The Household Wipes Market

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | February 24, 2010

as economic conditions improve, manufacturers are gearing up for a return to consumer spending

During the past decade, the household wipes market has been nothing short of explosive. Starting with Clorox’s disinfectant wipes, launched in 1999, and Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer electrostatic floor cleaning cloths a year later, a steady stream of new product introductions catering to today’s overbooked consumer has created a billion dollar market for nonwovens.
From the stainless steel cleaning wipe to clean off appliances to the wet and dry wipes used to mop a floor to furniture polishers, glass cleaners or toilet and shower wipes, there is no longer a surface in the home that does not have a wipe to clean it.

In the heydays of the 2000s, consumers embraced these wipes eagerly, happy to spend the extra pennies to make their daily chores a little easier. The effect was a brand new category that rose from practically nothing to billions of dollars globally in less than 10 years. Spunlace manufacturers planned lines in North America and beyond, contract service manufacturers increased their wiping capabilities and it seemed that every household cleaning company out there was making wipes an important part of their business.

Then, two things happened. The economic market collapsed and consumers started questioning the value proposition wipes could offer over other cleaning methods. At the same time, a green consciousness swept through consumer culture and the thought of all these wipes ending up in the landfills started getting some consumers thinking.

The result has created several different scenarios within the household wipes market. Tried-and-true wiping products, such as electrostatic cleaning cloths or all-purpose disinfectant wipes, have become a permanent part of consumer culture and consumers would have to be really hard pressed to give them up. These products have been challenged during the recession in the same way other consumer necessities are—consumers may opt for private label products or wait for sales or they may even stretch out time between purchases—but they refuse to live without them.
“The household cleaning wipes market is stable, despite the economy, because the basic need of “cleanliness” is high on many consumer’s list of values,” said  Libby Gerberi, market manager for Weiman Products, the maker of several varieties of household wipes. “Furthermore, I would argue that this recessionary period has helped the industry because people have cut back on housekeepers/hired cleaning services to take on the responsibilities of cleaning themselves. Now more than ever, there is a huge emphasis on ‘do it yourself.’ “

Because Weiman products not only clean, but protect and prolong the life of appliances and furnishings, the company is  seeing consumers willing to pay a bit more to invest in a top-quality stainless steel cleaner to polish that will prolong the life of their [investment in] stainless steel appliances rather than buying new., Ms. Gerberi added.

Surfactants, silicones and other ingredients with polishing and protective properties offer consumers a cost-effective solution to restore and revive older appliances and counter tops.”

Looking for the Next Big Thing

It’s been a couple of years since Procter & Gamble significantly added to its Swiffer cleaning line, which saw an average of a new product per year earlier in its lifetime.
In fact, it seems recently the only area where new products are creating much fanfare is in the green market. Clorox GreenWorks started this trend 12 months ago when its expanded its eco-friendly cleaning line to include a biodegradable cleaning wipe. Like the rest of its GreenWorks cleaning products, these wipes offer consumers a “greener” choice when it comes to cleaning, featuring a substrate made from renewable sources and recyclable chemicals.
According to market tracker Information Resources Inc., Chicago, IL, sales for these wipes exceeded $5 million in U.S. retail outlets, excluding Wal-Mart, in 2009.
While Clorox may be the largest national consumer products maker offering a green wipe, there are several options on the consumer market, all boasting similar performance and near the same price as more traditional products.

This month, in fact, green products maker Seventh Generation, is launching a full-blown home cleaning line containing a disinfectant wipe. According to the company, these thyme-based disinfecting wipes kill 99.99% of germs naturally on hard, non-porous surfaces. This EPA-registered product is effective against common household germs, including Influenza A, and is streak-free to enable quick and easy cleaning. The formula is the first disinfectant to meet Seventh Generation’s stringent sustainability and authenticity requirements and uses patented Thymol technology by CleanWell. The rayon fiber in Seventh Generation  wipes has been whitened using total chlorine free processing, or TCF, which prevents chlorinated toxins from being released into the environment during the fiber production process.

“We are extremely pleased to bring a botanical alternative to conventional disinfecting wipes to market,” said Meghan Butler, the company’s media maven. “Seventh Generation’s disinfectant products are a historical product introduction for the consumer and the industry. In fact, they mark the first of their kind at Whole Foods Market.”

Greener wipes, tend to be more expensive than competing products, because the technology behind them is more expensive.

