The Evolution of Household Cleaning

By Christine Esposito, Nonwovens Staff | January 6, 2006

Fueled by busy homeowners willing to pay more for convenience, the evolution of the household cleaning products has meant less human contact with cleaning than ever before. But will consumers continue to shell out cash for gadgets when a regular spray bottle will do the trick?

Above: iRobot’s Scooba is a washing robot that features a revolutionary cleaning process that allows it to simultaneously prep, wash, scrub and dry hard floors, all at the touch of a button.  Clorox makes the cleaning solution. Photo courtesy of iRobot Corp.   

Ninety-year old Frances Gabe doesn’t lift a brush, mop, spray bottle or rag when she needs to clean her house, and it’s not because she’s getting old or has hired a cleaning service.  

An inventor and patent holder, Ms. Gabe lives in her very own self-cleaning house. Located in Newberg, OR, the house has rooms outfitted with ceiling-mounted cleaning/drying/ heating/cooling devices. With the push of a button, these devices expel soapy water to wash and rinse the room. A blower then dries whatever remaining water hasn’t made it down her sloping floors to the drain. Her tub, toilet and bathroom sink clean themselves too. Her kitchen cabinet does double duty as a dishwasher.  

Sound far fetched? It may seem a bit extreme, but Ms. Gabe is living every homeowner’s dream. Today’s consumers are looking for cleaning products that will get the job done fast and with as little effort as possible.

“Consumers are still looking for easy to use, convenient products. It’s nothing new, but it’s more important than ever,” said Carolyn Forte, home care director at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Hard-pressed for free time between long hours at work, family responsibilities and over-filled date books, cleaning chores are usually found at the bottom of most to-do lists. Gone are the days of a homeowner slaving away an entire day scrubbing every surface clean. Today’s homeowners may only have a few minutes to wipe down the kitchen counter between breakfast and the bus stop, much less clean behind the toilet.

According to industry experts, consumers are more than willing to pay for convenience when it comes to cleaning, which explains the proliferation of wipes in the marketplace.

According to new numbers released by INDA, the association of the nonwovens fabrics industry, wipes continue to clean up. Household wipes’ retail sales to end users recently surpassed those of baby wipes, which was formerly the single largest disposable wipes market, according to Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics.

Domestic guru Katie Brown is now promoting the Mr. Clean brand of household cleaning products.
“The industry predictions of 2000 were right,” Mr. Butler said, referring to industry pundits who at the turn of the millennium predicted disposable household wipes retail sales would hit $1.2 billion by 2005. “While the high growth rate has slowed, as would be expected, product line extensions and new product introductions continue to drive the household market,” Mr. Butler noted.

In a mature market such as household cleaning products, even slowing growth is good growth, and wipes have been a boon in a category filled with products most consumers don’t really want or have time to use.

“The market is tough. You see that in the performance. (Household products companies’) PE ratios are lower,” said Gary Stibel, CEO of The New England Consulting Group, Westport, CT. “The market overall doesn’t see a lot of growth.”

According to a June 2005 study by Packaged Facts, the U.S. household cleaners market has been struggling for half a decade. Mass market sales have fallen from $4.1 billion in 2000 to $3.97 billion in 2004. Of the 10 categories tracked in the report, only two—air fresheners and treated wipes—posted growth between 2003 and 2004. 

Growing Brand Presence

With stiff competition, crowded shelves and overall consumer apathy, companies in the household cleaners market continue to extend their brands, hoping to take advantage of consumer sentiment by luring them in with innovation and easy to use tools. According to Ms. Forte, consumers are loyal to a few brands in the household cleaner category, and will purchase one of those brands based on what’s on sale or what coupons they have.  

P&G has expanded Swiffer with the new CarpetFlick, a carpet sweeper that uses a special cleaning cartridge with super sticky adhesive to trap dirt. 
That’s been good news for venerable brands such as P&G’s Mr. Clean.

“Mr. Clean has been an expert in cleaning for the past 47 years,” said David Lee, assistant brand manager. According to Mr. Lee, the secret behind Mr. Clean is the brand’s ability to stay relevant with today’s consumers by giving them products that make cleaning easier, such as the Magic Reach (the all in one product for five different bathroom surfaces) and the Magic Eraser, in addition to its more traditional cleansers.

Mr. Clean is also staying hip in his middle age by hooking up with Katie Brown, who USA Today calls “the doyenne of domesticity for Generation X.” Ms. Brown, host of The Katie Brown Workshop on PBS and author of best-selling books on entertaining and decorating, has formed a new partnership with the P&G brand.

The goal of the partnership is to help women across the nation confront never-ending housework with simple style and panache, say Mr. Clean officials. Ms. Brown—a self-confessed Mr. Clean Magic Eraser junkie—says Mr. Clean is a brand that continues to answer the needs of modern consumer lifestyles.

