The future of laundry technology
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Published: Tue, 25 Apr 2017
Laundry is a task that all households must complete. Laundry is a very broad task that encapsulates the entire process of cleaning fabric items so that they can become fresh to be worn or used again. It is a tedious process, and one which has potential for simplification.
The aim of this research report is to identify The Future of Laundry:
- What are the main problems of the domestic laundry process?
- What future technologies could benefit the washing and drying of fabrics?
- Are there methods that can help the laundry process become more environmentally friendly?
These are the main report objectives that will be researched and analysed, to then obtain conclusions which will help form the basis of a design brief and specification for a new product. There is a particular focus on the Domestic Market in ‘More Economically Developed Countries’ (MEDC).
A Conceptual Framework (Figure 1) has been produced to summarise the research methods that will be taken to obtain information for each of the Objectives.
By the end of the report the aim is to have evident information, provided by a variety of sources and methods that should indicate the Future of Laundry.
Before further research began it proved vital to perform a first hand laundry experience for myself. It enabled me to be fully immersed into the whole laundry procedure. Each stage of the task was broken down into its core processes. Figure x is a ‘Task Analysis’ diagram that outlines the most common laundry procedures followed by consumers in UK households.
A range of early conclusions and opportunities were identified from the first hand experience and Task Analysis diagram.
- The number of processes in the diagram highlights the lengthiness of the procedure.
- Procedure taken by most people is common, but there is variation in the drying process, which is dependent on climate and resources available.
- There is opportunity for simplification
- Improvements needed towards the eco-efficiency of the procedure.
- It’s a procedure that very few people enjoy and take pride in. It could be more interactive and fun task.
- The process has barely changed since the early 20th Century
Find out the main problems of laundry
This section of the report aims to identify current weaknesses in the laundry process. The Task Analysis already performed will form the basis for ‘User Observations’. An investigation will be performed into the resource problems that may be creating a hindrance in the laundry procedure for many consumers.
Finally, a look into the ‘Psychology of Laundry’ provides an insight into the consumer attitudes towards the task.
User Observations / Experiences
Task 1 – User Observations
The aim is to gain a better insight into the consumer habits and the difficulties faced with the laundry procedure.
A range of participants have been observed:
- Mother: Lives with husband and two children
- Elderly Person: Retired lady living with husband
- Student: Lives in a house with three other students
- Young Professional: Lives alone in a small apartment
The Task Analysis Diagram (Fig x) was used to record the observations. (see Appendix x)
A table has been produced to give a brief comparison on which basic tasks are performed by each participant:
The Mother and Elderly Person maintain a routine time between washes. The Elderly Person washes every three days and the Mother every other day, as the dirty clothes pile up quickly. By comparison the student washes only when most of the available clean clothes have run out. The Young Professional also did not have a routine, but washed once the basket fills up. Although he did state that if a few individual items were required, then he would do a wash.
It was surprising that only half of the people turn their clothes inside out during washes, which can prevent the dulling of fabrics (Housekeeping 2008). Although all participants washed colours and whites separately, possibly due to the known effects. The Student did state that she often gets confused with white clothing that has coloured detailing.
None of the four people ever separated clothing according to fabric types or even delicates. When questioned, they all said that it adds complexity and is extra hassle. Only the Mother regularly pre-soaks clothing, which is because she has young children. She suggested that adding baking soda helps to lift dirt. The Elderly Person believed that new clothing should be pre-soaked on its first wash to prevent colour run. On extremely stubborn stains, the Young Professional recommended ‘Varnish’ stain remover.
All participants except the Student use branded detergent, as they believe it guarantees clean results. The student uses supermarket brand detergent as she believes the results are satisfactory. The Young Professional liked to use ‘Liqui-tabs’ whenever doing a full wash so he is sure the correct amount of detergent is added. All participants agreed that fabric softener helps make the clothing feel softer.