In Seventh Generation’s case, the wipes use a chlorine-free substrate.  Due to the limited availability of the physical substrate material and more specialized active ingredients like Thymol, combined with the rigor required to insure supply chain efficacy, the consumer can expect to pay about 10% more than a conventional cleaning wipe derived from virgin wood pulp and inexpensive active ingredients like chlorine or conventional pesticides,” Ms. Butler added.
But, according to Seventh Generation research, consumers are willing to pay a premium for authentic green brands, particularly where brands have made a concerted effort to engage in responsible behavior relative to sourcing, supply chain and transparency and when the products perform well versus their conventional counterparts.  

Sourcing alternative raw materials and solutions is how Method  Home products has been able to offer green home cleaning products. Since the launch of its first eco-friendly cleaning wipes in 2003, the San Francisco, CA-based company has created wiping products for all of the major cleaning categories that are based on natural fibers and that are compostable. Its most recent wipes include a floor cleaning cloth made of polylactic and a bamboo-based disinfectant wipe. According to company spokesman Rachel Goldberg, PLA and bamboo are only two of the many ingredients Method is constantly examining to bring more ecofriendly options to its consumers. “We are continually exploring materials and process to improve our products, in terms of both consumer experience and environmental impact,” she said.

A Debt of Gratitude

At the recent Vision Consumer Products conference, Paul Latten, INDA chairman, credited the wipes market—and Swiffer in particular—for expanding the nonwovens industry’s profile during the past decade. While nonwovens have expanded into a number of consumer markets over the years, it all started with Swiffer, he said, adding that, “We need another Swiffer.”
He was not exaggerating. Swiffer and products like it have sold a lot of yards of nonwovens to consumers over the years and made a lot of money for a lot of nonwovens producers. However, the past couple of years have not seen a real blockbuster product in the household cleaning wipes market but a new nonwovens-based product has been making some headlines in the laundry category.

While not a wipe, Purex Complete 3-in-1 laundry sheets are expanding nonwovens’ role in the household category, specifically within laundry care. Designed to combine effective ingredients from detergents, softeners and anti-static sheets into a super-concentrated sheet that goes from washer to dryer for a streamlined laundry experience, these laundry sheets are being touted as a breakthrough and an exciting departure from traditional laundry products.

The single-step laundry sheets are thin, lightweight and sturdy, and formulated with the correct amount of detergent, softening and anti-static ingredients for a single load of wash. A single laundry sheet can be placed into the washing machine along with each load and the blue detergent portion releases during the wash cycle. When the wash cycle is complete, the laundry sheet can be transferred to the dryer along with the wash load. The heat of the dryer activates the softening and anti-static ingredients, leaving laundry clean, soft and freshly scented.
“Our research shows that consumers are frustrated with the complexity of doing laundry,” explained Stephen Koven, Purex brand manager for The Dial Corporation. “Consumers want multiple benefits—laundry that is clean, soft and static-free—but they don’t want to deal with the hassles of the entire laundry process. Purex Complete 3-in-1 laundry sheets simplify the process by cleaning in the wash and softening and removing static in the dryer.”
Mr. Koven added that the laundry sheets were tested in thousands of homes across America and the response was overwhelmingly positive. ”Some consumers even told us that this is as life-changing as the Internet or microwave oven,” he said.

Whether or not Purex’s latest product will be the nonwovens market’s latest home run in the consumer spectrum has yet to be seen, but what this product does show is that nonwovens technology is continuing to evolve, solving consumer needs and creating new products.

Where the Growth Is

According to market tracker Euromonitor International, household wipes continue to grow, however more growth has been seen in the private label market as consumers look for less expensive alternatives to their daily products. However, innovation continues, particularly in niche areas.

“Current innovation is mainly occurring in niche areas as companies try to find new usage for wipes and new target groups,” said research manager Magdelena Kondej. “However, the majority of these applications can be considerd luxury-orientated and so it is only in the most developed markets of the U.S., Japan and Western Europe where these products are likely to be offered for sale. In emerging markets, such as Russia and Brazil, where wipes are registering the highest growth rates, the innovation focuses around more basic features such as larger packaging.”
According to IRI data, sales of cleaning cloths did in fact increase during the 52-week period ended December 27, 2009. Excluding Wal-Mart, sales in U.S. supermarkets and retail outlets increased 5.7%. The largest percentage of this market, all-purpose cleaners dominated this category and grew a reported 13%. Meanwhile, sales in lesser categories, including furniture polishing, glass cleaning and stainless steel maintenance fell.

If new product introductions are any indication, the green portion of the household cleaning market will be where the action is moving forward but that, of course, doesn’t mean that another Swiffer-type blockbuster could appear on store shelves tomorrow, setting up the market for the growth for the next 10 years.

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