“We are a generation of females that are a lot busier and have more on our plates. We demand things to be much quicker and easier,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s great that Mr. Clean invests in more products that make cleaning much simpler. Mr. Clean has been has out in the front with those demands and how our lifestyles have changed.”

Ms. Brown thinks this accord might help make cleaning seem hip. “I really do think cleaning is getting cool,” said Ms. Brown.  

Fueled by soaring real estate market, homeowners have invested heavily in their homes during the past few years, spending considerable sums of money renovating their bathrooms and kitchens. Ms. Brown insists that the next room to warrant this attention is the laundry/utility room.

“Manufacturers are coming out with gorgeous washers and dryers; the same is true with cleaning supplies,” said Ms. Brown, who herself is paying more attention to laundry and utility rooms. In addition to shows on cleaning, she has devoted an entire episode to organizing such spaces.  

And there’s good reason why homeowners need to get more organized: their homes are becoming more cluttered with task-specific cleansers, wipes packages and devices  from today’s marketers of household products.

In fact, Swiffer aficionados could probably devote an entire closet to Swiffer products alone, as P&G continues to expand the device that revolutionized the cleaning category. The newest development is Swiffer CarpetFlick, a carpet sweeper that uses a special cleaning cartridge with super sticky adhesive to trap and lock dirt instantly.

As the sweeper glides across the carpet, it compresses the carpet slightly causing dirt and crumbs to “flick” into the air where they are captured on the cartridge inside the see-through bin. The top of the two-sided refill traps particles such as crumbs, dirt and leaves, while the bottom side helps trap soils that don’t flick, such as bits of fuzz and lint. When the cartridge is full, users toss it out and install a new one.    “This revolutionary flicking action uses the springiness of the carpet to help it clean itself without any moving parts, and eliminates the need for brushes, heavy motors and cords,” said Kristine Decker, Swiffer brand manager. “It transforms traditional vacuuming methods by providing a super-quick and very effective way for consumers to clean up a carpet mess and get back to their busy lives.”

Polymer Technology Provides Consumer Convenience

Improved polymer technology is now available to major marketers of consumer cleaning products that fulfill consumer preferences for convenience and effectiveness. Household cleaners for kitchen and bath surfaces and fixtures, tile and glass, painted metals and chrome applications can now feature polymer ingredients that ensure quick, easy and effective cleaning that lasts longer and minimizes soil and residue buildups without streaking or spotting.

The principle behind polymer additives is the modification of the surface hydrophilicity, according to Stewart Warburton, marketing innovation director for Rhodia’s home and personal care business. For example, Rhodia’s Mirapol Surf-S polymers effectively bind to the treated surface and make it more hydrophilic. The adsorbed polymer is resistant to rinsing and wiping, so it doesn’t wash away when the cleaning solution is rinsed off.

“This improved polymer technology creates a water sheeting effect and improves water drainage from surfaces,” explained Mr. Warburton. “When a hard surface like tile or glass adsorbs the polymer, it will also dry faster—up to 30% faster—leaving a shiny surface without the streaking or spotting otherwise left by water beads.”

Rhodia’s Mirapol Surf-S polymer chemistry is compatible with virtually all commonly used surfactants, except for anionic surfactants. It can also support Ecolabel initiatives.

“Improved polymer technology makes Mirapol Surf-S an ideal platform for entire lines of hard surface cleaners for home applications, including all-purpose spray cleaners, automatic dishwashing detergents and wipes,” Mr. Warburton said. “It’s a combination of benefits and applications that spell convenience for consumers.”

Music to Wood’s Ears

It’s been used on some of the most expensive pieces of wood furniture ever created—and now a closely guarded family heirloom formula is available to the masses.  Clarecastle Furniture Care LLC, a New York-based international marketing company, has developed a new line of wood care products under the Steinway name. The accord marks the first time the piano crafter has licensed its name in its 153-year history.

New Steinway Furniture Care.
An underground success for 100 years, the original product had a cult-like following with carpenters and technicians who used it on their pianos, according to company officials.

To bring the product to the mass market, chemists worked for two years to match the quality of the original, which was created by the great-grandfather of Michael Carter, who is the brand’s wood specialist.

The line—which can be used on wood surfaces from paneling to treasured furniture—includes a   cleanse and condition spray, polish spray and cream polish. A hardwood floor product debuts soon.

Also in the works are wipes, but company officials note they are being cautious in the development process. “We need to find the best delivery system. A lot of the systems dry out quickly,” said Shawn Canter, president of Steinway Furniture Care. “Once we do that, the integrity of our product won’t be comprised.”

Still Trigger-Happy?

Despite the emphasis on wipes and new devices, household cleaning products companies are not pulling the plug on the sprays and liquid products, which continue to make up the bulk of the market. New product development continues with a focus on greater efficacy against dirt, grime and germs.

