Detergent, prepare to be disrupted.
The makers of a new fabric softener, Sofft, say they want our clothes to join us in the fight against stink and stains. While mixing with your clothes in the washing machine, Sofft coats organic and plastic fibers in a thin protective layer of hydrophobic molecules. These chemicals cause common stains like oil and juice to slide right off clothes (at least, that’s how it seems in their promotional videos). The company says clothes would remain breathable.
Sofft’s protection does not last forever. Clothes still have to get washed as the coating wears off, but most users would be able to get a few more wears in between trips to the laundromat. Plus, fewer loads in laundry machines could also ease the strain of detergent chemicals and water consumption on the environment.
(All GIFs courtesy Vinod Nair)
Vinod Nair, founder and CEO of the Sofft company, calls the technique “prevention based laundry.” In the manner of a Silicon Valley programmer hawking a revolutionary new app, he sells his product with the vision of a changed future. If Sofft succeeds, he says, “we would expect an ecosystem change. The washing machine would have to change.” We would all do laundry less often, he argues, because our clothes would stay fresh longer. His company calls this imagined world “Laundry 2.0.”
Sofft’s hydrophobic qualities may also make it easier to filter out waste water than regular detergent. The molecules don’t dissolve well, and Nair believes they could be extracted more easily than common laundry chemicals at waste treatment plants.
Sofft still faces challenges. Right now they have no large scale, efficient factories. Plus, 32-ounce bottles of the product cost $35 a pop, with enough fluid for about 15 light loads. The only way to order is through their Kickstarter campaign, which has already beaten its $25,000 goal by more than $10,000 with six days to go. They expect to ship in February 2015.
“Once we get to scale,” Nair says, “our long term vision is to have this selling for $10 on the shelf at Walmart.”
If that happens, he says mass use of Sofft and the competitors that would follow will require laundry machine makers to redesign their products as well.
“We’re doing high performance chemistry in a washing machine,” he says. Modern machines are very good at removing chemicals from clothing, but not great at adding others in their place. Clorox held patents now used in Sofft, Nair says, but balked at the expense of engineering an untested product. The laundry giant signed its rights over to retiring engineer Greg van Buskirk, who went on to design Sofft with Nair.
So now, the future of Sofft (and the future of laundry, according to Nair) is now in the hands of the Kickstarter-funding public.