Interesting Facts about Detergents

In the modern household context, detergents represent a useful cleaning substance that is used in cleaning laundry, dishes and other home surfaces. However, during its long history, detergents were usually referred specifically for laundry, and they gained their powder and liquid form only after the rise of technology and chemistry of early 20th century. Before those inventions, cleaning of clothes was conducted either with pure water or with the help of many types of soaps. Starting with the ancient civilization in Babylon over 4800 years ago, soap spread across the then known world and became very popular in Egypt and Ancient Rome (ancient Greeks however preferred to clean themselves in clean water, soak in oils, and then scraped that oil with a metal instrument). After the fall of Roman Empire in 5th century AD, Europe lived through a 1000 year long period in which personal hygiene and cleaning of clothes was almost totally abandoned. This led to the wide occurrences of diseases and plagues, which was only stopped with the arrival of renaissance and technological progress of late 16th and 17th century.

Industrial manufacture of detergents started after the First World War. Countries of Germany and US were leaders in innovation and implementation of new types of industrial detergents. After 1950s and 60s, when automated washing machines became widely available, worldwide industry of detergents suddenly expanded and became extremely profitable and successful. As each decade went on new products and techniques of washing emerged, creating the modern environment where detergent became integral part of maintaining our hygiene.


Here are some of the most important facts surrounding long and interesting life of detergents:

  • Detergents works as an emulsifier, it bridges the water and oil particles that enable the dirt to become captured in oil, and thus extracted from clothes.
  • First synthetic detergents were experimentally produced in mid-19th century France.
  • Organized industrial production of industrial detergent started during WW1 in Germany, after the war prevented the production of traditional soaps.
  • Perfection of detergent production process started during 1930s with the discovery of fatty alcohols.
  • One of the most famous brands of detergents "Tide" was created in Procter & Gamble facilities during 1920s, but entered mass production in 1943. It was regarded as one of the best detergents that can clean even heavily soiled clothes.
  • Widespread use of detergents happened during 1950s and 1960s.
  • First washing machine in USA was produced during 1940s.
  • Semi-automatic machine with frontal door was invented in 1954.
  • 1963 saw the first appearance of fully automatic washing machine that used spinning drum.
    • Wash dryer was introduced in 1965.
    • By 1953, sales of detergent in United States surpassed those of soap.
    • Liquid hand soaps were created during 1970s.
    • Famous modern brand Colgate-Palmolive was formed in 1953 after merging of two old companies created by WilliamColgate in 1806 and Caleb Johnson in 1864.
    • Detergent industry had a big impact on environment between 1940s and 1970s. Modern day manufactures optimized their production to be more environment friendly, reduce pollution, and provide biodegradability in all detergents.