Detergent Bars - Are they one and the same thing?
Earlier, detergent bars used to be made from natural materials, they looked almost the same—a brownish cube, and did the same job. Today, detergents are more likely to be a mixture of synthetic chemicals and additives cooked up in a huge chemical plant. Moreover, brown cubes have become colourful bars, their efficiency has comparatively increased, and their market has become much bigger. Almost every fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company has a detergent bar brand available on the retail shelves. In order to find out if manufacturers of detergent bars are complying with regulatory standards and which one performs better on parameters that a consumer may consider before buying, Team Consumer Voice tested 11 topselling brands. Talking of performance, consumers should note that higher efficiency in cleaning may be at the cost of the environment – ingredients like phosphate and sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) are known to have adverse effects on the environment. Low-cost ingredients are also used to replace the phosphate in detergent bars, but even they may be harmful for the environment.
In case you did not know it already, all types of soaps for household purpose were traditionally made of natural vegetable oils and edible fats.
These raw materials are now increasingly scarce. Moreover, soaps made from natural elements had their limitations as they were not much effective when used with hard water. Hence, synthetic detergents—or non-soapy detergents (NSD)—were formulated with components like surface-active agents and complementary components like builders.
In India, NSDs are produced mainly from sodium alkyl benzene sulphonate and there is a separate category of Indian Standards, IS: 9985:1981, for this.
Nowadays, even alpha olefin sulphonate (AOS) is being used to create NSDs and the Indian Standards makes a reference to this as well.
The test programme at Consumer Voice was primarily based on Indian Standards IS: 8180, which was originally formulated in 1976 and subsequently revised in 1982 incorporating four different grades of detergent bars to cover the various qualities of bars produced by large-, medium- and small-scale units.
Keeping in mind consumers’ expectations, several additional tests – for soil removal/detergency or washing efficiency, foaming, phosphate content, and insoluble matter – were carried out.
It may be noted that Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) does not prescribe the requirement of performance (detergency) test for household laundry detergent bars in IS: 8180-1992. The ‘detergency’ test establishes how well detergents can remove dirt from soiled cloths/fabrics. It has been observed that due to technological advancement and continuous research and development, manufacturers are using different ingredients in their composition that includes ionic and un-ionic compounds and other builders and additives. The Indian Standards focuses only on composition of the product and prescribes grades on the basis of the composition. However, it does not have any set parameters to check performance of the product—something that is very important to consumers. Therefore, the team tested the performance of all samples on parameters that they created on their own, referring to IS: 4955 and IS: 5785 Part IV for the same.
Top Performers -Higher-Price Category (Rs 7 and above per 100 gm) - Surf Excel
Lower-Price Category (below Rs 7 per 100 gm) - Ghari and Rin
Value for Money - 555
- Based on the overall test findings, in the higher-price category Surf Excel is the top performer followed by Henko. In the lower-price category, Ghari and Rin are top performers.
- The value-for-money brand is 555.
- Surf Excel and 555 had higher active ingredients.
- In soil-removal test, most of the brands performed quite well, especially Ghari and 555.
- Insoluble material was lowest in Surf Excel (34.4 per cent) and highest in Patanjali (73.6 per cent).
- None of the brands was ISI-marked or eco-marked – none of them declared their grade.
- Most of the brands had very low quantity of phosphate and sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).
- None of the brands declared critical ingredients in descending order.
- None of the brands was marked with ‘best before’/’best results before’ date.
- For Physiochemical and Performance Parameters
- For General Qualities
You can see list of our CV Comparative Test Detergent Bars below, perform Side-by-Side comparison. If you need further help, do have a look at Conzumr Guides and Tips. Alternatively you can view all Detergent Bars to choose your own favourites.
The most important ingredients in detergents are chemicals called surfactants—a word derived from surface-active agents. Water alone cannot clean clothes because it does not attach to molecules of grease and dirt. That’s because water has something called surface tension. Water molecules tend to stick together in drops. To make water wash better, its surface tension needs to be reduced so it wets things more uniformly. And that’s what a surfactant does. The surfactants in detergents are made of molecules that have two different ends. One end is strongly attracted to water; the other is attracted to dirt and grease. The surfactant molecules help water to spread over surfaces, get a hold of grease, break it up, and wash it away.
Side by Side comparison
Physiochemical and Performance Parameters
- None of the brands tested had declared their grade.
- The highest active ingredients were found in 555 followed by Surf Excel.
- The lowest quantity of active ingredients was found in Patanjali
- Most of the brands performed quite well in the test.
- Moderately priced brands Ghari and 555 performed better in soil-removal test. Patanjali scored lowest.
- Highest total phosphate was found in Surf Excel at 7.69 per cent by mass, followed by Ghari at 3.26 percent and Rin at 2.46. All the other brands contained less than two per cent of phosphates.
- Nirma with 0.01 per cent and Reliance Sudz with 0.03 per cent reported the lowest percentages of phosphate content.
Also, no detergent brand available in the market has opted for the Indian ecolabel (known as Ecomark), which certifies environment-friendliness of a product. The BIS has laid down the standards for ecolabelling of detergents in India. The standards suggest replacing phosphates with any other environment-friendly substance.
An environmentally superior detergent is one that uses fewer chemical ingredients. The toxicity of detergents decreases if you remove additives like perfumes, colour and brightening agents. Synthetic surfactants may be replaced by non petrochemical surfactants or vegetable oil soaps; builders like phosphates can be replaced by sodium citrate and sodium bicarbonate; dyes and fragrances can be eliminated or minimised. Minimal packaging can also reduce environmental harm substantially.
- None of the tested brands had more than one per cent of STPP.
- Surf Excel with 0.7 per cent and Rin with 0.5 per cent led the table
As per data compiled by Indiastat from Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), about 817,933 tonnes of synthetic detergents were produced during 2009–2010. Almost all the laundry detergents in India contain STPP, ranging from 8 per cent to 35 per cent. Thus, total amount of STPP use in detergents is estimated to be 0.16 million tonnes.
- Lowest alkalinity was found in Tide and Reliance SUDZ, and highest in Fena.
- All brands except Ghari crossed the 100 mm mark, which is quite good. Ghari could create 92 mm lather.
- Tide with 126 mm lather performed the best in this test.
a) name and address of manufacturer
b) brand or lot number, grade and trademark, if any
c) month and year of manufacturing
d) maximum retail price (MRP) in rupees
e) net weight when packed
f) standard mark, if any
g) critical ingredients in descending order of quantity up to 0.5 per cent by mass
h) direction for recyclability of packing material; i) instruction for use
j) caution for avoiding prolonged contact. It is to be noted that no requirement has been specified for ‘best before’ date and that is probably the reason why no manufacturer has mentioned the same on the pack. However, since the product tends to looses moisture over a period of time and becomes hard, there must be a mention of shelf life.