it, but thanks to advances made by manufacturers of cleaning products, the task is easier today for both groups. A whole lot easier, in fact, than it was a half-century ago when the premier issue of Happi (then known as Detergent Age) came on the scene. 

And it’s a lot greener too—both in terms of products and production practices. Green formulations, once a niche, have become popular with many US homeowners who have been seeking a diet of more “healthful” products. In addition, leading manufacturers of more “traditional” products have been taking big steps to lessen their impact on Mother Earth by incorporating sustainability measures across their entire business.

The evolution of Clorox bleach packaging from 1916 to a new limited edition label created for the company’s
100th anniversary. 

Easier Does It
“It is amazing how much innovation there has been in the household cleaning product category in the last 50 years,” said Brian Sansoni, VP of sustainability initiatives and VP of communication and membership for the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). “The product forms and formats have made it simpler for people to do the cleaning they need to do or want to do around the house.”
For starters, there’s an array of multi-purpose cleaning products offered within the $3 billion household cleaners category, allowing consumers the opportunity to take care of a half-dozen or more cleaning chores with one spray bottle—or wipe for that matter.

“Today, we take wipes for granted—talk about an explosion of products that are now in millions of American homes and commercial operations,” said Sansoni, pointing to the proliferation of nonwoven cloths that are used to disinfect surfaces and polish furniture as well as electrostatic nonwoven sheets used in products like P&G’s Swiffer.

One of P&G’s most recent Swiffer SKUs.
The first Swiffer product, the Swiffer Sweeper, bowed in 1999, ushering in a new revenue stream for Procter & Gamble and carving out new territory in the cleaning sector.

“These are products we didn’t even think we would ever need, and now we wonder how did we ever did without them?” Sansoni quipped.

The need for speed and convenience has been fueled by changes in the American lifestyle over the past 50 years. In 1964, housewives took care of the kids and the home. Today, many households have two working parents, or maybe a single Dad or Mom, and they don’t have time to devote to cleaning the way their parents or grandparents did.

Recent Mintel research found that 57% of respondents said they would pay more for products that make cleaning faster and 48% said a product that reduces steps in a common cleaning task is very important.

Veronica Ditko, a New Jersey mom with two young boys, fits in with those statistics.

“If I can get it done fast, then I don’t mind it too much,” she told Happi. “When things get too tedious, I start to get impatient. And I start to feel the clock ticking because I really can’t give much time to it.”

  On the other hand, Ditko said her grandmother had a rigid cleaning schedule, which included mopping the kitchen floor once a week and shining everyone’s shoes every night.

Affection for Disinfection
In addition to reduced cleaning time, Mintel’s data found that disinfection—the key reason for cleaning in the first place—is becoming more important both in and out of the home. Quite possibly fueled by the fear of pandemics and illness, ranging from SARS to seasonal flu, more than 70% of consumers agree at least somewhat that disinfection has become more important to them and 27% agree strongly, according to Mintel.

Companies like Clorox are there for those homeowners. This venerable firm is also celebrating a major milestone: its 100th anniversary. On May 3, 1913, five entrepreneurs invested $100 each to convert brine from salt ponds in San Francisco Bay into bleach via electrolysis, creating America’s first commercial liquid bleach factory (then known as the Electro-Alkaline Company).
Over the years, Clorox has worked to innovate this storied disinfectant product—it was even used in 1969 to disinfect the Apollo space capsule upon its return to Earth! Among the most recent advances are a concentrated version sold in a smaller bottle that is easier to handle, and Smart Tube Technology, which Clorox contends supports megatrends of affordability and value. The Smart Tube will be available in Clorox products but also in the company’s other cleaning lines, including Formula 409, Tilex and Green Works.

Another brand synonymous with disinfection is Reckitt Benckiser’s Lysol, which has been available for more than a century and still resonates with consumers. Earlier this year, Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner was named cleaner brand of the year in a Harris Poll EquiTrend study.

The Lysol brand name can be found on products in surface disinfection, air and fabric care, multi-purpose cleaning and kitchen and bathroom products, and RB continues to expand its reach. Most recently, Lysol entered the hand cleanser sector.

“The Lysol brand has a mission for health,” Gary Rizzo, brand manager for innovation for Europe and North America, told Happi last month (April 2013, p. 77).

Greener Pastures
Speaking of health, today’s American consumer is more focused than ever before on the ingredients used in everything from the food she eats to household cleaners she uses in her home.

Multi-surface products have
helped consumers cut down on
the number  of products they need.

During the past decade, this focus on health has helped propel green brands from the niches to the mainstream. The highest profile players in the natural cleaner sectors include Seventh Generation and Method, both of which were on Happi’s annual Top 50 Report (see our July 2012 issue for more details).

Yet even while these firms and their green cleaning products enjoy a loyal following, green household cleaners still battle for acceptance. A recent Mintel survey found that just 13% of respondents agree strongly that environmentally friendly surface cleaners are as effective as conventional cleaners.

Lured by the power to make green, “traditional” cleaning product companies stepped into the green space over the years, developing new brands or acquiring established eco lines. Clorox, for example, rolled out Green Works and SC Johnson created Nature’s Source. Success, however, has varied, affected by a mix of economics and waning consumer sentiment.

SCJ—which also owns natural cleaning brand Mrs. Meyers—has been a leader in other eco aspects, such as packaging reduction, concentrated formulas, use of clean energy sources (wind, for instance) and ingredient disclosure.

Among its most recent sustainability efforts was the unveiling of the Smart Twist Cleaning System, which uses less packaging and helps reduce waste with three concentrated cleaners used in one hand-held sprayer. Each concentrated cartridge requires 63% less plastic than a new standard spray bottle, avoids transporting up to 22.7fl.oz. of water, depending on the formula, and is recyclable in most community programs, according to the company. Concentrated cartridges—which are offered only online for the time being—include Fantasik Kitchen, Pledge Furniture, Shout Carpet and of course, Windex Glass.

A concentrated cartridge of cleaner that’s been around since the 1930s?

“We’re light years away from where we were 50 years ago,” concluded Sansoni.

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