Doing laundry is one of the oldest domestic tasks known to man. Although the laundry process differs between cultures and has varied over time, the basic human need has not changed: to remove dirt and get clothes clean.

Where does dirt come from? How much dirt does the average laundry load contain? How we have addressed the process of laundry has changed over the last few centuries. From soaps to complex laundry detergents, the cleaning process and the nature of the washing machines have evolved to meet our needs. Likewise, P&G as a company has been there leading the evolutions every step of the way.
  • Where Does Dirt Come From?

    In a simple model, "dirt" can be divided into two categories:
    Stains: Localized, highly visible
    Soil: Dispersed, less noticeable
    Because stains are so visible, the consumer judges cleaning performance mainly based on stain removal.

    Closer investigation of the dispersed soil found on laundry has surprising results. First, there is a lot of hidden soil in our everyday clothes. There are four main sources of such hidden soil, namely:
    1. Soil generated by our bodies and the bacteria that live on human skin like skin flakes
    2. Soil derived from personal care products such as lotions, creams, deodorants, make-up and hair sprays
    3. Soil from our environment, such as from air pollution
    4.Textile finishes (softeners, optical brighteners, dye fixatives) and laundry detergent residuals (perfumes, fabric softeners, etc.)

    • Sources of Dirt

      Sources of laundry dirt mostly comes from body soil and skin flakes

      Soil (or dirt) is generated by various sources, but the largest percentage comes from our bodies. More than 60% of laundry generated at home has been in direct contact with bodies.

      Each day a person sheds more than a billion skin flakes, generates about a litre of sweat and produces tens of grams of "sebum," a mixture of triglycerides , fatty acids, wax esters and cholesterol. The human skin microflora (up to 1.5 million bacteria live on 1cm2) feed on this organic soil, producing additional and often highly odoriferous compounds.

      An average wash load contains 40 grams of soil, or 3 large spoonfuls. A heavily soiled wash load may contain over 120 grams of soil. Removing all of this soil during a single wash cycle continues to be a challenge to detergent manufacturers and the laundry appliance industry.

      Dirt extracted from a typical laundry load is complex. It is composed of proteins, starches, carbohydrates, lipids, fatty acids, inorganic salts, clays, pigments and more. The large number of chemically distinct compounds makes soil removal a tough challenge.

      Modern detergents are complex mixtures of chemicals, many of them specifically designed to attack a certain kind of stain.

  • History of Washing

    Washing has developed significantly since the beginning of history. In earlier times, people used to wash with only water and used rivers and streams as water supply. Nowadays people are using laundry detergents, synthetic detergents, washing machines, dryers and we have plants to treat washing wastewater. Even though all these developments seem very familiar and normal to us nowadays, we should ask ourselves: “How did we come to this level in washing?”

    The answer to this question is a long and interesting story, the “History of Washing”, starting from prehistoric times till the 21st century. These periods were studied in terms of the following topics:
    • Soap
    • Bathing
    • Laundry
    • Water Supply
    • Plumbing
    • Environmental Impact
    • Fabrics

    See the historical review, covering washing from Prehistoric Times to Ancient Times, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, 18th and 19th centuries, 20th and 21st centuries. Download the PDF

  • History of Soap-making in Marseille (18th-19th centuries)

    1760: 28 factories totalling 126 boilers produce 9,000 tonnes of soap.
    1786: 48 factories totalling 192 boilers, giving production capacity of 34,000 tonnes in the nine authorized working months.
    1789: 65 factories totalling 280 boilers produce 22,000 tonnes.
    1793: Civil strife and downturn almost ruin the city. Soap industry, however, rallies and survives the French Revolution.
    1801: Peace returns, shipping redevelops. 73 factories totalling 331 boilers.
    1808: First soda factories open, using the Leblanc manufacturing process. Prohibition on the use of vegetable soda. Introduction of seed oils, e.g., nut, rape, poppy and linseed, which were cheaper than olive oil.
    1817: Soap shares crash, only 15 factories remain.
    1820: 88 factories totalling 420 boilers.
    1823: New oils available, such as palm and coconut. Chevreul publishes first definitive theory of saponification.
    1842: Number of factories stable, but increase in production capacity with the advent of steam heating (50,000 tonnes). Palm oil is used extensively for white soap with more lather.
    1863: Another growth crisis: down to 52 factories for a production of 70,000 tonnes, although demand continues to rise.
    1885: 90 factories produce 94,000 tonnes of soap, but lower quality due to production cost-cutting.
  • History of Washing Machines

    1797 Scrub boards.
    Early 1800s First clothes dryers; hand-powered.
    1851 First, hand-powered, washing machine with a drum, invented by James King.
    1861 First clothes wringer added to the washing machine.
    1874 William Blackstone built his first hand-driven wooden washing machine. The company he founded still produces and sells washing machines to this day, out of their New York headquarters.
    1858 First rotary washing machine, invented by Hamilton Smith.
    Early 1900s Wooden wash tubs are replaced by metal tubs.
    1907 Maytag Corporation began manufacturing a wooden-tub washing machine with a flywheel, still manually operated with a rotary handle.
    1908 First electric-powered washing machine is invented by Alva J. Fisher.
    1911 Whirlpool Corporation, then called the Upton Machine Co. is founded in St. Joseph, Michigan and starts producing electric motor-driven wringer washers.
    1915 The first electrical clothes dryers appear.
    1922 Maytag Corporation introduces the agitator system for moving the water around in the drum, rather than dragging the fabrics around in the water.
    1930s John W. Chamberlain of Bendix Aviation Corporation invents a machine that can wash, rinse, and extract water from clothes in a single operation.
    1947 The first top-loading automatic washing machines are introduced by the forerunner of the Whirlpool Corporation.
    1951 The first automatic washing machines are made in Europe.
    1950 Many technological advances follow. Among hundreds of systems tested, only two washing systems survive until this day: the agitator system and the tumbling system. Wash cycles and products are developed for new fabrics and a greater range of wash conditions.
  • History of P&G