OxiClean has expanded its
roster with new OxiClean
Miracle Foam.
Antibacterial products have been hot several years, but as flu season heats up in the U.S. and talk of Avian Flu, or so-called Bird Flu, continues to grow, consumers are more weary of germs than ever before.

While Clorox is reportedly launching a new disinfectant next month, American HomeHealth contends it will fill a void in the market and will take cleaning and disinfecting to a higher level with its new product line.

The new introduction should catch the eye of the germ-phobic public. Next month, the St. Petersburg, FL-based company will launch the PS “infection prevention” line of household products for the consumer market.

“PS fills a growing consumer demand for products that not only wash away germs, but eliminate those that can cause serious illness,” said Ruly Lora, founder, chairman and CEO of American HomeHealth, in a statement. “We’ve learned from research and focus groups that consumers, and mothers in particular, want to do everything possible to keep their families healthy. They also want the peace of mind that comes with using professional strength products that provide a broader spectrum of germ killing.”

The PS line includes 17 professional strength anti-viral and anti-bacterial products whose formulations were originally developed and used in healthcare environments including hospitals, physician and dental offices. Sold in supermarkets, mass merchandisers and drugstores, the line includes disinfecting surface wipes, surface cleaner and bathroom foam as well as personal care items. The company plans to support the brand with a $30 million marketing program that will include national and regional TV, radio and print

While a brand with professional strength and a medical heritage will surely resonate with germ-conscious consumers, some suggest there’s a greater opportunity in the cleaning market for products that take a natural approach to fighting dirt and germs.  In fact, this small segment of the market is already experiencing dramatic growth. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of natural household cleaners (including laundry detergents) rose from $140 million in 2000 to $290 million in 2004.

Key Trends in the Global Household Cleaning Market

Irina Barbalova, an analyst with Euromonitor International, London, has identified the following trends in the global household cleaning products market:

Henkel’s new FreshSurfer, an in-the-bowl rim liquid created with Alessi.
• Convenience. Disposable, compact, time-saving and efficient products are on the rise. As lifestyle trends become increasingly hectic and fast-paced, the convenience factor is a key driver in the household care industry. Purchasing decisions are heavily determined by the necessity of products that do the job quickly and efficiently. This has been particularly evident in the floor-wiping segment, where a number of product launches have made ‘bucket-less’ floor cleaning possible and more desirable.

• Fragrance-driven innovation.  A prominent trend in household care, with consumers looking not only for higher performance and convenience but also for scent-pleasing products. Introducing novel fragrances has been integral to most sectors, bringing an additional appeal to products and making cleaning tasks seem a more pleasant experience to consumers.

• “Oxi” technology. A number of manufacturers have recently introduced products with “active oxygen,” such as oxygen bleach, oxygen-bleach based cleaners (Cif Oxy-Gel liquid by Unilever), and “Oxi” stain removal products claiming strong efficiency and more environmentally friendly features, e.g. Vanish Oxi Action Wow by Reckitt Benckiser.

• Innovation and diversification. To boost value and fight increasingly sophisticated private label products, continual innovation activity and diversification of products is taking place.

• Devices. A key development is the introduction of a plethora of devices aimed to make the performance of household chores significantly more convenient and less time consuming. Such products have been launched across the board, from dishwashing to toilet care.

• Decor.  An increased interest in improving the living environment overall is leading to greater interest in outer appearance, products need to look good, as well as perform. This has been particularly evident in air care and the success of products such as Air Wick Crystal’Air and decorative candles in Europe.  The decorative factor is, however, also extending to other categories such as toilet care. In Europe, Henkel recently introduced FreshSurfer, an in-the-bowl rim liquid developed in collaboration with the Italian design factory Alessi.

Natural Growth

Along those lines, Natural Choices Home Safe Products is touting Benefect, a 100% botanical disinfectant based on thyme oil. The patented technology is proven to kill more than 99.99% of bacteria, mold, mildew, yeast and fungal spores on hard, non-porous surfaces and control odors produced by these microorganisms, according to the company. Made from botanically pure plant extracts fragranced with pleasant aroma-therapeutic essential oils, Benefect contains no synthetic fragrances, dyes, ammonia or chlorine, according to Natural Choices, which is distributing the disinfectant in the U.S. market. In addition, the company is readying the launch of a new natural air freshener based on cashew nut oil.

Products from smaller companies such as Natural Choices account for much of naturally based household cleaners currently available in the marketplace. But smaller players may not have the market for themselves for long.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a larger company entering this market,” said Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. “We have see it on the food side. There’s no reason to think we won’t see it on the household products side.”  

