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What Is Washing Powder?

By K. Kinsella
Updated May 16, 2024
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Washing powder is a type of soap that is used to launder clothing. Modern washing machines are equipped with drawers or compartments into which people can place washing powder. The powder is combined with water inside the washing machine and a detergent solution contained within the powder removes dirt and stains from the laundry. Washing powder usually contains enzymes such as proteases and amylases which clean by breaking down dirt molecules.

Hot water kills many types of germs and can also remove dirt from clothing and other types of laundry but hot water can also cause dyes to fade and leave clothes excessively wrinkled. Warm and cold water are less damaging to synthetic materials but are less effective at removing dirt and killing germs. Additionally, hard water, containing high mineral levels, has less of an impact on dirt and stains than soft water. Washing powder is designed remove dirt and stains regardless of the water temperature or mineral content.

Enzymes are proteins that can be used as catalysts to create bio-chemical reactions enabling animal organs to break down molecules such as food particles allowing for digestion. In 1913, a German scientist named Otto Rohm began testing the effects of enzymes in laundry soap. He first used a proteolytic enzyme which he extracted from the pancreas of animals. The enzyme did cause a chemical reaction that caused dirt particles to separate from cloth and other materials, but he found that the process also caused stains to appear. Since Rohm's early experiments, many other scientists and chemical firms have found other types of enzymes to be far more effective as detergents.

Washing powder often contains a variety of chemical compounds that have an impact on certain types of materials. Some detergents contain softeners that prevent washed materials from becoming brittle and hard. Many detergents contain bleach, which can be effective at removing discoloration and stains from clothing. Bleach, however, can also cause damage to dyed materials and is best used on white or light colored clothing. Washing powder also typically contains disinfectants that can eliminate germs that cannot be killed with water.

While people in industrialized nations typically use washing powder in washing machines, the powder can be used for hand-washing clothes. Some detergents contain enzymes and chemical compounds that can be abrasive to the skin. People can reduce skin damage by wearing protective gloves or by purchasing types of detergents that are specifically designed for people with sensitive skin.

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Discussion Comments
By wavy58 — On Dec 31, 2011

@lighth0se33 – Did you put your bare hands in that powdered water? That would inflame my skin to no end!

I tried it one time, and I haven't done it since. I had a lacy top that had to be washed by hand, and I used powder detergent. Within a few seconds of squishing the garment around in the water with my hands, I noticed they were burning.

I rinsed the water off, but they continued to burn. They stayed red for the rest of the day.

Now, if I have something I absolutely must hand-wash, I either use a gentle detergent or wear rubber gloves. It amazes me that the clothes washed in the washer with washing powder don't irritate me when I wear them. I guess direct contact is more intense.

By lighth0se33 — On Dec 30, 2011

When I was in college, I lived at home and washed all my clothes there. Since my mother only bought washing powder, I did not have the option of using liquid detergent.

I frequently went swimming in a muddy lake. I had to hand-wash my swimsuit, and though powder did not seem like the best choice for this, it was all I had on hand.

I put a small amount of powder in a washtub and turned the faucet on high. I pummeled the powder with warm water, hoping it would dissolve.

Most of it did, and it made my swimsuit smell good. However, even after I rinsed it, I kept finding powder particles clinging to it. I had to pick these off by hand.

By cloudel — On Dec 29, 2011

@shell4life – To me, washing powder smells even better than liquid detergent. I guess it is more concentrated.

I made a mistake while trying to buy my favorite scent of powder once. I was so consumed with getting the clean linen scented kind that I didn't notice that the one remaining box at the store contained bleach.

I washed my colored towels with it, and they wound up with white spots. I was just glad I didn't choose to do a load of clothes that day instead!

I always read the label carefully now. Even if the store only has one box left, I check it thoroughly.

By shell4life — On Dec 29, 2011

I like to use washing powder as opposed to liquid detergent. I wash all my clothes in cold water to save money and reduce shrinkage, and I love that the powder will get rid of stains and dirt regardless of my water temperature.

My husband works in construction, and I do a lot of gardening, so we both get our clothes pretty dirty. With washing powder, I never have problems getting out grass stains or mud.

I love the smell of it, too. I try not to take a big whiff of the powder, though, because it can irritate my nose. I like to smell its aroma coming out of the dryer vent as the clothes are warmed and fluffed.

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