Whiter than white!

More than in other cases, detergent packaging represents the product in such a strong way that the customer identifies it with the selfsame product.

The duty and the pleasure of cleanliness, a brief story of “social detergency”. Main characters: laundry and homecare products that have always performed primary and indispensable functions for the daily wellbeing of each and every one of us and hence connected to our intimate living habits.

2-sunlight_sapone_poster_web.pngDetergents for hand or machine washing, for washing up and cleaning the floors, windows and bathroom fixtures. And again, softeners, bleaches, limescale-removers, going by way of disinfectants and insecticides of various kinds… In other terms, indications of a changing conception of hygiene that is part of our culture. Someone has even stated that the civilisation of a people is measured on the quantity of soap it consumes. All the more reason why, in studying the evolution of the formulas of detergents and their use, one finds oneself closely following the changes in society. In days of yore, that is when solid soap or ash was used for doing the laundry, the operation required a great commitment in terms of organization and time, which is why it wasn’t done frequently. And as well as a probable use of clothes for a period longer than what would be considered compatible with current concepts of hygiene, one needed to have a high number of changes of clothing, to keep you with enough clothes to last till the next laundry day. Hence the custom of offering a great amount of linen as a dowry, a clear sign of a wealthy bride.
Soap powder and subsequently liquid soap go hand-in-hand with the arrival of the washing machine in the home, decreeing the disappearance of the professional washerwoman and with that, of a standard of life that we would find hard to bear nowadays. Indeed, the spread of the new technological means has accompanied the emancipation of women in terms of work, relieving them at least in part from the drudgery of home chores. Habits and lifestyles that are constantly changing, over the years have influenced the evolution and the formula of detergents. One only has for example to think of the choice of less formal clothing, with the introduction of more sporty clothes or also in strong colors, or in the lesser importance of a meal consumed in the family around a fully-laid table. Hence trends have decreed that the laundry comprised ever lesser amounts of white cotton clothing, to be washed at lower temperatures, which had lead to changes in detergent formulas, with a considerable reduction in power consumption. Other cleaning products have also been affected by similar changes: one only has to think of the use of abrasive detergents, when stone sinks were in use that required a strong scrubbing action, replaced by abrasive creams, associated with the introduction of ceramic sinks, and then the use of degreasers and spray products, more suited to modern sinks in steel or synthetic materials.

Even if less evident, there are even deeper links between the world of detergents and sociological changes in the modern way of life, that directly or indirectly go by way of packaging: no longer go-betweens for the purchase of a product, but for the appropriation of the more-or-less temporary solution to a problem. Around 1860 a young and brilliant English grocer intuited that soap, up to that time sold in large bars and cut to the quantity required, could be packed, to allow the customer to recognize it. Thus Sunlight soap came into being, with the name printed on the oiled paper wrapper in bright colors that, as well as helping to avoid the product going off, allowed the customer to identify it immediately through the shop window. In this way some of the fundamental functions, still today demanded of packaging (protection of the contents, vehicle of information, guarantee of quality…) But not only that: the intuition of giving a specific name to a product demonstrated itself to be advantageous for the sale and distribution of fast moving consumer goods, thus opening the way to forms of advertising a lot more effective than in the past. The link between advertising, society and the world of detergents is today still more evident if we recall the term “soap opera”, that identify the TV shows that run in long series and are in order to loyalise the viewer, that were invented in the thirties, first in a radio version and then for the TV, as a form of advertising for the soaps and detergents of a famous American company.

How it is changing to become increasingly sustainable.

Reflections on the detergent sector in Italy, based on a study* promoted by Conai, in partnership with Assocasa/Federchimica.



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