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Fabric Stain Removal Guide

Washing Improvements
over the years

After the war, when detergents started appearing in appreciable quantities on the retail market, it was noted that white cotton goods were not being washed as white as they should be. This was explained by the fact that although the active material was able to lift the dirt from the cloth it could not keep it in suspension. Hence small spots of dirt were being redeposited uniformly over the whole surface area of the cloth while in the wash-tub or machine, thus giving the cloth a grey appearance.

Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)

The sodium salt of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) had been known to industry for many years and, in fact, a French patent had been applied for in 1936,1 using CMC as an additive to washing materials. However, this patent was not developed extensively until the Second World War, when CMC was used in Germany on a moderately large scale, initially as an extender for soap which was in short supply, and then as an additive to the synthetic detergents being produced as a wartime substitute for soaps. When intelligence reports on the German industry were published, the use of CMC as an additive to synthetic detergent powders was noted and investigated and it was found that this addition eliminated the redeposition problem.


Despite the considerable advances made in the production of the active detergent matter, by the end of the Second World War progress in the use of detergents for heavy-duty (cotton) washing was still relatively slow, although they had already displaced soaps to a considerable extent in the field of fine laundering and dish-washing. To improve the heavy-duty washing properties, manufacturers turned for analogies to the soap industry. Soap for cotton washing had for many years been 'built' with alkaline materials such as carbonates, silicates, borax, and orthophosphates. All of these singly and in combination were tried with moderate success. Condensed phosphates had started appearing on the market in increasing quantities and from 1947 onwards heavy-duty detergent formulations were introduced, initially with tetra sodium pyrophosphate and then with sodium tripolyphosphate with startling success.

With the advent of CMC and tripolyphosphate builders the detergent industry established itself and has never looked back. The production figures of tripolyphosphate in the USA is enlightening.

Table 4
Production of Sodium Tripolyphosphate
Year Tons
1947 102,000
1950 280,000
1959 700,000
1964 80,000,000
1967 95,000,000
1970 109,000,000
1972 94,000,000
1974 82,000,000
Taken from the US Department of Commerce figures

It will be noted that there is a falling off after 1970. The reason is a combination of restrictions on and opposition to the use of phosphates, and also international shortages of raw materials.

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