Making Laundry Cool: washing trends and innovations

Consumers and brand owners alike want more sustainable laundry practices to become the norm. How is the transition being achieved effectively?

Smithers Apex, organiser of the Cleaning Products Europe event, and DuPont Industrial Biosciences are pleased to announce an exclusive new paper on innovations in sustainable washing.

In this in-depth paper Smithers Apex, in association with DuPont Industrial Biosciences, looks at the key trends and technology developments driving sustainable washing.

For the original report, click here to download off the DuPont website >>

By Dan Rogers, Head of Digital Publishing, Smithers Apex 

Laundry is becoming a more sustainable practice, thanks to a variety of innovations in the process and associated products. Detergents are playing their part in reducing the environmental impact of each and every laundry cycle. New formulations, coupled with dedicated campaigns to encourage less impactful practices, are helping make environmentally conscious washing a norm in many households.

These efforts are certainly needed . The number of people using washing machines is growing as well as the number of affluent people around the globe, with money to spend on high-value garments – items that they are then conscious should be kept clean and presentable.

As a result of the growing use of washing machines, the environmental impact of these practices would also grow; but the cleaning products industry is working hard to help mitigate the impact with sustainable innovations. 


Europe shows that there is a transition to lower temperature washing that has been enabled by recent product innovations. A 2013 study for Europe’s International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE) by Stamminger1 notes that Europe2 alone sees 35.6 billion laundry loads done every year – meaning around 1,130 washes are started every second in the region.

The AISE shared the research findings as part of its ‘substantiation dossier’ for ‘I prefer 30°,’ ( a campaign across five European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and the UK) to encourage the reduction of wash cycle temperatures among consumers.

Small changes in wash temperatures are able to generate significant savings in energy consumption. By way of indication, a 3°C reduction in washing temperature among the five countries involved in the campaign would deliver an annual energy saving 1,307.9GWh – the equivalent of the electricity consumed by a city of 180,000 inhabitants in a year. 

With the 34 partners who joined, this multi-stakeholder campaign is already very successful,’ says Valérie Séjourné, director for sustainability and communications at the AISE. 

As well as top-down efforts to transition to more sustainable laundry practices, there are promising signs of consumer pull too. The AISE and Stamminger study notes that 72% of European consumers1 look for advice and commitment on sustainability when buying detergents. Detergents rank third in terms of products where consumers look for such advice, after Food and Energy Services. 


Séjourné refers to research from 2008-11 from the AISE, which helps illustrate the gradual progress of consumers in applying more sustainable washing practice. The association commissioned a pan-European survey on consumers’ washing habits in 2011. Over 5,000 people in 23 countries participated in the survey. 

The survey showed that steady improvements were being made in some important metrics for sustainable washing. For instance, the average temperature of a machine wash had fallen to 41°C, compared to 43°C in 2008. Low-temperature washes (30°C or lower) had grown from 29% to 32% in the period; while high-temperature washes (60°or above) represented just 22%. The number of washing loads that were full had increased too, from 49% in 2008 to 56% in 2011. 

While these numbers are all going in the right direction, the gradual nature suggests that higher levels of motivation and awareness could both help accelerate the shift to sustainability.

In Eastern Europe in particular, consumer perspectives are not in keeping with those elsewhere on the continent. In all other regions (Western Europe, UK and Ireland, Southern Europe, and Scandinavia), the majority of respondents believed current levels of consumption are high (with 60%-69% agreeing across the regions): in Eastern Europe, just 46% held this view. Yet, when asked if they believe there is enough information available on the sustainability of products, Eastern Europeans registered the highest positive response (33%).

Consumers need strong motivation and a smooth transition to a sustainable alternative in order to take the leap. Marta Goyenechea, Fabric Care Communications at Procter & Gamble (P&G), comments: ‘Research indicates that consumers, now more than ever, are focusing on how their personal behaviour and the goods they buy impact the environment. However, as research shows, while about 70% of shoppers want to be sustainable, the large majority are not willing to make trade-offs on performance, or undertake complex habit changes.’ 


In light of this consumer trend, R&D has sought to add to the sustainability of the products and processes associated with laundry. UK-headquartered Xeros is one such innovator, developing a process that uses polymer beads to clean clothes. The beads replace water as the cleaning agent in a way that could revolutionise laundry. Xeros and numerous other developers reflect the appetite to shift cleaning products and processes dramatically, in order to satisfy consumer demand for sustainability. 

Bill Westwater, CEO of Xeros, adds: ‘Since concepts such as carbon footprint became widely accepted, pressure from consumers has influenced manufacturers to introduce innovations such as concentrated products, which have helped cut volume, packing, warehousing and transportation, while delivering significant cumulative savings in carbon dioxide and water. 

‘Consumer awareness has also led to the introduction of detergents that are readily biodegradable, phosphate-free or made from plant and vegetable-based ingredients – instead, for example, of being petroleum-based.’ 