Most surprisingly, no-one washed delicates by hand. The Mother and Student believed that it adds extra time and wasn’t necessary. None of the participants washed clothes with cold water. The Young Professional didn’t think it would wash the clothing particularly well. During all of the observations, the spin speed was never adjusted or considered. The Mother and Elderly Person did not know what the benefits of the feature were. Although, the Mother very often performs an extra spin to try and extract a little more water.
The drying process was an area where there was much variation. The Mother and Elderly Person both prefer to dry clothes outdoors, as it dries with a fresher smell. They both shared the same frustration though, of the unpredictable British weather. The Mother also has access to a tumble dryer, but it is in the garage. She finds it an inconvenience and is also aware of the costs related to using a tumble dryer. During the winter months, the mother makes use of the airing cupboard, and any other items are placed on the radiators. She says the clothes dry very quickly. The Young Professional makes use of the airing cupboard on odd occasions when there are a few items to dry, otherwise he makes use of the drying facililty on his washer/dryer combi. The Student tries to squeeze the majority of clothes into the airing cupboard, and the remainder onto a indoor clothes airer. As there are three other students in the same house, space is a difficulty. She said a tumble dryer in the house would be ideal.
Only the mother and elderly person iron most of their clothes. The Mother said her husband usually deals with this task, so it takes the sting out of it. The Young Professional and Student try to avoid ironing, but any smart items are ironed.
Task 2 – Structured Interviews
Dry Cleaning is a process that all participants are trying to avoid. It adds extra expenditure to the laundry process and is an inconvenience. All participants used ‘machine washing’ as their core method of cleaning clothes. All the other processes were not performed as they were deemed as extra hassle and unnecessary. It’s very surprising that none of the people felt the need to hand-wash delicates.
The main areas in which people wish to see improvements in the laundry procedure are:
- Simplify the process: remove some steps
- Use less water
- Lower costs
- Be able to wash a smaller load of clothes without it costing the same as doing a full load.
- Not everyone requires a large machine
- The time it takes
- Make it more enjoyable
None of the participants were aware of any environmental impacts related to the use of detergents. On hearing this, the Elderly Person suggested that measures should be taken to improve on this. She also stated that her husband suffered from skin allergies. Changing the detergent solved the issue. Nobody was happy with the costs. The Elderly Person used less than the recommended dosage to make it last longer, whilst the Young Professional only bought it when there was an offer at the supermarket. The number of varieties available was also a point of confusion.
New developments gained positive reactions by all participants, although on-one was aware of new technologies. They all wanted to see improvements in the laundry process. An example of a future development is ‘Nano-coating’, and this was given to gauge a reaction. People were most concerned about how the results would compare to a normal wash using detergents, and how the textures of fabrics will be affected. The Elder Person thought the fabrics would become hard and shiny. Surprisingly, only the student mentioned concern of having to buy all new clothes. The Young Professional wanted any new developments to speed up the process and cost less.
At present, the laundry process takes far too long. This is due to the many different stages involved, as identified in the Task Analysis (section…Pgx). There is opportunity to simplify the process by removing stages.
Several laundry problems are directly related to minerals, organic matter, and other impurities in the water supply (AG Facts 1999). Water problems can affect the colouring and quality of the fabrics whilst also causing build up of soils.
The most common water problem in the UK is ‘Hard Water’. It is caused by calcium and magnesium in the water. Fabrics become stiff and hard over time, and soil continues to build up because hard water does not clean as well as soft water. Much of the detergent added to the wash goes to softening the water. Adding extra detergent can compensate for, but this increases costs and causes further water pollution due to the phosphates contained in detergents. Use of heavy duty liquid detergents can solve the issue.
Other water problems include rusty water, turbid water and acid rain. They all cause staining and colour disfiguration of fabrics. Across most of Europe these water problems are rectified, using relevant filters, before it reaches the main water supply in homes.
Standard washing machines are 85cm in height and 60cm in width. This size comfortably fits beneath a kitchen work surface. Unless the consumer has a utility room in the home, the washing machine is most likely to sit within a kitchen as it is convenient for plumbing.
