The Detergent Conspiracy

The Detergent Conspiracy


Why your clothes are less clean each time you wash them?


It seems like common sense that washing clothes would remove obvious dirt and everything else. You believe washed clothes are cleaner, but are they? If you believe that clean means there is less “stuff” in your clothes, the answer is certainly NO. How is this possible? How can this deception be maintained. How can so many people be wrong about such an obvious assumption?


Tests done in 1995 at the Clemson University School of Textiles and Polymer Science  showed that washing in regular grocery store detergent actually added a measurable amount of weight (contamination) to the clothes. Washing added 2% of the weight of the cloth in just 10 washings. The residue was equal to the full amount of detergent recommended to wash clothes. Let me be specific about this. When you pour in the detergent before the wash cycle, the scoop of powder or cup of liquid, you use is equal to the amount of chemical you will have in your clothes after 10 washes. It doesn’t increase much beyond 10 washes because you reach a point where you are washing out as much as you are washing in.


This is not a closely guarded secret. The laundry ball and laundry disk products were based on the idea that for 30 days of use you would still have “clean” clothes from the detergent residue that was already in your clothes from your previous washings. This is a lot of chemical to wrap your body in 24/7. No wonder some people become sensitive to laundry products.


            So what are these chemicals and why are they in our clothes. More important, what do they do to clothes and to us. There is a long list of chemicals in most laundry products. It would seem that if you can’t clean clothes with less than six chemicals, maybe you’re not focused on cleaning. The distinctions between green, natural and free, or between detergents and soaps are relatively small. Every washing agent should contain chemicals to separate soil from fabric and carry it away with the water. These are called surfactants and they do whatever cleaning occurs. All the other ingredients are there to help the surfactants or to make you believe your clothes are clean, and these must remain in your clothes to be effective.


            Two obvious additives are fragrance and brighteners. There are thousands of fragrances and over 200 brighteners which might be called dyes, colorants, color enhancers, color safe bleach, fluorescent whitening agents (FWA), etc. Then we add oils, silicones, and polymers to attach the fragrances and brighteners. Lubricants to make the fabrics less stiff, other lubricants for your washing machine pump, polyvinylpyrrolidone to seal the surfaces and ends of fibers, antiredeposition agents, perhaps sanitizers, enzymes and oxidizers, also softeners, and of coarse inert fillers so you know by the size of the expensive containers that you got your moneys worth.


            These ingredients are almost universal across standard brands, greens, naturals, frees, and other specialties. For example most free and clear products will glow under a UV light, as will most brands declared “Safe” for army camouflage. The highest levels of fragrance are often found in “Baby” detergents. Perhaps, so you will be trained regarding how a clean baby should smell, or so your friends won’t be offended when the diaper needs changing. Detergents for colors and blacks have higher levels of polymer to hide the scattering “fading” caused by fiber erosion.


            The latest news in home laundry detergents is P&G’s Proprietary Protective Fiber Complex ‚. This goes beyond polymers to a new silicone complex that not only provides additional lubrication, but also forms little cells of oiliness to keep the silicone complex and other care ingredients from washing away.


            This technology is especially important for HE machines. The new machines not only save water and power, but rinse clothes more completely. The designers of HE machines apparently are not part of the conspiracy. Better rinsing is good for you but makes it difficult for the detergent makers to leave enough residue to assure you that your clothes are clean. Detergent makers had initially been forced to add more of the “care” chemicals, but this new technology allows them to overcome the great rinsing performance of you new HE machine and attach exactly the right amount of residue to your clothes.


            All this residue is not without consequence. It impacts every feature and benefit of modern high tech clothing. Wicking, breathability, rapid drying and water repellency are all degraded in just a few washings. Over time detergent residue actually erodes the fibers and color much as water and ice destroy mountains. Oxidizers and enzymes attack the smooth surface of the fibers causing tiny pits and fissures that hold particles of residue. As temperature and humidity change, these imperfections swell and shrink. The crystals force the pits and fissures to deepen the spread. The eroded surface scatters light causing colors to look bleached and faded and the fibers weaken, loose memory, and even break. Elastomers fail quicker than other fibers causing daily washed swimwear and exercise outfits to degrade in just a few weeks. Even the flame resistance of children’s 100% polyester ƒsleepwear is lost. Detergent residue not only slows drying, but will rehydrate itself when dry by drawing moisture from the air or from you. PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) for example will hold 40% of its weight in water. Extra moisture reduces the efficiency of insulation. Insulation is also less able to loft up when coated with sticky residue, this further decreases effectiveness. Fabrics feel stiffer when coated with sticky chemicals because fibers cannot slip against each to allow a soft hand. Detergent manufacturers try to overcome some of this friction with silicone but deliberately leave some stiffness to ensure an opportunity to sell fabric softener. It is only a small exaggeration to say that washing clothes in regular detergents destroys them as fast as not washing them at all.


