People have been washing their clothes since ancient times. In the “Odyssey”, Homer described how Nausicaa and her friends washed their clothes in the sea and let them dry in the sun.
Later, the Romans used fermented urine to whiten togas.
The Germans and the Gauls used ointments balls made of animal fat mixed with firewood ashes.
At the start of the Middle Ages, soap workshops were already numerous in Italy and Spain.
A few hundreds years later, refined soap based on vegetable oils appear. Expensive, it was nevertheless increasingly in use for its detergent properties
The use of soap continued in combination with soda, silicates, and perborates as bleaching agents.
During World War I, Germany faced a shortage of animal fat and was forced to innovate – this is how the first synthetic detergent - the "surfactants" -appeared. These have an advantage over soap: they are less sensitive to water hardness (water rich in lime and / or magnesium).
3 types of surfactants appeared with time: anionic, cationic, and nonionic.
In parallel, phosphates were increasingly used for their ability to soften water, thus allowing the use of less surfactants; bleaching agents such as chlorine bleach was also used in the washing process.
In the 60s, it was noticed that branched alkylbenzene sulfonates, a family type of anionic surfactant, were not biodegradable and accumulated in groundwater. Tap water made bubbles! They will be replaced by linear alkylbenzene sulfonates, which are regarded as easily biodegradable and are still in use in detergent formulations today.
In the 90s, less and less washing powder is used per wash. Detergent in liquid form appears, an innovation that convinces the French, British, and American consumers for its ease of use. Washing powder remains predominant in most other countries.
Enzymes, which emerged in the early 20th century, became more and more stable and allow lower wash temperatures.
Today's washing powders are complex objects that contain different types of surfactants, bleaching agents, bleach activators, optical brighteners, chelators, anti-corrosion agents.