Dirt Can't Hide
Reader's Digest US|October 2021
How a stealth team of chemists discovered a mix of molecules that changed laundry forever

For many of us, Tide is the most squeaky-clean of home helpers. In 2018, Americans bought $1.7 billion worth of Tide products, more than all other detergents (including Purex, Persil, Gain, and Arm & Hammer) combined. This year, the 4,000 Americans surveyed by the global market research firm Ipsos for the annual Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands survey selected this super-cleaner not only as the most trusted detergent brand but also as the single most trusted brand in the Home and Family products category.

America’s first name in laundry has an interesting backstory, but the origin of the name itself was apparently unrecorded—which is ironic, given that the bold name and packaging have played a role in Tide’s success. When Cincinnati-based manufacturer Procter & Gamble (P&G) set out to create Tide in the 1930s, it was referred to as Project X. The code name reflected P&G’s recognition that its team was engineering something revolutionary.

At the time, washing powders were nothing more than pulverized soap. They weren’t great at cleaning the kind of ground-in dirt left by the average blue-collar worker, not to mention the average red-blooded five-year-old. Plus, soap is made from fats and oils, ingredients that don’t dissolve in water and do leave behind a residue (aka the dreaded soap scum) that stiffens when clothes dry.

Procter & Gamble has been in the home-product business since the Civil War. The company first sold soap and candles, made from the animal fats readily available from nearby meatpackers. But as the 20th century took shape, kerosene replaced candles, and plant-based cleansers such as Ivory Soap replaced those made from animal fats. Procter & Gamble was seeing a huge chunk of business being washed down the drain. The hope was that the newfangled, entirely synthetic Project X would save it.

“This may ruin the soap business,” P&G’s chairman William Gamble said at one point. “But if anybody is going to ruin the soap business it had better be Procter & Gamble.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM READER'S DIGEST USView All

13 Things Boredom-busting Facts About Board Games

We have been playing board games—in some cases, the same board games—for millennia.

4 mins read
Reader's Digest US
December 2021 - January 2022

Screen Saver

As the lost hiker grew desperate, a stranger with an unusual pastime was trying to rescue him

3 mins read
Reader's Digest US
November 2021

I Am Broccoli … Let's Meet in the Middle

THE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE

3 mins read
Reader's Digest US
December 2021 - January 2022

Braving the Waters

A helicopter pilot responds to a once-in-a-lifetime flood with a once-in-a-lifetime rescue

3 mins read
Reader's Digest US
December 2021 - January 2022

My Most Unforgettable Road Trip

There’s lots to remember while driving cross-country: Buckle up, use your blinker, check your mirrors. But the No. 1 rule of the road? As our readers will tell you, have some fun along the way!

5 mins read
Reader's Digest US
November 2021

How I Learned to Make Friends Again

It used to be so easy. Then life got in the way.

7 mins read
Reader's Digest US
November 2021

Delete Your Internet Footprint

With spies lurking everywhere, how can you keep yourself safe? Here are 25 smart steps, from the editor of HowtoGeek.com.

10+ mins read
Reader's Digest US
November 2021

Dirt Can't Hide

How a stealth team of chemists discovered a mix of molecules that changed laundry forever

5 mins read
Reader's Digest US
October 2021

The Tractor War

If you buy a machine—be it a smartphone or a combine—you should be able to fix it, right? Big Tech says no. Ordinary Joes say yes. Witness the biggest battle in the right-to repair movement, being fought on farms across America.

10 mins read
Reader's Digest US
October 2021

The New Truth About Cholesterol

The latest research and information will help you keep your levels in check

7 mins read
Reader's Digest US
October 2021