            What are the effects of laundry residue on humans? An increasing slice of the population is experiencing episodes of eczema, psoriasis, and other reactive skin irritations loosely referred to as contact dermatitis. In cases where the irritation clearly stops where clothing contact stops, most pediatricians, dermatologists, and allergists will recommend elimination of fabric softener. This would be a halfway solution if it was possible, but within a few weeks the clothes become stiff and scratchy, causing the patient to return to using fabric softeners before the next disappointing visit. Since babies are perfumed from birth to smell like baby powder they have ample opportunity to develop sensitivity to laundry chemicals before their own immune system matures. Some people experience burning eyes, and headaches or nausea in the detergent isle, but most are conditioned to surround themselves with “Natural” fragrances and don’t ever connect the dots to the allergies and discomfort they spend good money to control.



A conspiracy implies that people are secretly plotting to cause something. Everyone knows that diapers and baby detergents all smell like baby powder. Everybody knows what the detergent isle smells like at the grocery store. You may know someone who has spent a fortune on allergy shots; perhaps to be desensitized to one detergent he can use the rest of his life. There is no secrecy here.


            So why don’t people choose clean instead of perfume, brighteners, and other residues? Why are scented candles and perfume considered desirable when they were originally invented to cover foul odor in ages before personal hygiene? Indeed, for most of the last 30 years, laundry care detergents have borrowed heavily from the personal care products industry. Much of the marketing is remarkably similar. The world leader in personal care also leads the pack in laundry care and they are both sold to the same consumers.  We should not expect the world leaders to change the strategies that have succeeded for three generations, and we can expect that their competitors will continue to copy winning ways.


Does this mean that there will never be laundry products to simply clean your clothes and thus restore brand new performance? No, it just tells us not to expect “clean” from the world leaders. An alternative product, a Residue-Free Detergent (RFD), has been available for over 20 years. It grew out of necessity for special users like hunters, athletes, infants, and elderly where regular detergents simply don’t work. Now as the need for an RFD becomes more apparent, there are copy cat products making remarkably similar claims. Some make a feeble attempt to mimic our formulation but most simply follow the world leaders while applying a label that suggests suitability for the growing applications that require a Residue-Free Detergent. So the need and the product are here, but the conspiracy persists.


            Lets examine how this legacy of contamination is maintained (right under our noses) and try to determine if there is really a conspiracy or just the invisible hand of capitalism? Remember; there are no secrets. What I’m about to reveal is obvious to everyone. I am simply going to help you connect the dots.


            Lets arbitrary begin at birth. The newborn has been listening and feeling for months but will begin seeing and smelling for the first time ever. The eyes will take a few weeks to reach good acuity and several years for the brain to learn to see efficiently with techniques like pattern completion. All smells are new smells so they are more important now than sight, sounds, or touch. Other animals permanently imprint at birth to parents and location. So what does our new born smell first? How about the hospital’s laundry detergent? Arriving at home he encounters baby powder, baby oil, and more laundry detergent and fabric softener and perhaps flavored surface cleaners, sanitizers, and room deodorizers. Every time mom rescues baby from hunger, boredom, or a wet diaper the love is reinforced with the fragrance she uses accidentally, or deliberately, in her hair, skin, and clothes. Can this be conspiracy if it is not secret?


            In some infants this over load of perfume causes immediate problems, but  in either case it is likely to continue and be reinforced with over-flavored foods and intentional perfuming of the house. Recent developments for this purpose include time release fabric softener, heated smell producers, and devices that release different odors in sequence because we tend to acclimate rapidly to odor making it less noticeable after just a few minutes. So we keep releasing new odors so they are noticeable again. New laundry products promise to attach little capsules of fragrance that release upon touch. Now every time mother and baby touch, the smell of fresh laundry will be positively reinforced upon the baby. Odor recognition may have helped our ancestors avoid bad food and other dangers but these skills are long lost because most of us are reared in an artificially flavored world. There may also be serious long term consequences for the human race.


