Invisible Lines and Laundry Detergent

Consumer Reports tackled a pet peeve of mine: the invisible fill lines for laundry detergent. Most of you are probably using too much.. I finally took a sharpie to mine. Some excerpts from the Consumer Reports article:

“If the lines aren’t clear or are hard to see, it’s easy to overdose and use too much detergent,” says Pat Slaven, a program leader in our Technical department who conducted the detergent testing. “Plus, for all the products we tested, the line for a medium load—the most commonly done load—is less than a full cap, which makes it easier to use too much detergent.” The line for a maximum load is also typically less than a full cap.

Even a textiles expert can face issues with detergent caps. “The salesman who sold us our energy-efficient washer emphasized that we should follow directions to the letter—or fill line, in this case. Of course, I have to stand under a floodlight in the garage to see the fill line,” says Margaret Rucker, Ph.D., a professor of textiles and clothing at the University of California at Davis. “If a study on cap design hasn’t been done, then it should be,” she adds.

Another manufacturer has taken a different approach to solving the problem. “We feel the best practice is to include a picture of the cap on the directions, where we call out exactly where the dosage lines are on the cap,” says Bill Littlefield, executive vice president and general manager of branded products of the Sun Products Corporation, which makes All and Wisk detergents. Littlefield admits, “It’s a struggle to find proper dosage.”

Procter & Gamble, whose detergents include Cheer, Era, Gain, and Tide, also shows images of the actual caps and fill lines on its labels. “We have specific fill caps that are clearly marked, and we feel people understand the product,” says Lauren Thaman, a chemist and head of U.S. external relations at P&G.

Although the companies “feel” that consumers know how to use their product, field testing might show otherwise. Using a picture of the cap on the box separates the information from the action, adding an extra step.

Consumer Reports was tactful enough not to mention that overuse of detergent benefits the companies making the detergent bottles and their indicator caps.

2 thoughts on “Invisible Lines and Laundry Detergent”

  1. I’ve used P&G laundry detergents almost exclusively for many years, and I firmly disagree with the statement that the caps are “clearly marked.” This problem is made worse now that detergents are concentrated. The difference between the medium and large lines is so small that pouring the right amount of detergent takes great precision. Large, full bottles are especially troublesome since they are so heavy.

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