Who Invented Laundry Detergent

Woman doing laundry

For inventions like the light bulb or the car, the average person can name off Thomas Edison or Henry Ford as the inventor. With laundry detergent, naming the inventor is more difficult.

The Invention of Laundry Detergent

The use of enzymes to clean laundry, and hence the invention of laundry detergent, was introduced in the early 20th century by Otto Rohm. Mr. Rohm founded Röhm & Haas in Germany in 1907, and his research on using enzymes in technical applications became a revolution in the use of washing detergents in 1914. He named his detergent Burnus, and by 1920 it was the "most widely distributed laundry detergent in Germany."

Proctor and Gamble Create Dreft

In the United States, household detergent production began in the 1930s. Robert Duncan, a Proctor and Gamble (P&G) process engineer, went to Europe to discover what he could learn and apply at P&G back at home. In Germany, he discovered surfactants, which were not yet used in detergents. Back at home, P&G researchers discovered that surfactants are a two-part molecule. One part pulls oil and grease into a water solution, allowing water-soluble dirt to be washed off the fabric.

Testing was favorable and P&G worked out licensing agreements with the German companies who were creating the surfactants. In 1933, the Proctor and Gamble's detergent Dreft hit the market and was the first synthetic detergent created. It was great for clothing that wasn't too dirty but didn't work well on hard cleaning jobs. Due to its gentle nature, it is now marketed as a detergent for baby clothes.

Tide Clean

Dave "Dick" Byerly began to work on a heavy-duty detergent in the 1930's, but it was 14 years before he created a prototype.

In 1946, the first boxes of Tide went on sale and quickly outstripped other detergents on the market. Tide has been the leading laundry detergent in the US almost since its launch, gaining the lead position in 1949 and never losing it.

Tide was the first laundry detergent that could deep clean clothing without making colors dull or dingy. It was also very effective in washing machines and didn't leave a nasty ring. Proctor and Gamble researchers continuously update the product to include everything from color safe bleach to whitening bleach to Febreze and more.

Modern laundry detergents offer a wide variety of cleaning options, but it is the modern washing machine that provides the greatest amount of cleaning power. Detergents loosen the dirt, but it is the gyration of the washing machine drum, the water pressure and the draining capacity of the washing machine that helps get the laundry clean.

The History of Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent has a long history, and formulations continue to improve. Over time, detergents have come to work better and be safer for the environment. From its invention by Otto Rohm in 1914 through the increasingly powerful and green cleaners of today, laundry detergent has changed how people clean all over the world.

Who Invented Laundry Detergent