Capsules that clean: New-look laundry detergents head for supermarket shelves

January 25, 2012

Consumers who remember laundry detergents from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are about to get that déjà vu feeling -- and younger people quite a surprise -- as detergent manufacturers once again try a major repackaging of their products. Laundry capsules that contain single doses of detergent and take up less space than conventional detergents are set to make a comeback. That's the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

C&EN Assistant Managing Editor Michael McCoy explains that the technology behind films used to package the single doses of detergent have come a long way in the five decades since their debut. Previous versions of the encapsulating films interacted poorly with the detergent and had short shelf-lives. And another type of single-dose formulation -- essentially a tablet of compressed laundry powders -- didn't dissolve fully, leaving partially consumed chunks among the clean clothes.

In recent years, single-dose liquids packaged in polyvinyl alcohol film have caught on in the U.K. and France. The German company Henkel now has plans to market a similar "mono-dose" in the U.S. in the coming weeks, and Procter & Gamble plan to launch "Tide Pods" within a month. The same dose is used regardless of the amount of laundry that needs to be washed. Although the main technical challenges have been solved, experts say that "the jury is still out" on whether consumers are ready for these products.
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The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 164,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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