For Those Hard to Remove Stains: Tide Is the First Laundry Detergent for Space
[June 22, 2021: Melissa Meisel]
There’s no such thing as laundry day on the International Space Station—until now. Procter & Gamble is working with NASA to test a new detergent in space. But for now, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) wear clothing several times before getting completely replaced with new gear that arrives via supply ship. The limited cargo capacity makes the practice of replenishing the clothing supply challenging for deep space missions, such as Artemis Moon missions and roundtrips to Mars.
Without a laundry solution, 160 pounds of clothing per crew member per year are launched to ISS. Human roundtrip missions to Mars could be two to three years in length!
Major challenges for off-Earth laundering include ingredient safety and compatibility with NASA life support systems, and the limited amount of water available per washload and the requirement that the wash water be purified back to drinking-quality water.
To combat these challenges, Procter & Gamble’s Tide has developed a fully degradable detergent, specifically designed for use in space to solve malodor, cleanliness and stain removal problems for washable items used during deep space missions, while being suitable for use in a closed-loop water system.
The findings were revealed in a Zoom event for household care editors on June 22. Special guest was former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, the only person drafted into the National Football League (NFL) to have flown in space.
“The best developments come from diverse teams – and how more diverse are Tide and NASA?” observed Melvin.
According to Melvin, fitness is a big part of the space experience and with that comes the need for clean clothes. Fabrics on the suits feature more of a flexible fabric. Sweat y sticks to skin and has to be toweled off.
Another challenge is the food. Hot sauce is a space staple, according to Melvin, who noted cleaning up after a shrimp cocktail can be tricky and red stains set on clothing.
“It’s like an extended camping trip,” he explained. “Thinking about hygiene adds a touch of normalcy to being in space.”
Show & Tell
The exclusive “show and tell” information session revealed that Tide has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to help in the development of laundry detergent solutions and technology development in space. Under the agreement, NASA may test and study Tide cleaning solutions in space. Needless to say, the Tide team is over the moon about the project.
“It is a human need to have clean clothes on a regular basis,” said P&G Tide & Downy Principal Scientist Mary Johnson, on the Zoom. “We want to do a load of good which is line with our 2030 initiative.”
The products are formulated with a simple surfactant system and reliy heavily on enzymes to break up stains, said Johnson.
The news of Tide’s space exploration to innovate low-impact laundry solutions comes on the heels of Tide’s Ambition 2030 commitments, announced earlier this spring. Included among Tide’s Ambition commitments were actionable goals to find resource efficiencies in energy, water and waste across the laundry lifecycle – from manufacturing and packaging to consumer use phase and end of life – to reduce the environmental impact of a load of laundry while increasing the impact of clean clothes. Its green efforts were featured on social media with #TurnToCold.
Tide celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, as reported in Happi.
Onboard a 2022 cargo launch to the space station, “Mission PGTide” (P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments), teams will test the stability of cleaning ingredients under microgravity conditions and exposure to the radiation levels experienced in space in partnership with the ISS US National Laboratory and SEOPS, a provider of launch deployment solutions and services.
In addition, the stain removal ingredients and performance will be tested onboard the ISS through experiments with Tide To Go Wipes and Tide To Go Pens. In less than a year, astronauts will experiment with the products to test their response to microgravity, stain removal and more.
In addition to testing onboard the ISS National Lab, NASA and Tide researchers may study how an innovative combined washing and drying unit utilizing the special-formulated detergent could potentially be integrated into planetary habitats that may be used for the Artemis Moon and Mars missions under low-gravity surface conditions. There are also a unique set of challenges that present themselves for a crewed Mars mission.
Future missions to and from Mars expect to span multiple years, and these long-duration flights will require laundry solutions designed for extreme space-based environments and varying gravity conditions.
That’s one small cleaning step for a man (or a woman) and one giant leap for mankind!
Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.