The 21 Most Disruptive Cleaning Product Technologies Identified in New Research

New research from Smithers Apex has identified the 21 most disruptive cleaning product technologies.

The developments have the potential to change the direction of the industry over the next decade.

Worldwide, the cleaning products industry now turns over more than €83 billion annually, and has itself been a driver for the development of innovative chemistry, technology and engineering.

From an initial list of 37 technologies that could radically affect the industry over the next decade, a panel of experts identified 21 in the study as having the biggest potential impact and greatest chance of being achieved - giving them maximum potential disruptive impact.

10-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Cleaning Products to 2020 provides exclusive data and analysis, detailing how current and emerging trends will shape the future of the industry, along with realistic scenarios for how and when the disruptive technologies are likely to be fully integrated into the cleaning products supply chain.

What Lies Ahead for the Cleaning Product Industry?

The 21 Most Disruptive Developments in Cleaning Products Include:

  • Textile surface treatments will reduce the need for washing
  • The elimination of phosphates in domestic detergents will be extended to include detergents
  • The detergent, REACH and biocide regulations will make it more difficult to introduce new substances into cleaner formulations
  • The low-temperature performance of surfactants will improve
  • Biotechnology (e.g. genetic manipulation) will enable the molecular structure of renewable bio-ingredients to be modified to improve their cleaning performance
  • The low-temperature performance of enzymes will be improved
  • The compatibility of enzymes with other detergent ingredients will be improved
  • The concentration of cleaning formulations will continue to be increased, reducing the need for packaging
  • The popularity of wipes will increase, particularly for surface-cleaning applications
  • Research techniques such as high-throughput screening, and modelling and simulation technologies will be introduced
  • The increased use of microprocessors, sensors and automatic metering of detergents will reduce the energy, water and detergent required

According to Smithers Apex, the most certain technologies - those with the highest impact and greatest probability of being introduced - are concerned with legislation. The study-panellists were convinced that the detergent legislation banning the use of phosphate builders would be extended to automatic dishwashing detergents and eventually to institutional and industrial detergents cleaners within the next decade. They were less sure that it would be extended to include sustainability, but all agreed legislation would restrict the introduction of new technology by dramatically increasing the costs of introducing new compounds.

Biotechnology is tipped as very likely to disrupt the market. According to IntetechSmithers Pira, consumers' preference for using cleaning products that contain natural ingredients will drive the search for renewable sources other than palm oil, coconut oil and tallow, which have some environmental issues of their own. Novel sources, whether plant-based or from new fermentation technologies, would need to compete on price with synthetically sourced detergent alcohols, as their performance is similar and to a certain extent they are interchangeable. However, the take-up of renewable ingredients might be higher if genetic engineering techniques could be used to modify the structure of the ingredients to improve their performance. The production of surfactants directly from living organisms was considered interesting by the panellists, but they believed that considerable work is needed to increase output and reduce costs.

One area of biotechnology that has already made a big impact is that of enzymes. Smithers Apex expects enzymes to improve the low temperature performance of detergents. If compatibility between enzymes and other cleaning ingredients improves, we could see enzymes used more widely to enhance the performance of cleaning products. However, the use of enzymes to produce other detergent ingredients in situ, reducing the quantity of other detergent ingredients required is less certain according to the study.

One of the most important ingredients in cleaners are surfactants. The panellists stated that key improvements could be made in the areas of: their low-temperature performance; their dissolution of grease; and their rinsing ability. Some of these improvements might be introduced through the use of biotechnology.

New developments around the formulation of detergents involve their means of delivery and, to an extent, depend on associated developments in machine technology. The prediction that single-dose, multifunctional, controlled-release laundry detergents (similar to automatic dishwasher detergent tablets) will become popular is one such development. At the same time, panellists see a potential for single function products (e.g. boosters, whiteners, etc.) that the machine or operator could add to the wash separately. Smithers Apex expects the move to concentrated detergents will continue although consumers will need to be persuaded that the higher concentration products represent good value for money. Clearly, there is a limit to product concentration, and it is believed that current formulations are close to that limit.

Another future disruptor, according to the study, is the treating of textiles and surfaces to reduce the need for cleaning or to make dirt removal easier - both are believed to have some promise, although it is less clear what the technologies might be. If the treatment can also reduce the need for ironing, there could be clear consumer benefits.

Replacing water was not one of the 21 technologies chosen, and its omission is significant. The panellists were adamant that water will remain the cleaning solvent of choice. Smithers Apex expects steps will be taken to reduce its use, and, in some parts of the world, to reuse wash water, but it is very unlikely to be replaced. However, the introduction of smart technology in washing machines to optimise usage of energy, water and cleaning is seen as highly likely and significant.

In general, only about half of the potentially most disruptive technologies identified in the study were within the direct control of the traditional detergent companies. Smithers Apex expects many of the external factors identified - legislation, environmental pressures, design of cleaning machines - will be at least as influential, and potentially even more disruptive than the developments brought forward by even the most competent, innovative and experienced manufacturers of cleaning products.


Drawing on their experience and background knowledge, the authors built a list of 37 technologies that could radically affect the industry over the next decade. They prepared statements describing each technology and the results it might achieve, and circulated the list to a panel of selected experts. The panellists were asked to score each technology on its probability of success (POS), i.e. the likelihood of that technology being introduced in the next decade. Second, they were asked to assess its impact, i.e. the effect the technology would be likely to have on the industry if it were to be introduced. The panellists were also asked to list any technologies that had been omitted, and were asked for their views on key consumer drivers. The authors analysed the responses and identified the disruptive technologies that were most likely to affect the industry over the next decade. A total of 21 technologies was identified as being particularly significant.

The panellists were people who are active in the cleaning products industry, working in different segments - domestic and industrial detergents, ingredients suppliers, formulators and consumers - and were based in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

10-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies in Cleaning Products to 2020 is available now. For further information please contact Bill Allen on +44 (0)1372 802086 or email Bill.