            The phrase “opposites attract” pays homage to the need for nature to maintain maximum genetic variation. Diversity provides protection against any species becoming so homogenous that a single microbe could eradicate them completely. Two similar immune systems could not endow the offspring with significant new capabilities; but two very different immune systems could create a being with ability to survive what neither of the parents could survive. So how does nature select for most opposed immune capabilities? People with opposite immune compatibilities are naturally attracted to each others odor.


            In a world of artificial fragrances, where your natural odor is replaced by multiple commercial fragrances we are attracted to individuals without regard for the natural choice that would improve the survivability of our species. So now we have artificial fragrances causing people to choose the wrong mates.


When this leads to dissatisfaction, incompatibility, and unhappiness the market has a solution. People can simply eat more to feel better by associating food and flavor with mothers love. This is profitable for industry, but it is also fattening. People must control their eating so they go to BB&B or Ye Olde Candle & Soap Shop where they can indulge in the fragrance of mothers love. This enables them to feel better without gaining weight.


            It is clear that, whether by conspiracy or not, fragrances and the goo to paste them on your clothes are going to remain central to the mainstream laundry products. Successful companies in the business of brightening and flavoring clothes are unlikely to choose to also promote brands to do the opposite. This is understandable, but surely there are others who would benefit by promoting residue free cleaning.


            How about the people that manufacture high tech, high performance, clothing?  Their business depends on offering special features like wicking, breathability, rapid drying, water repellency, and superior insulation. If they choose to recommend residue-free detergent (RFD), their products can provide a lifetime of superior performance that will ensure customer satisfaction. Yet over the last 20 years dozens of companies have avoided making the single care recommendation that could keep customers happy and their warrantee claims near zero, the recommendation for an RFD.


            So how are they drawn into the conspiracy? Is there any way they can benefit from failure and disappointment? Yes, indeed. Making the claim is what sells the garment the first time, but keeping the promise won’t necessarily sell a second one. More than likely, if the jacket is still warm, dry, comfortable, and looking good, 5 years later, it will become an object of love and be kept for another 10. If every garment lasted 3 times as long before recycling, the manufacturer could make only 1/3 as many. Worse yet, the dealers could only sell 1/3 as many. Are the dots coming into focus?


Another big disincentive is the fear of becoming a “special needs” item. If a manufacturer admits that his super hot, new technology has to be residue-free for maximum performance, he puts himself at a huge disadvantage to all of his competitors. They say “no special care”, “just wash with your regular detergent”.


            This is also a win win for the garment retailer, and he enjoys a third win. He can often sell a high priced imported treatment to “restore” repellency. Win #4 is that after a few more washes to apply more residue, its time for another expensive revival. Or win #5, a new jacket. In these challenging economic times it doesn’t take much of a conspiracy to encourage all parties to keep the secret.


             Before this message self destructs I want to offer you a mission. Should you decide to accept, we will be available to help you get maximum performance from all your clothing, foot wear, and outdoor gear.


            Atsko, Inc. wants to give you a 1 wash load sample of Sport-Wash (RFD) Residue-Free Detergent. All we ask is that you try it on your worst, most hopeless, hasn’t-worked-since-new piece of high tech disappointment.  


            Let me tell you what to expect. NOTHING, no residue at all. Not very glamorous or attractive, no wonder it’s not at the top of every label. But now let me summarize the benefits. Residue free clothes look better, perform better, and last longer. Special features and benefits are restored and maintained.


            Water repellency of fabrics with factory durable water repellent (DWR) can be restored again and again simply by washing in Sport-Wash and reactivating with heat. Our own DWR’s called Permanent Water-Guard are guaranteed to repel water for 25 washes in Sport-Wash.


            Odors are easily removed with Sport-Wash, even from polypropylene and other olefin fabrics. It simply removes the oils that retain the odors. Odor removal has made Sport-Wash #1 with hunters and outdoorsmen for over 20 years. Residue-free fabrics hold very little odor. Most odor is held by the residue of other detergents, especially the oils and polymers that are used to hold the fragrance and brighteners.


Breathability is lost when materials are coated with oils and detergent residue, but restored when washed with Sport-Wash. If a waterproof breathable fabric is coated with residue, the outer surface will wet-out in the rain. This forms a film of water that is an excellent barrier to air and vapor passage. When washed with Sport-Wash the repellent keeps the surface dry, allowing air and moisture to pass though for maximum comfort.


            Rapid drying depends upon moving moisture away quickly. Wicking fibers have special surfaces that move water by capillary action which is much faster than wicking like cotton. When coated, the high speed capillary action is replaced by slow wicking and slow drying. Sport-Wash restores the high speed drying.


