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SUSTAINABLE DETERGENTS: FROM THE CONCEPT THROUGH TO SERIES PRODUCTION

Today detergents must meet many requirements. Ecologically sustainable process solutions are becoming increasingly important. Kärcher faces this challenge in the new chemical and test laboratories at the site in Winnenden. An overview of the development of sustainable detergents.

Kärcher test laboratory for detergents

Requirements of a detergent

Today detergents must meet many requirements. They should effectively combat dirt, be efficient and not pose any risks to the users and the environment. Ecologically sustainable process solutions are becoming increasingly important, which, apart from the gentle handling of resources and materials, also bear in mind the chemical, water and energy efficiency together with the cleaning process as a whole. Kärcher faces this challenge in the new chemical and test laboratories at the site in Winnenden and thus takes another important step to combine quality, efficiency and sustainability. Kärcher detergents are very effective and take into account health, environment and economy.


How are sustainable and efficient detergents developed at Kärcher?

A detergent is a completely normal product. Right at the start is the product idea. Trends, standards, technologies and new business models demand new resource-conserving products and therefore have an impact on the development.

At Kärcher this traditionally extends from product concept and specifications to prototypes and reality check through to series production. For 40 years now Kärcher has been developing its detergents and is moving more and more towards sustainability and environmental compatibility: Kärcher detergents are very effective and take into account health, environment and economy.

As is also normal for other products, the development process of the environmentally friendly detergent starts with the product definition phase. The central question is what the new detergent from Kärcher should do – for example, have biodegradable substances. Then these requirements are transferred to the chemists in a specification sheet by the product management.

product definition phase of a detergent at Kärcher

During the concept phase in the chemicals development department of the Kärcher Detergent Competence Centre, concept proposals are now presented and functional models for the sustainable product properties are compiled. Because the detergent must later fulfil other functions apart from the environmentally friendly aspects, such as dissolve oil, reduce the amount of foam or bind hardeners, in order to prevent the build-up of limescale.

concept phase of a detergent at Kärcher

 

The concept tool is continually optimised by the chemists at Kärcher with regard to sustainable quality and cleaning. The formula, sequence of the contents and the stability of the products have to be tested. The experts always have their eyes on the overall sustainability of the product.

When selecting raw materials four aspects must be right: product performance, degradability, sustainable production of raw materials and the raw material price. Raw materials that are hazardous to the aquatic environment or not biodegradable, suspected of being carcinogenic or genetically harmful or have other negative properties are generally not used.

There are now some powerful ingredients based on natural and renewable raw materials - such as sugar-based surfactants, natural solvents such as bioalcohol or natural acids

Optimisation of cleaning product at Kärcher

In the Kärcher lab the effectiveness of the ecological resource when cleaning is tested. Standard test dirt for household and industry is loosened from standard test panels with uniform pressure and at uniform speed. Firstly, individual contents are analysed here; secondly the entire product, which is made of up to thirty components.

Testing effectiveness of the cleaning product at Kärcher laboratory

If the concept was successfully tested taking into account the resource-conserving aspects, the process goes into the fine tuning phase. In this phase the new cleaning agent is defined in detail in the specification sheet for the final development.

Fine tuning phase of the detergent at Kärcher laboratory

In the following Kärcher reality check the capabilities of the sustainable detergent are tested outside the lab and the new product is used with a scrubber, mop, etc. For example, the cleaning performance, the correct amount of foam, the pH value and streaking in the cleaning application are examined here.

reality check of the sustainable detergent at Kärcher

The pilot production phase follows, where larger quantities of the sustainable cleaning agent are produced by Kärcher and presented to customers in the field test. This last endurance test also includes questions about the scent and feel of the product, in addition to the cleaning behaviour in daily use.

Final test phase of the detergent production at Kärcher

The final start-up phase is the market launch with series production of the new detergent on a sustainable basis.

Market launch of a sustainable cleaning product of Kärcher

 

For the series production Kärcher also attaches huge importance to the container. Because chemicals and packaging must match. In this way deformations after the diffusion of alcohol are avoided; the containers must also withstand drop tests.

Furthermore, many detergents are used in spray bottles, which must have ergonomic handling and prevent the inhalation of aerosols as far as possible. At Kärcher the containers are also tested and optimised in terms of sustainability. The container, lid and labels must be made from recyclable raw materials and contain the highest proportion of recyclate. Non-recyclable packaging, such as plastic composites, are excluded.

