A cleaner tomorrow: how the detergent industry is harnessing science to reduce household energy use

Laundry accounts for 60% of Carbon emissions on European average but researchers have found a reduction in wash temperature from 40°C to 30°C could save up to 35% of laundry’s CO2 emissions. To do this, industry must create products that balance sustainability, superiority, and safety.

By Procter & Gamble

P&G is improving everyday life as a Force for Growth and a Force for Good — for you, for the world, and for generations to come.

08 Jun 2023

Every time a European citizen flicks the switch on their dishwasher, presses the button on their washing machine, or fills a bowl with hot water to handwash some dishes, they are using energy.  

In a world of rising energy bills, the amount of energy used comes at a cost to the consumer. But it is important to remember that the environment also pays a significant price.  

That is why reducing the amount of energy used in laundry and dishwashing can both lower costs for households and deliver a cumulative energy saving that supports Europe’s transition to a net zero economy.  

Major detergent manufacturer P&G believes that reducing the carbon footprint of laundry and dishwashing can only be delivered if there is a partnership between industry players, such as themselves, and the consumers who use their products. Whilst it is consumers who will ultimately make choices about which cycle they use on their appliances, those choices are shaped by the effectiveness of the products they use at lower temperatures and on shorter cycles. 

This means that product innovation is key to reducing the carbon footprint when it comes to the use of detergents. And at the heart of that innovation is investing in science to formulate products that enable consumers to save energy without compromising effectiveness. 

The true energy impacts of products like detergents are revealed by Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs). LCAs consider the entire lifecycle of a product from sourcing and manufacturing through to end-of-life.  LCA data from assessments of the most commonly used P&G products including Ariel, Fairy and Dreft, paint a striking picture of the future of the detergents industry. 

It shows that for laundry and dishwashing, the in-use phase is by far the biggest contributor to a product’s carbon footprint. In laundry, using the product accounts for, on European average, 60% of carbon emissions. This rises to 72% for machine dishwashing and a staggering 93% when washing dishes by hand.  

P&G’s research shows that consumers are keen to reduce energy usage, but only if that can be achieved without compromising on the quality of the cleaning. That is why science is key when it comes to developing products that balance sustainability, superiority, and safety. 

To support Europe’s net-zero ambitions, P&G is continually innovating to deliver high-performance detergents, without any compromise on safety. If cleaning results are compromised, consumers turn to compensating behaviours, including pre-rinsing, overdosing, and rewashing, all of which can contribute to additional carbon emissions. So, product efficacy is the determining factor that will encourage people to continually select cycles of 30°C or less when doing laundry, switch from normal and intensive to eco and short dishwashing cycles of 55 minutes or less, and use cooler water when hand dishwashing. 

Ensuring products deliver a superior cleaning performance even in cold or quicker conditions has the potential to make an enormous difference to the carbon emissions of households. Researchers have calculated that, if European consumers reduced their wash temperature from 40°C to 30°C, it could save up to 35% of laundry’s CO2 emissions. That would represent an overall saving of 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year - the equivalent of taking roughly 2 million cars off Europe’s roads. 

For dishwashing, if consumers select short cycles rather than automatic or normal settings, they could potentially slash their carbon footprint by a third. Hand-washing dishes in cooler water could save as much as 60% of a person’s dishwashing carbon footprint.  


This message seems to be increasingly understood by policymakers and legislators. The preliminary findings of a recent Science for Policy report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre highlight the important role that product efficacy can play in helping to realise the Green Deal’s targets and achieve wider EU sustainability goals. 

The draft report, which will inform the European Commission’s Eco-design for Sustainable Products regulation (ESPR), highlights a product’s in-use phase as the key area with the most potential to deliver carbon savings. According to researchers, increasing efficacy at cold temperatures is the “main potential improvement measure”. 

Alongside that report, a recently released proposal for the Directive on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims also recognizes the importance of adopting a holistic approach that considers how products are used.    

However, having effective products that can clean at lower temperatures is only part of the solution. There is also a need to engage with consumers to support the behaviour change required to deliver the carbon savings that modern science is now placing within reach.  

Providing clear information to consumers is therefore a critical part of the picture. Businesses like P&G are constantly innovating their product range to deliver effective cleaning even at lower temperatures or on short cycles. However, it is only through building public awareness that people will understand the potential positive impact of changing their laundry and dishwashing routines. 

That is why, in conjunction with scientific advances, industry leaders like P&G are also investing heavily in the education and awareness campaigns that will be key to changing consumer behaviour and driving carbon emission savings. P&G’s Fabric & Home Care brands have been running such campaigns across Europe, including Ariel’s “Every Degree Makes a Difference,” as well as “Drop the Hot,” and “Switch to Short” campaigns from Fairy and Dreft.  

As the recent Science for Policy report demonstrates, looking at products in isolation from the way that they are used can only ever tell us part of the story when it comes to environmental impact. That is why Life Cycle Assessments are a critical tool if the industry is to effectively to support carbon reduction across the piece. 

Finding accurate ways to quantify the carbon footprint of products like detergents is an essential building block for any strategy to reduce their environmental impact. It is also an area where legislators and regulators have a critical role to play. The rules that they set must look beyond the production of products themselves and also consider the way that they are used in households.  

That more holistic approach will allow manufacturers and consumers to work together to reduce energy usage, cut household bills, and retain the effectiveness that households value in their favourite detergent products.   

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