How Can the CPG Industry Use Materials Science to Develop a Green Laundry Detergent?

cpg industry
An effective green laundry detergent continues to remain elusive for the consumer packaged goods industry.
Image source: Flickr CC user Mike Mozart

Earlier this year, my washing machine broke. And when I say broke, I don’t mean it stopped working or made strange noises. I’m talking a burning electrical smell when I tried to run it. This was not completely unsurprising, though. My washer and dryer were pretty old and clearly toward the end of their life. I just expected them to stop functioning in a less spectacular way!

After shopping around for a replacement, I settled on a high-efficiency washing machine. They use less water to clean clothes, which is kinder to the environment. But because high-efficiency machines use less water, they also require a special detergent. Using a regular detergent will just cause problems. That got me thinking about laundry detergents in general and what the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry has been doing in recent years to address sustainability and eco-friendliness.

The Slow Shift toward Green Laundry Detergents by the CPG Industry

Laundry detergents are big business. The market is worth $5 billion in the U.S. alone.1 The problem, however, is that markets this big tend toward stability and stable markets dissuade disruptive technology. What’s the need for innovation when consumers are clearly satisfied with existing options?

That’s slowly changing. As with other market categories, there’s a growing demand for effective, eco-friendly products.2 We’re already seeing this in related areas like surfactants, which are an important component of detergents. Traditionally, however, so-called green detergents have asked consumers to make sacrifices. They don’t work as well. They cost more. They might look strange or smell bad. I want to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle myself, but there are some areas I won’t compromise on. Who wants to use a laundry detergent that makes their clothes smell weird? Certainly not me.

One of the reasons green detergents are historically not as effective as top-rated regular brands is that they lack the enzymes and other chemicals that give standard formulations their cleaning and stain-removing power.3 There are other ways consumer packaged goods companies can make their laundry detergents more sustainable and environmentally friendly, however. Consider concentrated detergent. It’s rare that you can find non-concentrated detergents on the shelf these days, and some smaller companies are developing products that are eight times more concentrated! Sound impossible? After all, you make things more concentrated by removing water. There’s only so much water to remove. But these highly concentrated detergents aren’t water based at all. In fact, more and more products are finding ways to eliminate water dependency.

How Materials Science Can Help Fuel Innovation in the Laundry Detergent Market

How does the consumer packaged goods industry develop a laundry detergent that doesn’t require water to work? Simple. It changes the solution so that it interacts with clothing and dirt differently.

This is where modeling software comes in handy. The time required to test these solutions can be lengthy, especially when there’s no guarantee for success. Wouldn’t it be nice to screen potential candidates virually and select the most promising for testing instead? A simulation environment allows scientists to understand and predict properties and behavior based on a material’s molecular structure. By doing so, they can focus on products most likely to succeed and bring those to market, thereby minimizing wasted time and resources. Candidate testing can be costly in many ways, after all.

With the increasing push for eco-friendliness and sustainability, the consumer packaged goods industry needs to find ways to innovate and meet those demands. This includes even traditionally stable areas like the laundry detergent market. But testing new solutions can be cumbersome and inefficient. That’s where digital tools come in.

Is your firm interested in finding green alternatives for household products? Please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA Materials Studio, a complete modeling and simulation environment designed for researchers working in chemistry and materials science.

  1. “How Laundry Detergent Became a Catalyst for Green Innovation,” June 11, 2013,
  2. “Eco-Friendly Cleaning and Developing Markets Spur Growth of Ingredients in Cleaning Applications, Finds Kline,” June 18, 2015,
  3. “Are green laundry detergents as good at cleaning?” August 6, 2015,

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