The focus is also on waste avoidance and energy efficiency: the production process is planned so that where possible no waste water arises. The pipes to the mixing vessels are rinsed with the water that is also included in the recipe. There is no need for separate cleaning of the pipes, i.e. water containing raw materials is not disposed of by Kärcher in sewage treatment plants. The production process uses as little energy as possible. Only the pumping of raw materials, the mixing in the mixing container, as well as the filling line, require energy. It is important to avoid products that are heated during production or whose raw materials must be made the right temperature before production. 

Read more in the interview below.

Series production of the sustainable Kärcher detergent

Sustainability for detergents – Interview with Frank Ritscher, Head of Research and Development of Chemical Substances at Kärcher

Mr. Ritscher, you manage the new Kärcher Detergent Competence Centre in Winnenden. All detergents for Kärcher are developed here. What must a detergent from Kärcher do, especially with respect to sustainability?

Firstly, it's important to realise that here at Kärcher we produce almost exclusively sustainable detergents. For us, sustainability means that it must be an overall sustainable solution. The product for cleaning must be produced not only on the basis of natural substances, but for the manufacture no other resources may be applied. 

Let me put it this way: What use is an ecologically-based cleaning solution to us if other natural resources, such as rainforests, for example, are being destroyed? Above all, far-sighted action is important to us, which safeguards the survival of natural raw materials.

And last but not least: A sustainable detergent from Kärcher must work. It must be just as efficient as conventional products, otherwise, it will not be successful on the market and with consumers.

Since November 2018 you have been working in the new Kärcher Detergent Competence Centre in Winnenden. How does the new environment affect your work and the sustainable production?

Our opportunities for optimising resource-conserving processes have improved greatly with the new Kärcher competence centre. Especially the 240 square metre chemical laboratory with state-of-the-art scientific equipment is a massive improvement.

 We also have a textile test laboratory and a new application test environment directly on site. There our developers can examine fibre composition and the processing of the sustainable cleaning products in detail for tensile strength, pressure resistance and wash resistance, as well as wear, using state-of-the-art measurement technology. In the chemical laboratory we have access to over 1,000 raw materials from the chemicals industry.

Apart from the ultramodern equipment, the biggest advantage is that at Kärcher we now have everything in the one place – this saves time and resources. Our new Detergent Competence Centre in Winnenden gives us the opportunity to organise not only our products, but also our product development process, more sustainably.

 

Kärcher is a global leader in cleaning technology. What does this mean for the production of sustainable detergents?

Basically what applies to us, applies to all developers: We always want to manufacture the perfect product. Then there are of course conditions, such as the selling price, which also play an important role with regard to the sustainable realisation. For us, a detergent from Kärcher must always be an improvement of an already existing solution. The improvement can be achieved, for example, in the area of efficiency or also in the sustainability of a product. Either an existing solution is improved or something new is developed.

What sustainability criteria must detergents from Kärcher fulfil?

Since 2012, all Kärcher detergents are now certified with the Sustainable Cleaning Label. The label characterises products which were manufactured in companies that act in a sustainable manner.

In addition, a number of our more than 600 different detergents meet the requirements of international, sustainable environmental certificates, such as the EU Ecolabel or the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, which are some of the strictest worldwide.

 

Where is the biggest development potential to make detergents from Kärcher even more sustainable?

The biggest optimisation potential in relation to sustainability is without a doubt in the area of the detergent packaging. Here the topic of microplastics plays a huge role. At the same time, there are significant rules as many detergents require special packaging due to their chemical contents. At the moment we are working intensively in the Detergent Competence Centre on the development of recyclable containers, which meet these requirements and make an important contribution to environment protection.

Frank Ritscher, Head of Research and Development of Chemical Substances at Kärcher

Sustainable products for indoor cleaning

Our product line for building cleaners includes all concentrates and ready-to-use cleaners, which are required for indoor cleaning: sanitary deep cleaners, sanitary maintenance cleaners, surface cleaners, glass cleaners and floor cleaners. The products all have the EU eco-label and the Austrian eco-label. Some products are also certified by Nordic-Swan.

CA 10 C     CA 20 C     CA 20 R     CA 30 C     CA 30 R     CA 40 R     CA 50 C

Cleaning of a sanitary room with a sustainable detergent of Kärcher