In more compact kitchens, the washing machine tends to dominate the environment as in Figure 11. It spoils the appearance of the kitchen. A kitchen of this type is likely to be in a home with maximum one or two occupants. Such a large machine is often not required.
A tumble dryer also occupies the same amount of space, and in a kitchen like Figure 11, it cannot be accommodated.
Laundry is a very energy intensive procedure, with most of it being used to heat water in the washing process, and then extract water in the drying process (See Energy Efficiency Section x). Detergents are another major consumable that tend to vary in cost greatly, depending upon brand. Not everyone can afford the more expensive detergents, which are proven to be slightly more effective compared to budget variants.
“One in five adults use less than the recommended dose to make their laundry detergent last longer.” (Figure 37….Clothes Washing Products Mintel)
And 21% of people in the same survey have switched to supermarket brands to save money.
Buying the washing machine and tumble dryer is also very costly with the average B rated models costing approximately £270 and £340 respectively. Although, the life expectancy of these products are generally very good according to ‘Appliance Life Expectancy’ (Demesne 2007). A washing machine is expected to last up to 11 years and a tumble dryer closer to 14 years.
Psychology of Laundry
A report by Mintel, Clothes Washing Products, there’s a section named ‘Consumer Attitudes Towards Laundry'(Mintel 2009) . This report has provided most of the information for this particular section.
The underlying topics of this report are costs and convenience. Saving money has become a key influence in doing laundry, and this will be further boosted by the current economic climate and lack of consumer confidence.
In a survey conducted by Mintel (Mintel 2009), it showed that 56% of people prefer to buy clothes that do not require dry cleaning. In the same survey it also shows that 27% of people sometimes wash clothes in a washing machine even though they are ‘Dry Clean’ only items. It shows that people don’t want extra hassle. Many consumers are even choosing to not wash their clothes after every wear, and are using smaller doses of detergent to make their money go that bit further. Performing more washes, wears out fabrics quicker.
Given the ‘chore’ of doing the laundry, products that take the hassle out of clothes washing wins the hearts of consumers (Mintel 2009). Consumers will therefore welcome a simpler laundry procedure.
Only one in ten people don’t separate out colours from whites (Mintel 2009).
This shows that there isn’t a particular need for a specialist product in this area. The reason for this particular statistic could also be due to the fact it is an extremely well known pre-caution, and people are being far more conscious of making their clothes last longer.
Teens are happiest to buy new clothes rather than looking after the ones they already own, which is the contrary to people over the age of 55. They are more likely to follow instructions and buy into more expensive detergents. Teens are less likely to have responsibility with their money, and most often, it is left to the parents to do the laundry.
“….men are just as cautious, if not more so, than women when it comes to washing their clothes.”
This is the absolute opposite from the common stereotypical view that men don’t have a clue about laundry. Although this claim could partly be because men perform laundry less often than women, and are therefore less familiar with the process. They may feel the need to check the instructions for reassurance as a result.
A ‘Task Analysis’ highlighted that the laundry procedure involves too many stages. ‘User Observations’ showed very little variation between each of the four participant’s methods taken to wash clothes. People skipped minor processes which they deemed unnecessary. Those living by themselves didn’t require a large machine, as it was one of the reasons for washing less frequently.
Consumer desire for lower costs and better convenience has been highlighted in the huge decline in Dry Cleaning clothes. Branded detergents are seen as most trusted, although consumers are using less to make their money go further. If less detergent is used, and water content and temperatures were reduced, costs would be massively reduced. Consumers are trying to make their clothes last longer, which can be aided by using less detergent or switching to more natural cleaning products.
Laundry was seen as more of a chore amongst the younger participants during observations. They were the ones that supported the use of tumble dryers. Drying clothes outside was favoured by the elderly participants as they believed it produces fresher smelling fabrics.
Washing machines tend to dominate smaller kitchens. Any new development must either be smaller, or have the possibility to be positioned away from the kitchen area.
New developments to improve the laundry procedure gained very positive reactions by all participants. Concerns include the implications on fabrics and whether cleanliness will be maintained. Laundry times and overall costs need to be reduced too.