             Softness is lost when residue causes fibers to adhere to each other. Clean fibers slip easily against each other so Sport-Wash eliminates the need for fabric softener. Stiff fabrics also wear faster and abrade the skin. Residue free fibers feel soft, control friction, and reduce wear so your clothes stay new longer. If every household in the US eliminated just 1 box of fabric softener sheets it would reduce land fill by 6000 tons. ‚


Insulation is restored to maximize loft and efficiency when residue free. Washing down and other insulations in Residue Free Detergent (RFD) will make them fluff up better than new because the feathers dry better and have no oil to paste them together.


            Flame resistance of children’s 100% polyester sleepwear is ruined by detergent and softener residue. In tests done by Clemson University, Sport-Wash RFD actually reduces the char length test ƒ results of 100% polyester to less than when tested new.


Residue-free detergent can eliminate rash, redness, and irritation caused by contact with laundry chemicals. Over 1500 dermatologists, allergists, and pediatricians have recommended Sensi-Clean, another label of Sport-Wash, for their patients with various forms of contact dermatitis. RFD eliminates the irritation caused by detergent without introducing new, potentially more irritating chemicals. People with reactive skin conditions frequently ask what ingredients are used in a detergent. This is the wrong question. It assumes that all the ingredients will contact your skin and you just need to avoid the one that can be identified as irritating to you.


This approach is clumsy, expensive, and unreliable as most products are continuously changing. The simple, effective, reliable and free alternative is to select an RFD (Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean). When a product rinses completely there is no trace of the ingredients, so by definition, irritation is impossible.


To get all the benefits of residue-free clothes you might expect to pay a fortune or give up convenience and versatility, or have to risk destroying your clothes, your washer, your septic tank system, or the environment? Quite the opposite is true.


Sport-Wash RFD is safe for all washable fabrics including washable wool, silk, down, and with extra care, it can replace a lot of dry cleaning. It is gentle to fibers and colors and maintains elastics and other sensitive treatments such as screen printing and glued on decorations. Frequently washed items will last noticeably longer.


Sport-Wash is right for all washers from the oldest top loaders to the most advanced HE. It is low sudsing and it eliminates the need for periodic “cleaning” cycles. RFD releases the full potential of HE machines to leave less residue while using less water and power. It works well in hot or cold and hard or soft water for more savings and completely eliminates the need for fabric softener while leaving your clothes softer and more absorbent than ever before.



            Sport-Wash RFD is READILY biodegradable so it actually helps your septic system operate more efficiently. It is renewable, made from coconut based straight chain surfactants and cannot cause skin irritation because it rinses away completely. Optical brighteners found in other detergents are so indestructible in the environment that population studies often utilize data gathered by measuring the amount of brighteners found in rivers, lakes, and streams. In Sport-Wash we never use optical brighteners of any kind.


            Sport-Wash is highly efficient using only 1 ounce per standard wash load. This is in part because it has no counter productive ingredients. Every fragrance and dye the world leaders deposit in your clothes, and all the new agents they use to keep them there, are fighting their cleaning agents so they must use more of both. It all winds up in the environment. When you only CLEAN clothes and leave no residue, it takes a lot less chemical to do the job. This is part of why Sport-Wash is able to be to be competitive with major brands. We also save packaging and freight by making it in the USA and keeping it concentrated so you need only 1 oz per wash load. Major brands is the USA still require over 1 oz to wash a standard load of clothes, a big waste to justify a big price.


Now you know the rest of the story and you can choose to wash with a residue-free detergent.  It will save many times its small cost by ending the premature recycling of perfectly restorable items. With the time, money, travel, and shopping you save you can get out and enjoy the environment more. Please enjoy your free sample of Sport-Wash and tell you friends about RFD’s. Many are unaware that there is any alternative to perfume and dyes, poor performance and early replacement. They are victims of the detergent conspiracy. “The truth is out there”, just connect the dots.


If you enjoyed this read you may also appreciate “The Camo Conspiracy”. It and many more technical essays on the care of clothing, footwear, and gear can be found at


Enjoy the outdoors more,

Dan Gutting


Atsko, Inc.



 May 1995, Nicholson, R. Detergent Evaluation, Clemson University, College of Engineering and Science.

‚ January 2009, Esposito, Christine, Happi Pages 78-80.

ƒ June 1996, Nicholson, R. Flammability-Children Sleepwear, Clemson University College of Engineering and Science.