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Doing laundry in 15 minutes takes science. Here’s why

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We’ve just launched our biggest laundry detergent innovation in a decade, Wonder Wash – designed for the increasing number of consumers who are choosing to do quick washes. But what are the technical challenges with short cycles? We ask a Unilever scientist to explain.

  Three bottles of Wonder Wash, Unilever’s laundry detergent innovation designed specifically for quick washes.
R&D Manager Emma Shaw, a Unilever scientist who helped develop the Wonder Wash innovation.
Emma Shaw, Unilever R&D Manager

Wonder Wash is Unilever’s first-ever laundry detergent designed specifically for washing machine short cycles. With almost 80% of consumers using a quick wash at least once a week[a], the product was developed in response to this fast-growing trend.

But why don’t regular detergents work their best in short cycles? And how do you create a product that delivers a superior quick wash experience?

We spoke to R&D manager Emma Shaw, who helped develop the product, to find out about the science behind the innovation.

Firstly, where did the idea for Wonder Wash come from?

It all started with several insights into evolving laundry habits. People are increasingly using quick wash cycles, driven by the need for convenience, especially for wash loads with either no, or light, visible staining.

Lifestyles and jobs have changed in recent years, meaning the dirt and stains on our clothes are different too. In fact, on average, 70% of dirt on clothes is now invisible – caused by things like the one litre of sweat and 15 grams of odour-causing oils our bodies exude every day, as well as dead skin cells and dust[b]. The rise of synthetic clothing, such as sports and athleisurewear, can pose particular challenges to consumers as the synthetic fibres retain odours which are difficult to remove.

Why can’t you just use conventional detergents on short cycles?

Most detergents are designed for tough stain removal in regular wash cycles. When used in a short cycle, consumers have concerns about chemical or soapy residues on fabrics. These detergents also aren’t focused on the different needs of quick wash loads. As a result, consumers notice that odours aren’t always completely removed and they can be dissatisfied with fragrance and freshness.

Bottles of Persil Wonder Wash on a factory production line.
So how is Wonder Wash different?

To create a product that delivers stand-out performance in as little as 15 minutes, we reconstructed how laundry detergent is made.

We started with the design of our existing ‘chassis’. That’s essentially the framework of the detergent into which you add different components depending on the product, for instance, if it’s specifically made for sensitive skin, colour care or a delicate wash.

Through research, we found that consumers around the world tend to use a short cycle for clothes that don’t have a heavy level of staining. Instead, consumers are looking to remove light stains such as toothpaste splashes and invisible grime like dust and everyday smells. Heavy stains such as grass, mud and oils go into regular wash cycles.

Knowing this, we developed our state-of-the-art patent-pending Pro-S technology – a blend of fast-acting ingredients, some of which are new to our laundry liquid portfolio. This activates quickly to physically blast away invisible dirt and stains.

Smells are a particular challenge because odour molecules can get stuck to fabrics by binding to other molecules such as calcium – you could think of that as a sort of sticky glue. The new technology gets to work immediately to eat away at that glue, helping release the molecules from the fabric so they are washed out.

How did we address the fragrance and residue issues?

We know that traditional laundry fragrance components don’t always deposit particularly well onto fabrics in short wash cycles. In developing Wonder Wash Speed Clean variant, we used ingredients usually associated with fine fragrance which, due to its composition, is more effective at depositing onto fabric and optimised to do so in quick cold washes. The fragrance experience is modern and uplifting, bringing a touch of luxury to the laundry process.

And because we have rebalanced the detergent design, Wonder Wash doesn’t leave any visible or sticky residues on fabrics.

What impact will the product have in the market?

Through understanding modern consumer needs and the pain points associated with existing solutions, and by redesigning the experience, Wonder Wash delivers superior quick wash performance to help people save time without compromising on results. It’s an innovation that we believe will truly transform the category.

[a]

Source: Toluna H&A Quick Wash Behaviours UK, FR, BR (Nov 22); TK, TH, VN, ANZ (Jun 23), n=1500 per markets

[b]

Source: Handbook for Cleaning/Decontamination of Surfaces, B.1.I Laundry Cleaning of Textiles (Elsevier, 2007)


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