New developments must account for different water problems, and although none of the participants were aware of the negative impacts detergents have on the environment, eco-efficiency needs to be improved. Other areas where people would like to see improvements include smaller machines or the possibility to wash smaller loads without any affect on efficiency. By making the laundry process more enjoyable or positively interactive would be well received.
What are the methods & technologies that could clean clothes (Present and Future)
This section firstly aims to view the expert opinions with regards to the Future of Laundry. A discussion of Future Technologies that could revolutionise the washing procedure follows. The section concludes with an investigation into technologies from other devices that could benefit the future laundry procedure.
Speak to Experts
At the end of 2007 Henkel hosted a scientific conference on ‘The Future of Washing’. From this conference a publication named the ‘Future of Washing'(Henkel 2008) was produced.
Early in the publication it was recommended that innovations must always conform to social, ecological and economic responsibility (Henkel 2008). This suggests that sustainability must remain a key focus for all future developments.
Consumers’ priorities are undergoing definite transformations. Saving energy is what they want most (Henkel 2008). This is quite a change from two years ago when washing efficiency took precedence over energy conservation. This is a result of greater exposure of the current global situations and increasing energy prices. Consumers though, are not willing to back down on standards of hygiene.
Out of 100 people interviewed, almost 70% named washing machines as the most indispensable household appliance (Henkel 2009). This suggests that this is a very “high risk” product, and you can’t afford to get it wrong. Consumers are so used to the process at the moment that they will scrutinise any new technologies.
Of 65 million washing machines sold each year, most of which are sold in Europe: 25 million (Henkel 2009). As a result, it would be wise to target any new innovations at the European market, since it is the most thriving market.
In the future, we will have to be more proactive in addressing segments and matching concepts to specific target groups (Henkel 2008).
Washing machines are becoming more intelligent and gaining new features, hence more complex. The older generations, who struggle with all the new gadgets, will no doubt have difficulty. By comparison, many of the younger generations will welcome such features as it adds a new dimension to what is currently quite a mundane task.
Throughout the publication, a major highlight has been energy conservation and efficiency. In a personal communication with the founder of http://laundry.about.com, Mary Marlowe Leverette also believed that protecting natural resources is a high priority (Leverette 2009).
Mary also gave her personal insight into the Future of Laundry. She thought that there will be greater advances in more energy and environmentally efficient laundry products and techniques, using less water and detergent. She also thought that there will be additional work in the design of fabrics that repel stains and odours (Leverette 2009). See Appendices x
Washing With Only a Single Cup of Water
Developed by researchers at Leeds University and Xeros. The invention has been proven to wash clothes using only a cup of water, nylon polymer beads and a little detergent. This method is claimed to use only 2% of the water and energy required from an ordinary washer and dryer.
The nylon polymer beads have a special polarity that draws the stains out of the clothes and into the centre of the beads. Humidity causes the nylon polymers to become very absorbent. It soaks up the water and dirt, therefore no rinse or spin cycle is required (Go Green Today 2009). The clothes are virtually dry once the cycle is completed, which boosts its ‘green’ credentials.
The main question surrounding this technique regards the disposal of the nylon beads. Each wash requires 20kg of nylon beads, and need to be replaced after approximately six months or 100 washes. So what happens after six months when every household needs to dispose of the beads? The nylon beads are not recyclable.
Ultrasonic technology applied to the textile washing industry has been a subject of investigation for many years. It has proved effective in the removal of soils from fabrics. There are many negatives that have been preventing it from becoming a commercially viable technique, in particular the relatively high cost of equipment and lack of availability. Fabrics need to be positioned very close to the high intensity source and only a few layers can be penetrated.
Institute of Acoustics in Madrid, found that using ultrasound would speed up a washing cycle from 30-45 minutes to 5-10 minutes. Ultrasound works well on grease and dirt (Independent 1994).
