Demonstrating what the detergent industry can gain from using more silica

Powder that flows nicely, formulations that are easier to elaborate, less packaging… There are many benefits to adding particles of silica to laundry powder. Amorphous precipitated silica to be precise, of which Solvay is one of the leading producers globally.

Precipitated silica is obtained from sand and soda ash: transformed into sodium silicate in liquid form, it is then precipitated with an acid to become silica powder. Solvay is specialized in this particular process, producing silica that is mainly used in tires. In recent years, the Group’s Silica business unit has been working on developing other markets, particularly in the home & personal care segment, as silica can be used in a very wide range of everyday consumer products, from toothpaste to laundry powder… “And as it’s a non petro-chemical ingredient, it’s perfectly in line with current customer trends in home and personal care,” says Anne Escoffier, Application Engineer at Silica’s Research and Innovation department.

Laundry powder manufacturers chase improved efficiency

At the SEPAWA congress, during which Europe’s detergents, cosmetics and fragrance industries meet every fall in Berlin, the Solvay Silica team aims to detail the benefits laundry powder manufacturers can reap from adding TIxosil® silicas to their formulations.

The first advantage is silica’s capacity to improve the powder’s flowability, meaning it remains nice and fluid and doesn’t become lumpy (a property called “anticaking”). Silicas, due to their small size, easily slide between the larger elements and enable them to stay loose. This makes production and packaging easier, saving money and energy in the process.

Silica for Laundry benefits

Laundry powder manufacturers tend to be already familiar with this characteristic and use silica for it. But there’s more to what silica can do: its remarkable absorption capacity makes it a powerful ally to provide more freedom in the formulation of laundry powder. “Silica can absorb a lot of liquid,” says Anne, “which means manufacturers can add more liquid active ingredients  such as surfactants to their formulation, while ensuring the powder keeps its flowability. ”With their two main properties - anti caking and being an excellent carrier for liquids - Tixosil® silicas allow powder laundry manufacturers to propose more concentrated products, which help in reducing detergent consumption per washing machine, at the consumer level. An interesting claim in a market where detergents tend to be used in smaller and smaller quantities thanks to their improved efficiency.

As silica is a non petro-chemical ingredient, it’s perfectly in line with current customer trends in home and personal care.

Anne Escoffier, Application Engineer, Solvay Silica R&I

The teams at Solvay Silica conducted tests to demonstrate this. Adding specific grades of silica (with the right characteristics in terms of particle size distribution, surface area, porosity, etc.) to obtain the highest absorption capacities, they found that even when more liquid surfactant than necessary is added to the formulation, the powder remains dry: the liquid gets completely absorbed thanks to the presence of the silica particles.

“We’ve been working to demonstrate the efficiency of the absorption provided by silica,” adds Anne, “in addition to proving that adding a little more silica to the formulation doesn’t have any negative impact on stain removal, nor does it create white residue on black clothes for example.” In certain cases, adding silica to laundry powder formulations could even improve their performance in terms of detergence.