    1837 During a difficult period, and following the advice of their father-in-law, two young men (married to sisters Olivia and Elizabeth Norris) merged their two businesses. James Gamble had a soap factory and William Procter had just started a candle factory. And so the first Procter & Gamble enterprise came into being in Cincinnati, Ohio.
    1859 Sales reached $1 million; 80 employees.

    1860s During the Civil War, P&G won contracts with the army for the supply of soap and candles. A period of great activity which confirmed their market position and built their reputation when soldiers returned home with P&G products.
    1878 Floating soap was discovered by chance: A workman in charge of production of one of the 24 types of soap let the mixture boil too long. Full of air bubbles, the soap floated. It was named "Ivory" and became the company's brand name. Inexpensive and of high quality, it was launched amidst an extensive promotional campaign in the press and on posters, which became a landmark in advertising history.
    1887 To counteract the rise of trade unions, the company established one of the first employee profit-sharing schemes in the world. Today, the 135,000 employees in the group hold 25% of the capital.
    1890 Procter & Gamble was officially incorporated, already a successful, multi-million dollar company. P&G created one of the earliest private research and development facilities.
    1915 First P&G factory established outside the USA, in Canada.
    1919-1920 P&G sells directly to retailers and hires 450 sales representatives.
    1924 Awareness of changing washing habits and the growing demand for laundry products prompts P&G to set up a market research department. From then onwards, the dialogue between P&G and consumers was firmly established. A new concept takes hold: that good customer service requires understanding the market.
    1926 In response to the increasing popularity of perfumed beauty soaps, P&G launches the Camay brand.
    1930s P&G researchers study the discoveries made by German chemists during the World War I in a bid to replace soap with a synthetic product.
    1931 The P&G marketing organization organizes itself around the brands.
    1933 Launch of the Dreft brand, the first synthetic detergent, specifically designed for delicate fabrics. That year, P&G launches the "soap opera", a serial daytime TV entertainment programme, interspersed with brand advertising.
    1934 P&G launches Drene shampoo.
    1945 The company's net worth is $350 million.
    1946 P&G launches Tide, the first all-purpose laundry detergent. It would become a phenomenal success.
    1954 P&G starts European operations.
    1955 P&G introduces the Crest brand, the first fluoride-containing toothpaste
    1960 P&G launch the Downy brand, the first fabric conditioner.
    1964 The American Dental Association endorses Crest toothpaste.
    1972 P&G launches the Bounce brand, the first softener sheet for dryers.
    1980 P&G operations span 23 countries worldwide, with a turnover of $11 billion - 35 times that of 1945.
    1984 Launch of "Tide Liquid."
    1984 P&G develops a "2-in-1" shampoo/conditioner brand: Pert Plus/Rejoice which would become a market leader.
    1988 P&G announces a joint venture agreement in China.
    1995 P&G receives the National Medal of Technology - the highest award in the USA for achievement in technology - for creating, developing and marketing products that improve quality of life for billions of people worldwide.
    1998 Swiffer, the first sweeper to use a disposable, electrostatic cloth is introduced.
    2000 Actonel is the first FDA approved treatment for osteoporosis.
    2001 Ariel liquitabs, first fully soluble liquid laundry detergent pouches is introduced.
    2003 PuR Water Purifier packets are introduced and are the first and only product of their kind.
    2004 The P&G Children's Safe Drinking Water programme is established to help combat the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in developing countries. The objective of the programme is to save one life per hour.
    2005 P&G acquires the Gillette Company. Tide Coldwater and Ariel Cool Clean are introduced, promoting low-temperature washing.
    2006 Gillette Fusion, the first five blade razor with additional trimmer blade is introduced.
    2008 UNICEF and Pampers partner to provide Tetanus vaccines to help eliminate that fatal threat of neonatal tetanus with newborn babies.
    2010 New long-term environmental sustainability vision and 2020 goals announced. P&G announces the new P&G Children’s Safe Drinking water commitment to “Save a life every hour” by 2020. Since the inception of Children’s Safe Drinking Water, over 2 billion litres of safe drinking water have been delivered to families in need.
    the Future P&G continues to focus on its core brands and technology. The company has also made a firm commitment to sustainability in the broadest sense - social, economical and environmental. As quoted from Len Sauers, P&G's vice president for Sustainability. “As the largest consumer products company in the world, we have a responsibility to grow sustainably. To do this, P&G set a bold long-term environmental vision, which includes powering our plants with 100% renewable energy, having zero waste go to landfills and designing products that conserve resources. We also set shorter term goals to ensure we are making progress toward our vision. We believe that the world’s sustainability challenges will be solved through innovation, and we are committed to work toward solving them.”

The Head Line


Illustrations from P&G's Science-in-the-Box website can be used freely for educational, non-commercial purposes provided that the source will be published as follows: "Obtained from (P&G website)"


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