March 3, 2021

Cold-Water Detergents Get a Chilly Reception

In recent years, scientists have developed new detergent formulas, designed specifically for cold water, that they say can get your clothes just as clean while saving energy, reducing carbon emissions and shaving a few dollars from your utility bills.

But despite efforts by Procter Gamble, the maker of Tide, and other manufacturers to push the reformulated detergents over the last few years, the products have gotten a relatively chilly response. The idea that clothes — particularly whites, sheets and towels — get clean only with hot water is as embedded in the consumer psyche as a spaghetti stain on a white T-shirt.

Even in Germany, where consumers tend to be more environmentally attuned than the United States, manufacturers have discovered that cold-water washing is such a hard sell that they have relegated claims about it — and the attendant green benefits — to the fine print, choosing to emphasize other attributes.

“For selling, it is much more effective to focus on stain removal and whiteness, performance and price,” said Dr. Thomas Mueller-Kirschbaum, a senior vice president for research and development at Henkel, the German company that markets cold-water formulas under the Persil and Purex brands. “In market research, when you ask consumers, they currently don’t see the immediate benefit of saving energy.”

Of course, some consumers have long preferred to wash their clothes in cold water to prevent them from shrinking or colors from fading, and many others wash darks or delicate clothes on the cold cycle.

But the idea of reformulating detergent so that all types of clothes can be washed in cold water is relatively new, at least in North America and Europe. (In Japan, consumers routinely do their laundry in cold water.)

About three-quarters of the energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from washing a load of laundry come from heating the water — a practice that, scientists say, is often wasteful and unnecessary.

Procter Gamble, the consumer products giant that makes brands like Crest and Gillette in addition to Tide, takes credit for the innovation in North America, which emerged from an evaluation of the company’s energy footprint in 2003. After realizing how much energy was used to heat water for laundry, Procter set a goal to convert 70 percent of all washing-machine loads to cold water by 2020; by Proctor’s estimate currently 38 percent of laundry loads globally were done in cold water.

But in trying to create Tide Coldwater, Procter’s scientists were confronted with a problem: hot water does help get clothes cleaner. In fact, thermal energy is one of three secrets to cleaning clothes, along with mechanical energy and chemicals.

“When you reduce one, you have to do better in the others,” said James Danzinger, a senior scientist who works on detergents for Procter Gamble.

So the company set its scientists loose to find new chemicals to compensate, and what they came up with was a detergent, Tide Coldwater, with different enzymes and surfactants that work better in cold water.

Tide Coldwater was introduced in 2005. Several competitors followed with their own cold-water formulas, including Purex from Henkel, Wisk from Sun Products and Biokleen from a small company by the same name.

Do cold-water detergents work? Consumer Reports ranked Tide Coldwater among its top detergents last year, though its some of its competitors didn’t rate as high.

The chemical composition of the new cold-water detergents, which cost about the same as regular detergents, is “totally different” from what was in detergent containers a decade ago, said Dr. Mueller-Kirschbaum of Henkel. Some even contain chemicals that coat fabric fibers so that they are less likely to absorb dirt in the interval before the next washing.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f46ae324003f6d8247180732d918ddbd

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