September 17, 2014

You Can Use Less Laundry Detergent

Over the next few weeks, Procter & Gamble plans to introduce easier-to-read plastic measuring caps for its liquid detergent brands, including Tide, Gain, Era and Cheer. The new caps will have more-defined measurement lines inside and bigger numbers that are staggered, not stacked, says Dawn French, P&G’s head of laundry research and development for North America.

Why?  Because, according to the Wall Street Journal, Americans use too much detergent per load.  They have come to think that more soap equals cleaner clothes, which is not the case – rather it causes build-up and dingy colors.  Additionally,  more consumers are buying high-efficiency washers which need even less of today’s concentrated detergents.

Packaging, in most cases, hasn’t helped. The molded lines and numbers inside detergent caps are hard to read, especially in a dimly lit laundry room. And even though concentrated detergents have been on the market since at least 2007, many caps still hold more than is needed for an average load.

Method Products Inc. this month launched an ad blitz for a new detergent with a pump dispenser, designed to help curb overdosing. Method found that 53% of people don’t use the recommended amount of detergent per washload, preferring instead to guess or, worse, to simply fill the cap up to the top—a practice that wastes more than half the loads a detergent bottle could wash, Method executives say.

Through much of Europe, detergent premeasured in tablets and sachets has been popular for years. But in the U.S., pre-dosed products have been largely unsuccessful. Consumers usually pick up their laundry habits during adolescence from their mothers, and changing them is hard, says Bob Deutsch, founder of Brain Sells, a marketing consulting firm.

American consumers, it seems, also want more control. Many people have their own laundry “recipe,” and each one believes her unique method leads to superior results, industry executives say. P&G, the world’s leading detergent maker, calls such involved laundry doers “master chemists.”

General Electric Co.’s top-of-the-line Profile frontload washer offers to take on all dosing decisions itself. The SmartDispense feature, adding $600 to the cost of the machine, holds up to six months’ worth of detergent and allocates the right amount for each load, taking the detergent concentration level and the amount of clothes into account.

Proper dosing is the biggest laundry concern among callers to Seventh Generation Inc.’s help line, says Sue Holden, head of the consumer-insights team at the Burlington, Vt., household-product maker. Two years ago, the company started making its detergent bottle cap with translucent plastic partly to make it easier to read. “We’re trying to train people to do something that doesn’t come naturally,” says Ms. Holden. “Growing up, a lot of us just poured it in.”

Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says.  The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.

Dishwasher Power Wars-Plus a Little Advice

Here’s a fun story straight from the Wall Street Journal:

Marriage counselors say one of the biggest issues that couples fight over is money. But many of us know what’s really the most contentious battleground in the home: the dishwasher.

Except for the family dog, perhaps nothing in the house is louder or wetter, breaks more things, or causes more fights than the dishwasher. It’s just an appliance, but in many families the dishwasher becomes a stainless-steel-and-ceramic metaphor for marital power. Who loads it, how it gets loaded, how often should it be run, and when did it last get emptied – all these questions are like a fuse on a pack of TNT. One spark and there’s a conflagration.

I, of course, know that my method of loading the machine is best: Don’t rinse first, which wastes precious water and time. And silverware goes in tines and blades DOWN, thank you, so you don’t skewer yourself unloading later.

But others disagree. Tines UP, please, and always prewash.

A straw poll around the office reveals that many couples staunchly stick to the method they learned growing up. That means visiting family members who want to “help” in the kitchen can compound the problem. Woe to the well-meaning in-law who puts pot lids on the top instead of the bottom. Or worse, moves things around. Marriages have broken up over less.

One colleague says he always runs the machine immediately once it’s loaded, so no one goes in to rearrange. Another says he divides people into two categories: loaders and emptiers. He’s an emptier.

Dishwasher manufacturer Whirlpool offers some advice on its Web site: “It is not necessary to rinse the dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. The wash module removes food particles from the water.” And for silverware: “Mix items in each section of the basket with some pointing up and some down to avoid nesting. … Always load sharp items (knives, skewers, etc.) pointing down.”

But that’s not likely to end the dishwasher wars. Apologies to those of you who wash by hand (maybe you’re happier people!) but readers, do you find you fight over the dishwasher? And if so, how do you reach détente?