Similarly, Sanyo Electric (part of Haier) has also announced development of a washing machine that replaces washing powder with ultrasonic wave technology, to effectively clean clothes. The machine’s ‘zero detergent’ mode uses a combination of electrolysed water with ultrasonic waves, which could save on the cost of detergent – although a cycle suitable for using detergent is available for particularly dirty laundry. The Aqua AWD-AQ1 machine ( is available to the Japanese firm’s domestic market. 

Russell Hobbs has taken another approach, drastically reducing cycle times to increase the sustainability of its washing machines. The RH1250RTG washing machine, launched in the UK in 2011, offered a 12-minute wash cycle. The machine uses a twin jet system, in which detergent and water are added to the dirty laundry via two nozzles, instead of one, saving time on the cycle. The company claims this cuts energy usage by 30% and water consumption by 15% compared to a typical 90- minute cycle. 

An academia-fashion project in the UK, called Catalytic Clothing, has explored radical ways to approach laundry. Tony Ryan, pro-vice-chancellor for the Faculty of Science at the University of Sheffield, and Helen Storey, professor of fashion and science at The London College of Fashion, have combined on the project to explore how textiles can be used as a catalytic surface to purify air. The experiment includes the development of a laundry additive called CatClo, which combats polluting nitrogen oxides, thanks to the presence of nanoparticles.

Brand owners like P&G and Unilever have played their part in raising consumer awareness of these opportunities for greater sustainability in laundry, and working on innovative technologies to enhance sustainability. Unilever, for instance, manages a broad ‘open innovation’ program (, encouraging organisations to get in touch with the company regarding development of sustainable approaches to laundry. These include chemicals, formulations, ingredients or solvents that enhance or accelerate the cleaning process , as well as novel wash devices.


One area where considerable changes have been made is in the use of phosphates in products like detergents. Phosphates are an important nutrient for plants. When products rich in phosphates enter water streams they can encourage eutrophication – the stimulation of excessive plant growth. It is believed phosphate sources such as detergents contribute to the toxic algae blooms formed in many waterways fed by domestic treated waste water. To reduce eutrophication, governments are introducing legislation to reduce the use of phosphates in washing products. 

Overall, however, the transition from phosphates indicates the wider efforts among industry stakeholders, in particular brand owners, to establish more sustainable formulations for their products. 

Goyenechea notes P&G’s own commitments in this area. She says: ‘As our lifeblood is all about innovating, we normally move ahead of regulations. For instance, we announced at the beginning of this year to move all our detergents worldwide out of phosphates until end 2015, even in non-regulated markets – providing consumers with superior cleaning performance, whilst maximising the conservation of precious resources.’ 

Other aspects of product formulations are equally under scrutiny, becoming the focus of development efforts. Volatile organic compounds, and optical brighteners and bleaches – particularly chlorine – are also being addressed, reduced, or replaced in product formulations. Dryer balls, which are used by consumers in place of fabric softeners for tumble drying, are another technology aiming to make laundry more sustainable.

Surfactants are another area of focused development for sustainable alternatives to detergent formulations. Surfactants are organic chemicals that act as surface active agents, lowering the surface tension of water to enable quicker cleaning of a wet surface – for instance, loosening dirt and emulsifying oils to keep them from settling on clothes. Typical surfactants, used in combination in detergents, include: 

Anionic surfactants, which ionise and offer high sudsing. Typical options include alcohol ethoxysulfates, alkyl sulfates, linear alkylbenzene sulfonate and soap 
Nonionic surfactants, which do not ionise, offer low sudsing and are resistant to water hardness. Alcohol ethoxylates are often used 
Cationic surfactants, used for fabric softening purposes. Quaternary ammonium compounds are often used.

Alternatives to the established, industrialised surfactants have been explored, with a view to using renewable ingredients and options that biodegrade more easily than conventional options. Sources such as bacteria and yeasts, and renewable hydrophobes from natural fatty acids and forest industry byproducts, have been explored by research groups, for instance. 


Work on enzyme formulations for cold washing has continued. In 2014, DuPont and P&G received the 2014 Sustainable Bio Award for their creation of a new enzyme technology that delivers better cleaning power at lower wash temperatures. The companies collaborated on an engineering method for an optimal enzyme (a protease) that matches the performance of a 90°F detergent, at the lower wash temperature of 60°F. 

Meanwhile in North America, DuPont and P&G announced a partnership to make cellulosic ethanol part of the Tide cold water laundry detergent. This industry-first use of cellulosic ethanol commercially enhances the sustainability of the Tide detergent, in substituting the currently used corn-based ethanol for the cellulosic option.

DuPont will produce the renewable, cellulosic ethanol at a biorefinery now under construction in Nevada, Iowa. Once completed, the plant will be the world’s largest bioethanol refinery, producing 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year – a process with zero net carbon emissions. 

Goyenechea remarks: ‘Tide Cold Water “powered by nature” will repurpose over 7,000 tons of agricultural waste a year. This will be equivalent to the power needed to do all the washing in homes across California for over a month. The company is making its products better, so it is easier for everyone to make a small change every day to care for the environment.’ 

