12/21/2010, Düsseldorf / Germany

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Stains on the world map

Chili sauce in Mexico, beetroot soup in Poland – while tastes may differ, many of the world’s favorite foods produce similarly stubborn stains. So Henkel’s researchers are kept constantly busy in their endeavors to develop specialty laundry detergent formulations capable of combating such soiling.

Frequently, just a glance at the cooking pots in the kitchen is enough to imagine the challenges that have to be met in getting the washing clean. When strong spices such as turmeric in India or red wine in Italy have left their mark in the wash, not every detergent has the patent recipe to produce the level of cleanliness desired. Some stains literally know no bounds, either in their spreadability or in terms of national frontiers: oils and cooking fat in particular are used in the households of just about every country in the world.

Different laundry-washing technologies worldwide
Not only the culinary traditions and the every-day way of life of consumers but also the laundry-washing technology around the globe exhibit enormous variety. “In the USA, grass marks on children’s clothes remain from games played in the yard. This is mainly because the detergents used lack the enzymes necessary to decompose such organic substances, and long-established laundry-care customs are very much a fact of life,” explains Karen Scholz of Henkel’s Global Market Research Laundry Care. “When developing new formulations for the North American market, it is essential to remember that their washing machines usually only allow cold-wash programs. Many stains therefore remain more stubbornly visible than in the case of the hot-wash laundry techniques available with European machine models.” Sock and collar stains are also a particular problem in regions in which hand-washing is prevalent or machine-washing is primarily performed at low temperatures.

Residues of everyday body care
The ideals of cleanliness and beauty are closely related. Hence, typical rituals relating to body care and cosmetics give rise to different demands on a laundry detergent’s stain-removing power. “Eastern Europeans dye their hair primarily in their bathroom at home. Unlike following a visit to a professional hair salon, the hair colorants used in such cases leave stubborn stains on towels,” explains Andrea Mislik, Head of Market Research Central and Eastern Europe. Similar problems arise in Germany and Spain where the desire for blond hair is all too evident on bath towels placed in the washing basket. In France, a predilection for manicures and pedicures also frequently results in undesirable nail lacquer stains appearing on fabrics that happen to be in the vicinity.

Market research and consumer advisory
But different as the cultures, customs and mores of the world are, in all societies there is the same strong demand for high-performing laundry detergents. So Henkel’s research into stain removal has to be both thorough and systematic. In order to determine the special peculiarities of each region, the company’s market researchers actually visit consumers’ homes, investigating at the local level which stains cause the biggest headaches. Talks, interviews and round-table discussions combined with behavioral monitoring and user protocol studies all provide important insights.

Henkel’s consumer advisory service is also extensively tailored to customer requirements. It plays an important role in product and technology development with respect to laundry and home care products, providing as it does an “ear for the consumer”. In Germany alone, 80,000 enquiries are received every year by the company’s experts in relation to laundry care, dishwashing and household cleaning topics. In many cases, the laundry advisors also carry out causal research – e.g. in order to investigate initially inexplicable light-colored stains on outdoor clothing or pillows: “To prevent skin irritation, many consumers regularly use cosmetics that contain bleach, for example acne preparations, creams or medical lotions. If these come into contact with fabrics, undesirable discoloration can result,” explains Regina Kind, Head of Consumer Advice Laundry and Home Care Germany. “These bleach marks are usually not visible on the clothing prior to the wash. Only once they have come into contact with water during the laundry process do they become apparent.”

Formulations against stubborn stains 
Market research, technological innovation and product development at Henkel therefore go hand-in-hand in an integrated approach to continuously improving the company’s laundry product formulations. Around the world, Henkel employs 500 product development specialists whose primary purpose is to discover new substances and devise new methods in the fight against dirt and stains. In 2009, Henkel invested almost 103 million euros worldwide in research and product development within the laundry and home care sector.

Henkel’s experts perform extensive trials in order to test the stain removal properties of their formulations. This involves a special “stain application machine” which applies the most consumer-relevant types of soiling – such as coffee, lipstick or cooking fat – to a variety of textiles. The uniform, almost identical stains are ideal for comparative laundry tests. These are performed within the Henkel product development facility in Dusseldorf in an impressive laundry salon equipped with 600 different washing machines from all over the world. “We investigate, for example, how these machines heat up, how much water they draw, and what kind of mechanism they subject the laundry to,” explains Dr. Arndt Scheidgen, Henkel’s Head of Global Product Development Laundry & Home Care. “Only with the right mix of laundry detergent formulation and applied technology can we expect to effectively combat the more stubborn of stains.” An objective that Henkel’s experts will continue to pursue with passion.