You learn something new every day. The other day I reviewed John Emsley’s book on sustainable chemistry, the gist of which is that chemical engineering is woven into the fabric of our lives, literally – in terms of the clothes we wear – and metaphorically, in terms of the ubiquity of chemically-engineered materials.
I wrote that I felt insulted by his comments about non-biological washing powders. My experience was that when my son was little, wherever his skin was in contact with his washed garments – such as wrist-bands or neck-bands, he developed a rash. But after switching to non-biological washing powder, the rash disappeared. So I was pretty sure I had seen the effect of the enzymes on my son’s skin and I didn’t appreciate being told otherwise.
But nothing in life is simple. I had assumed that the difference between ‘bio’ and ‘non-bio’ powders was just in the ‘bio’-bit: the enzymes. But as it turns out, that is not the only difference.
John responded to my review and was kind enough to put me right. I will let him explain in his own words:
Fair comment, except regarding washing powders. What was causing your son’s rashes were the fragrance molecules added to the product. I used to approve adverts for TV, and part of my remit was detergents. Consequently I visited the major producers, P&G, Unilever and McBrides (who do the own label versions), and there learnt about the research that was done to uncover why the newer detergents caused skin irritations.
Eventually it was tracked down to traces of fragrance molecules that were added to these products to disguise the slightly rank odour of surfactants. As a result, they stopped using these fragrances and substituted ones that didn’t cause skin irritation. Those are the ones now used. It was never the enzymes in these products which were guilty, but those were the ingredients which were singled out as being to blame. It is only in the UK and Ireland that ‘non-bio’ washday products continue to be widely used, much to the amusement of manufacturers in the EU.
Kind regards, John.
So I will talk with my wife, and may be we will try using biological washing powder again, and see how we get on now.