More broadly, a range of products have emerged in recent years that market themselves specifically based on the absence of harmful chemicals. The success of the likes of Seventh Generation, Method Laundry, Biokleen and Soapnuts illustrates the rise of sustainable alternatives, and their appeal to consumers. 


Further movement could be driven, in part, by regulations, as well as labelling and certification programmes.

In terms of certification programmes and labelling, examples include the US Green Seal certification, and the new labelling programme recently introduced in the EU. Green Seal ( is designed to offer an unbiased assessment of green products and services. The scheme assesses products and services in around 300 categories, and the Green Seal mark on products helps illustrate their green credentials. The initiative adheres to third-party certification requirements from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organisation notes that Green Seal is cited by nearly half the states in the US through legislation and regulatory guidance, more than any other ecolabeling programme. 

In the EU, new designs for energy labels ( were introduced in 2010 to more clearly inform consumers on the efficiency of their goods. The labels include classes for energy efficiency, from A+++ down to D. Accompanying pictograms identify noise emissions in decibels; spin-drying efficiency class; capacity in kilograms; and annual water consumption in litres. 


Regulation has seen the acceleration of market traction for high-efficiency washing machines in North America, for instance. These in turn enable owners of cleaning product brands such as detergents to create versions that leverage these new ‘norms’ of laundry. Changes in washing machines, particularly in making cold the default for most cycles, will continue to contribute to greater sustainability – and detergent formulators will respond with high-performing products in these ‘new norm’ conditions.

Goyenechea comments: ‘When looking at laundry process through our lifecycle analysis studies, we see that the choice of the machine wash temperature is the single biggest driver of the environmental footprint, since the most important lifecycle impact is from the electricity used to heat the wash water.’ 

Europe has seen average washing temperatures fall markedly, in line with this trend – reduced from predominantly 60-90°C about 20 years ago, to 40°C now. Fundamental to this progression has been R&D into technologies that are efficient at lower temperatures. Products reliant on higher temperatures can therefore be replaced by those using new chemistry to be efficient at low temperatures. Innovation in enzymes, such as the one developed by DuPont and P&G, are a significant part of this solution. 


Based on this progress in both washing machines and product formulations, stakeholders have been encouraging consumers to adopt low-temperature, more sustainable washing practices. Ariel’s ‘Turn To 30˚C’ campaign, for instance, helped reduce 58,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions through enhanced consumer awareness. Aside from the AISE’s ‘I Prefer 30’ campaign, the association also provides tips on sustainable and economical washing via its Cleanright website ( 

Séjourné comments: ‘Since 1998, the AISE has been promoting sustainable laundry washing, through the Washright campaign and on-pack tips. ‘We definitely see an important role for industry education campaigns on safe use and sustainable use of products. A more recent campaign that we are also running in a multi-stakeholder way is for the safe use of household liquid laundry detergent capsules (, already with 16 different partners.’ 

P&G has used consumer communications programmes, and broader calls to action at brand and industry levels, to encourage the use of colder temperatures. Goyenechea explains: ‘We have partnered with suppliers like Novozymes and DuPont to design technologies that provide greater performance in cold, and talk to consumers about them. We have also worked with the AISE on a major industry consumer education campaign called “I prefer 30˚C,” to drive low-temperature washing.’ 

The company has since seen the percentage of cold loads worldwide grow from 38% in 2010 to 56% in 2014 ( This has been driven largely by Western Europe’s adoption of cold water washing, the company adds. By 2020, the company aims to have 70% of all machine wash loads use cold water or low-energy cycles. 

Achieving the shift to cold-water washing has called for substantial effort, communicating benefits and allowing a smooth transition from deep-rooted laundry habits. Even once a brand is able to promise great performance and inform customers about the advantages for the environment, cost savings and clothing care, it still takes a lot for consumers to actually switch to different temperatures or wash cycles. 

Campaigns have therefore been pervasive – not only communicating at a brand and industry level regarding detergents, but also cooperating with washing machine manufacturers on their role in the dissemination. This includes placing information regarding the benefits of cold washing and energy efficient cycles on new washing machines, in order to reach millions of consumers; and working on detergents that perform at their best in the new high-efficiency washing machines being rolled out in North America. 


Technology trends and consumer awareness campaigns are helping establish more sustainable practices as the norms of home laundry. Enabling these shifts are the advances in detergent formulations for water-saving, low-temperature washes, eschewing harmful chemicals in favour of more environmentally friendly options. With labelling and certification systems raising awareness, and consumers being encouraged to seriously consider the impact of each wash, these detergent innovations will likely dominate the market in the years to come. And other innovations, such as waterless washes, may take us even further down the path of sustainable laundry. 

1. A.I.S.E. ‘The case for the “A.I.S.E. Low temperature washing” initiative Substantiation Dossier / June 2013’
2.Survey held in UK, France, Denmark, Italy and Belgium, the five targeted countries for the A.I.S.E. ‘I prefer 30” campaign