In Japan, Sanyo have been trying to commercialise a machine that uses ‘Ultrasound’ technology. Electrodes are placed on the side of the tub, which electrolyze the water. An ultrasonic wave generator at the base of the machine uses sonic waves to generate millions of tiny air bubbles to help loosen grime and grit on clothes in a purely mechanical action. With this product Sanyo have tried to make very few alterations to a current washing machine, meaning it’s not as effective as it could be.
Uses clean water to create a powerful cleaning force. It leaves no toxic residues on surfaces and does not stain clothing. Steam is able to kill well known bacteria such as e-coli, listeria, and salmonella; although these are food related bacteria (Earlex 2008).
Steam has been recently introduced into some of the latest domestic washing machines, but it cannot be used as the only source of dirt removing agent. When used in conjunction with the regular washing process it can be of good benefit since it can reduce the water content required and can raise the temperature inside the drum using less energy.
Silver Nano Technology
Clothes washed in a solution of silver ions become sterilised. Water is passed through silver ions, which prevent bacteria and microbes attaching onto the clothes. The silver kills germs whilst oxidation reaction lifts dirt and odours (Washing Machine Reviews 2009). Fabrics that are coated with silver nano become anti-bacterial for upto 30 days.
The main problem with silver ions being introduced into the wash cycle is that scientists are not sure of the long-term effects on mankind. Cold water can be used which is a huge eco-benefit, and although some sources state that no detergent is required, others state that a small amount is, on more heavily soiled fabrics.
Development of Fabrics: Nano Coating
While the idea of using nano-particles to enable textiles to repel dirt and ‘self-clean’ is not new, the uses to which this technology is being applied and enhanced are increasing almost daily (Just-Style 2008).
The ‘Lotus Effect’ is becoming a far more commonly used term in the textile industry. It is a metaphor being used to describe how water and dirt drip of the structured fabric surface, just like a ‘lotus leaf’. The process works by reducing the surface area available for dirt to gather on. This is made possible by coating the fabric with tiny ‘nanoscale’ wax pyramids (Just-Style 2008).
The fabrics are dipped in a solution of ‘nano-whiskers’, which contains cotton that is a 1/1000th of the width of cotton fibre. A cushion of air is created, which improves its wrinkle resistance and causes liquids to bead up and roll-off. It is designed for use on cotton, polyester, wool, silk and rayon.
Adidas is one of the many large clothing retailers that is using ‘Nano-Tex’ to protect its sportswear, which suggests that nano-coating has the possibility to eventually become mainstream. Figure x is priced at £48, which isn’t hugely more expensive than non-coated equivalents.
Anti-microbial silver particles can be embedded into fabrics which prevents the growth of bacteria and other odours. Though ‘nano-silver’ is known to darken fabrics; hence pure white fabric will be difficult to produce.
As well as the ‘lotus-effect’, there have been discussions about ‘Ultraviolet-C light’ being able to clean nano-coated fabrics. This would be a very economical solution since no water would be required, but there is very little evidence of the viability of this method.
Can Technology From Other Devices Be Incorporated?
Mangle / Pasta Maker
The mangle was designed in the 18th Century to aid the wringing of water from wet laundry. Clothes were passed between two rollers which squeezed water out. A pasta maker uses the same principle to flatten dough.
As the internal basket rotates, centrifugal force pulls the salad to the outer edges where the liquid escapes through the holes. A standard front-loading washing machine uses a very similar method with its perforated drum. This is still a very effective method for removing water. The system of ‘spinning’ out the water would yet be more efficient if it spun around a vertical axis instead.
Highly pressurised jets plunging water at the clothes from different directions would help to agitate the fabrics very well as the force will open up the fibres.
Spherical Roller Bearing
This allows random movements around 5-axis’. A spherical container to wash the clothes in could stimulate these movements allowing far better agitation of the fabrics.
A plunger is able to create a vacuum in which air and water is able to forcefully loosen dirt from fabrics. This technique would eliminate the need for any rotational movements to agitate the fabrics.
