What's the Difference Between Powdered, Liquid Detergents? (1 of 2)

“This may seem like a silly question, but what’s the difference between liquid detergents and powdered detergents? How do their cleaning abilities and storage characteristics compare? Is one type more environmentally friendly than the other?”TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Jim Mitchell, principal technical support specialist, is a 27-year Ecolab veteran. He’s currently the OPL lead in providing technical support to field associates. He edits Institutional Technical Digest, a monthly publication reaching 3,300 employees.
Typically, in the institutional market (particularly textile plants), the primary ingredient in a liquid detergent is a surfactant only. The detergent is then used in conjunction with other liquid products in the suds bath that contain alkaline builders and water-conditioning agents.
There are some exceptions to this, but combining all of these ingredients into a single product in a liquid form is challenging from a formulation and manufacturing standpoint.
Powdered detergents, on the other hand, are more stable to manufacture and contain a complete formulation of surfactants, alkaline builders and water-conditioning agents combined into a single, one-shot product. Ingredients that result in a completely built detergent are more easily blended in a powdered form than with liquids.
Although liquid detergents may need to be used with other liquid products to formulate a complete cleaning system, the cleaning ability of powders vs. liquids is very comparable.
There is one drawback with using powders, however; unlike liquids (which disperse rapidly in the wash wheel and become active almost immediately), powders require time to completely dissolve before becoming active. Also, the lower the temperature of the water in the wheel, the more time the chemical takes to dissolve.
Since powders are typically added by hand, liquids have the advantage when used with an automated, hands-off dispensing system. However, the precision of an automated system is dependent on trouble-free dispenser hardware.
Some operations prefer powders for the following reasons:
1. Fewer products in inventory.
2. Lower costs for use.
3. No automated dispensing systems to break down.
A manager of an all-powder operation has to make sure that all laundry machine flush pockets (hoppers) are operational, and that all employees are consistently adding the correct amount of powders.
Although many liquid detergents have robust storage properties, some formulations can be temperature-sensitive. Some products may separate if exposed to sub-freezing temperatures. Others may undergo separation if exposed to excessively high temperatures.
Powdered detergents have fewer issues in this area, and low or high temperatures generally have little effect on them. They can, however, become “cakey” or harden if stored uncovered in a high-humidity environment.
Either type of detergent can be formulated with environmentally friendly ingredients. A wide variety of environmentally preferable ingredients are available in both liquid and powdered form.HOTEL/MOTEL LAUNDERING: Neil MacDonald has managed the laundry at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club in Lihue, Hawaii, since the property opened in 1995. His other experience includes managing laundries at the Ihilani Resort & Spa on Oahu, the Westin Century Plaza Hotel and the Westin Kauai Resort.
The difference between powdered detergent and liquid detergent probably has to do with the size of your facility. Powdered detergent is fine for your home, but if your facility is looking to save money, you should talk to your chemical representative about installing a liquid system.
I know some laundry chemistry basics. There’s no difference in the cleaning abilities of the two products. I do know that liquid detergents rinse out better than powdered detergent. Let’s look at some other differences between powdered detergent and liquid detergent.
One difference is how the product gets into the formula. A powdered detergent is usually measured by hand and manually added into the wash formulas. Powdered systems need buzzers to tell you when to add product. Buzzers extend wash formulas. Your washman has to take time to put the product into the machine. You need gloves, goggles and maybe an apron to administer the product.
A liquid detergent is pumped into formulas automatically through a manifold system. No one touches it, no time is wasted, and no personal protective equipment is needed to administer it. Product amounts are preset to the formulas, so they’re accurate. Your chemical representative needs to check the pumps and replace tubes regularly to keep the system operating efficiently.
Powders have to be stored near the machines in which they are used, usually taking up space you might otherwise need. A liquid product may be placed in a spot somewhere outside the laundry that is easily accessible. Lines run from the pumps right into the machine.
Powders are messy; if there is a spill, it gets all over the floor, the machine and even the person who is administering it. A liquid detergent or system, which is clean and cost-efficient, can be stored where you want it.


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