Thread Number: 63667  /  Tag: Detergents and Additives
Phosphate bans in the 1970s
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Post# 862359   1/17/2016 at 12:58 (492 days old) by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

I wasn't quite old enough to remember, but in looking at old Chicago Tribune newspapers I hadn't realized just how much drama there was about phosphate and non-phosphate detergents in the Great Lakes area. Apparently P&G actually took their detergents off the market in the city of Chicago for a time when there was a phosphate ban put in place for the city (but not the suburbs). My grandmother used the 5-gallon-bucket type detergent for many years in her Maytag in suburban Chicago and the lime encrustation was bad... I did some research (more accurately, opposition research) for one of the big chemical companies back in 1992 when I was between jobs looking at FOIA documents in several areas around big phosphate manufacturers (I remember in Pennsylvania and Tennessee).

Post# 862434 , Reply# 1   1/17/2016 at 20:39 (491 days old) by Supersuds (Knoxville, Tenn.)        

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I don't remember that about P&G taking detergents off the market. I do remember Consumers Reports harping on the generally poor performance of phosphate-free detergents and rating them separately. That's where I first found out about the glory of phosphates. ;)

Tennessee never banned phosphates, but by 1980 most of the budget brands like Ajax and Rinso were phosphate-free anyway, as was All, which had previously been quite good. P&G continued to have phosphate versions of all their brands, IIRC, but Lever and Colgate retained them only for a few top of the line detergents, like Fab and Surf.

Some chain stores carried only the phosphate free variants of the P&G brands so it paid to look at the labels and see what you were getting.

Post# 862733 , Reply# 2   1/19/2016 at 00:29 (490 days old) by Stan (Napa CA)        

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Tell us more about the "opposition research"
Anything interesting?

Post# 862765 , Reply# 3   1/19/2016 at 05:45 (490 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

I recall my grandfather insisting on Fels laundry flakes because it had either the lowest level of phosphates or none at all..... the latter, I think.

I remember my grandmother occasionally adding Biz or something similar sometimes because it was necessary with Fels.

Looking back, I wonder if maybe my grandfather's position was that most detergents had higher levels of phosphate than were necessary to get clothes clean. Possible?

I'm old enough to recall the drama and the discussions in the family and hearing about it on the news, but not old enough to remember any specifics except for how phosphates were "bad" for the environment. All phosphates were eventually banned nationwide, right?


Post# 862769 , Reply# 4   1/19/2016 at 06:14 (490 days old) by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

The opposition research was creating FOIA requests in areas around this company and it's competitors phosphate plants and inspecting the records in the county offices in these areas--they wanted information out of them (capacities, outputs, etc) but didn't want their hands on the FOIA if they had a request themselves they could say "look, we got examined as well." Kind of a fun project during a short period of unemployment.
Fels Naptha (or Instant Fels) was soap with some sodium carbonate (washing soda) Biz probably helped a lot. The top-line laundry detergents had a lot of phosphate to insure great washing everywhere--way more than needed in areas with soft river water.

Post# 862866 , Reply# 5   1/19/2016 at 16:01 (490 days old) by Supersuds (Knoxville, Tenn.)        

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Very clever with the research!

No, Jim, phosphates were not, and are not, banned nationwide; the detergent companies (and maybe big retailers) colluded to stop making them. Easier for them not to have two formulas, and nobody has a competitive advantage in the states where they're legal.

Post# 862939 , Reply# 6   1/19/2016 at 19:54 (490 days old) by Mich (Hells Kitchen - New York)        

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IRRC, Procter & Gamble sued the city of Chicago.. when stores were forced to remove Tide & other P&G detergents from store shelves, in the early 90's. I guess... they we're pretty mad about the considerable loss of sales, from losing a huge market.

I bet you can find the court case online, if you Googled it :)

Post# 862951 , Reply# 7   1/19/2016 at 20:55 (489 days old) by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

early 70s actually...

Post# 862965 , Reply# 8   1/19/2016 at 22:56 (489 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Late as the 1970's Fels Instant most certainly did contain phosphates. See:

Am guessing at some point the formula was changed.

In fact many so called "soap powders" at one time were *built* with phosphates.

Post# 863025 , Reply# 9   1/20/2016 at 07:35 (489 days old) by arbilab (Ft Worth TX (Ridglea))        

Shoot, my custom skin lotion is 'built' with diammonium phosphate. That's how I get 10x the lanolin to emulsify in a standard triethanolamine-stearate base.

Post# 863058 , Reply# 10   1/20/2016 at 11:48 (489 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Since Lever Brothers and Henkel

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Held patents for laundry soap built with silicates (Persil), P&G along with everyone else had to find something else I suppose.

Phosphates IMHO are a better builder for soap based laundry detergents than silicates...

Post# 863385 , Reply# 11   1/21/2016 at 20:04 (488 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Amway Trizyme

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At 71% phosphates! Whoaaaaaa Nellie!

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