Sep 20, 2017  Düsseldorf / Germany

An insight into detergent research

Fighting lint with finesse

Karin Kania’s most important work tools include fabric samples, a microscope and a washing machine: She’s a textile lab technician at Henkel. It may not be a job you would expect to find here, but it does offer a variety of perspectives and new challenges daily. Take a look behind the scenes at Research and Development in Henkel’s Laundry Detergents department.

The visual matching of washed clothing textiles

The visual matching of washed clothing textiles happens in a specifically designed room with standardized daylight illumination.

Karin Kania patiently observes a round fabric sample in her lab. The air is cool, maintained at a constant 20°C with a humidity level of 65 percent. Kania’s key allies? A magnifying glass, a microscope and a pair of scissors. The small, lilac-colored fabric sample is covered in lint and knit balls. “We call this phenomenon ‘pilling’,” she says. Kania has been studying and analyzing the physical properties of textiles, and thereby contributing to research and product development in Henkel’s Laundry & Home Care business unit, for the last 14 years. As a textile lab technician, she helps to ensure that legal and commercial quality guidelines are followed and that the laundry detergents and fabric softeners developed by Henkel perform as they should. In the lab, fabrics are subjected to physical-technological tests and analyses, and then examined for shrinkage, elasticity and color fastness after being washed with newly developed products.

Karin Kania examines a fabric sample

Karin Kania examines a fabric sample that is covered in lint and knit balls.

“I was already fascinated by the natural sciences in school, especially chemistry. When I found out about training courses to become a textile chemistry lab technician, that was the most exciting job I could think of, no question,” Kania recalls. Even after working in the textile branch for 30 years, 14 of which Kania has spent at Henkel, she never gets bored of her job. Washing machines, the textile market and product development are changing constantly, and frequently give rise to new challenges for textile lab technicians like Kania. “We try to stay very close to the market with our tests, and we are always tracking emerging trends. Natural resources like pure cotton are becoming increasingly scarce, while fibre blends with chemical fibres are becoming more and more common,” she explains. “There are now laundry detergents for every type of clothing: white, colorful, black and delicate textiles. This variety of options is used by consumers who want to keep their textiles in good condition for as long as possible. It’s a great feeling when you contribute to improving and developing these products and then get to see the final result in the stores.”

Using a so-called “pilling assessment viewer” Karin Kania can visually analyze individual samples.

Using a so-called “pilling assessment viewer”, a specially designed, standardized holder with integrated daylight illumination, Karin Kania can visually analyze individual samples.

Kania participated in the testing for the laundry detergent Perwoll Care & Repair, which reduces pilling on clothes. In preliminary tests, she used various devices to check that the chosen textiles were suitable for the pilling test, because not every material has a tendency to pill. “Pilling has two causes: friction that occurs when clothing is worn, and machine washing. We try to reduce it and improve the outcome with the relevant enzymes during washing,” she says. The tests are carried out in collaboration with the product developers. “We prepare the textiles and laundry batches and purchase the necessary fabrics. After a predefined number of washes, I get the clean laundry batches back so that I can assess whether the promise – less pilling – has been fulfilled.”

A microscope makes it possible to examine the fiber substrates

A microscope makes it possible to examine the fibre substrates of lint and knit balls.

For Kania, every workday is different and brings with it new tasks. “You constantly have to adapt to new circumstances, and the job definitely requires a lot of patience and creativity!”