Simulate Hand Movements
Washing by hands is considered to be the most efficient method of removing stains since it flexes the fibres apart, allowing water and detergent to pass through. So in theory, a device that could simulate hand movement would produce very clean fabrics.
The publication on the Future of Laundry (Henkel2008), understandably, avoided mentioning developments that did not require detergents as Persil Detergents is one of their brands. A key point in the publication was that sustainability must remain a key focus. Mary Marlowe Leverette also believed that protecting natural resources is very important (Leverette 2009).
There is opportunity to target a new product at specific groups. It has already been established that students have different laundry requirements compared to a mother. Considering that Europe is the largest market for new washing machines, new innovations should initially be targeted at this market.
Consumers are trying to save energy at all costs. Water is the sole reason why the laundry procedure consumes so much energy. Therefore new developments will need to reduce, if not eliminate water content. The technology, ‘Washing With Only a Single Cup of Water’, would provide huge energy savings since the clothes come out virtually dry. Detergent is still required in the wash. There are concerns over the disposal of the vast quantity of nylon beads as they are not recyclable. This is not a sustainable technique.
Steam is a good addition to the wash cycle to kill bacteria and allergens, and raise temperatures quickly, but it cannot solely remove dirt. This is the same for silver nano technology. Silver ions can be introduced to a cold wash cycle to kill bacteria. Silver ions will also become embedded into the fabric making it anti-microbial for up to 30 days.
There is a vast amount of continuing research into nano-coating fabrics. Top clothing manufacturers are applying the technique to many of their products, which suggests that this could eventually become mainstream. Mary Marlowe Leverette also thought that development of fabrics is the future (Leverette 2009)
Another proven technique is ultrasound technology. No detergents are required, but the fabric items need to be placed in close proximity to the source. The ‘Pasta Maker’ provides inspiration on how this technique can be made feasible. When pasta is passed through the rollers, this could be like clothes being passed through an ultrasound source to remove dirt. The rollers could also remove excess water, like the mangle. A powerful stream in the opposite direction could carry the loosened dirt away.
The ‘jacuzzi’ and ‘spherical roller bearings’ provide inspiration for random movements. Washing machines only turn around a single axis, but if the clothes could be pounded at from different directions it would agitate them more effectively. All of which leads to simulating hand movements, which provides the ultimate random movements.
Can Laundry Become Greener?
This section of the report aims to investigate if laundry methods from the past and in other countries could contribute towards a more modern green laundry technique. An investigation into Energy Efficiency of the current laundry methods then follows.
Greener Methods From the Past & Other Countries
In the developing world, laundry is often viewed differently compared to the UK. There are places around the world where washing can be about meaning, about family contribution, about providing nice feelings (Henkel 2009)
Is there opportunity to integrate such emotion into the ‘Future of Laundry’? This would be good since it will remove the almost robotic and soul-less techniques adopted today.
Washing By Hand
This is a method that has proved to be most popular over the years and is still in use today. Many sources have suggested that washing clothes by hand produces cleaner results as the flexing of the fibres allows more water to penetrate in, hence agitating the fabric more.
Clothes are initially soaked in a basin/faucet containing detergent. The detergent is often dissolved in a small cup beforehand. The clothes are then rinsed several times before hanging out to dry.
It’s a very time-consuming method, but one that is well established. The ‘wringing’ action opens up the fibres to allow the detergent water to pass through. For more stubborn stains a washboard (see Figure 3) is commonly used for scrubbing. Modern washing machines struggle to match the cleanliness of the hand-washed clothes since they do not flex the fibres in the same way, but it does massively improve the time consumption of washing and drying. It is far more energy efficient though since all the energy being applied is human intervention.
Water availability was a big concern in Mexico as running water was never guaranteed.
“…a key desired feature was the possibility to recycle both wash and rinse water.” (Henkel2008)
The ‘Lavadero’ is a specialised wash basin that has been used for washing clothes for years. The surface is inclined so that water accumulates in the deep end whilst the ribs act as a rubbing surface. Water would often be provided by that collected in the roof tanks during heavy rainfall.
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