In fact, Natural Choices has witnessed this first hand with its Oxy-Boost destainer and deodorizer oxygen bleach, which it bills as a safe and effective alternative to chlorine based products. On the market since the mid- 1990s, Natural Choices has had success selling this over the Internet. Yet it is other firms that have been able to garner tremendous sales and make “oxy” a big seller in the mass market.

The firm that really put this technology on the map is OrangeGlo International, which continues to add to its roster of products. Its newest offerings include OxiClean Miracle Foam, a versatile cleaner that has the stain-fighting power of OxiClean in an active foaming formula that clings to surfaces and dissolves grease and grime on contact. The company contends it can be used on a bevy of surfaces from the kitchen counter to the bathroom sink and more. Sold in a heavy-duty powder as well as in an every-day spray formulation, the latter clings to hard-to-clean vertical surfaces and also be used on mirrors, glass and stainless steel.

Intelligent Design?

The household cleaning marketplace continues to develop new devices that limit human contact with cleaning chores either physically or by reducing the amount of time it takes to finish the chore. The evolution of cleaning products appears headed in one direction: products that do the dirty work for consumers.

This woman isn’t setting the sauna; she’s turning on The Shower Shower from Intelligent Consumer Products. The device automatically cleans your shower with daily shower cleaner.
Today, homeowners can purchase Roomba (the self-cleaning vacuum robot), the SpotBot (Bissel’s new carpet stain cleaning machine that users simply plop down on the spot, turn on and walk away) and The Shower Shower (a device that dispenses shower cleaner products in your shower with the touch of button). There’s even a bathroom fixtures company selling a self-cleaning toilet, which thanks to nanotechnology, has a special glaze that helps cut down on the need to clean the bowl by not allowing dirt, mold and bacteria to latch on to the surface.

But with prices ranging from $399.99 for iRobot’s Scooba—the soon-to-be-released robot that vacuums, scrubs and dries hard floors automatically—to $900 for The Shower Shower, the average consumer may not be willing to spend that kind of money for this level of convenience.

Or will she? Keep in mind, the self-cleaning range may have seemed like quite a luxury when it was launched by GE in 1963. Imagine a home without one today.

According to Mr. Stibel, devices such as SpotBot and Roomba will sell because they have three factors going for them: convenience, efficacy and entertainment. “Not only does it work, but it’s cool and I want to show it to my friends,” he said.

This fact hasn’t been lost of makers of household cleaning products or the makers of these devices.

Banking on the popularity of iRobot’s Roomba (1.2 million units have been sold since its launch in 2002), Clorox Company hopes Scooba takes off too. The company has formed a partnership with iRobot to market a specifically engineered cleaning solution for Scooba, which will reportedly be available in limited quantities this holiday season and on a larger scale in January.

President and managing director Percy Whitmore of Chandler, AZ-based  Intelligent Consumer Products said his firm is investigating forming a joint marketing alliance with a maker of household cleaning products for The Shower Shower. The unit, which comes in two models, can use any daily shower cleaner or hard water product.

So are gadgets the secret to success in the household cleaning category?  That depends on the device.

No doubt P&G has had tremendous success with Swiffer, and the company continues to extend the brand. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for this market-changing product. Last year, P&G announced a voluntary recall of 175,000 Swiffer Sweep+Vacs, when it was found that if the units were left in the “on” position, they could overheat, posing a fire and smoke hazard. P&G relaunched the $30 battery operated device in May.

Industry insiders agree that rewards can be great, but there are greater risks too.

For one, once the novelty wears off, there’s a chance sales will slide.

“You see really great initial sales, but then it levels off. If it’s too expensive and seems too frivolous, after the initial use, consumers may not come back,” said Mr. Montuori.

For the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2,  Swiffer Wet Jet sales in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchants (excluding Wal-Mart) fell 19.5% and unit sales dropped 11.5%, according to IRI data.

And just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. It is imperative to answer real consumer problems rather than crowd the market with another new me-too gadget. Although they are willing to spend more for convenience, consumers aren’t likely to buy something that doesn’t deliver on its promise of making their lives easier.   

“It’s always important to be innovative,” said Mr. Stibel. But he warned against creating “solutions looking for a problems.”

Still, it’s hard to dismiss what a successful cleaning device can do for a company’s bottom line.

Clorox’s ToiletWand, which for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2 pulled in sales of $26.7 million in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchants (excluding Wal-Mart) on top of the $49.5 million that Clorox toilet bowl cleaner/deodorizer captured. For P&G, Swiffer, Swiffer Wet and Swiffer Wet Jet cleaning tools garnered sales of more than $217 million, according to IRI, and a 29.5% share of the $738.9 million cleaning tools/mops/brooms category.

Numbers like those can make any CEO envious, and anxious to launch a new device, despite the risks.

Said Mr. Stibel, “There is not a household cleaning product company out there that wouldn’t take the Swiffer recall if they had Swiffer’s cash flow.”

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