q&a with david watkins, ceo and cofounder of dirty labs
When you think of doing laundry, the words responsible or sustainable probably aren’t the first words that pop into your head. Dirty Labs, a new natural high efficiency bio enzyme laundry detergent is working to change that. We caught up with Dirty Labs founder David Watkins to talk about how Dirty Labs got started, how laundry detergent can be more sustainable, and why it all matters for our planet. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us a bit about Dirty Labs. How did you first get started? Why laundry detergent?
Dirty Labs is a cleaning innovations lab that I founded with Dr. Pete He, a veteran chemist and sustainability leader in home and personal care. We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew that we were both looking to create a sustainability-focused business. With Pete’s background in chemistry and R&D, and my background in product design, we were looking for categories and industries that were primed for innovation. Pete had a thesis that it would be possible to create highly efficacious, biobased cleaners due to some of the exciting new biotech innovations that were emerging in the space. We wanted to take a design forward and science-based approach to solve for the tradeoff between safety and efficacy in cleaners today and decided to start with laundry detergent because it's a category that has been using the same technology for almost 100 years. It’s also a category where we felt we could make the most environmental impact and one where you can really see and experience the performance results of our science and Phytolase® technology.
Many people may not think of laundry when they think of being more sustainable. How can a laundry detergent be more sustainable?
We take a holistic approach to sustainability and made considered decisions on the packaging as well ingredient sourcing, manufacturing, and formulation. Many cleaners today focus on the form factor and packaging to address sustainability. For us, it was equally important to look at the ingredients IN our formulas. Many people don't realize that the things we pour down our drains eventually make their way back into the environment and our water supplies. For traditional laundry detergent, that typically translates into reproductive toxins, carcinogens, and pollutants. The scale is pretty staggering with about 40 billion loads of laundry done a year in the United States alone. In order to be more sustainable, we started with a new kind of formulation that eliminates all of the hazardous chemicals, including 1,4-dioxane - an EPA classified carcinogen - found in most detergents today. Our Bio Laundry Detergents are not only completely free of California Prop65 chemicals, but they are also readily biodegradable. As a biobased product, the manufacturing process requires significantly less energy, and because our formulas are optimized for cold water, there's also additional energy savings in use. We were able to greatly reduce the volume and amount of packaging required for each bottle by creating a low water, hyper-concentrated formula, and our bottles are made of infinitely recyclable aluminum. Additionally, by being cold water optimized and formulated to be gentle on fabrics, the goal of Dirty Labs is also to extend the life of garments and textiles.
What sets Dirty Labs apart from other bio detergents?
Dirty Lab's detergents are unique because we developed a new paradigm around how cleaners can be formulated. Rather than being designed around a surfactant plus additive approach, we’re using enzymes as the key drivers in our cleaning technology. Our formula was created from the ground up with specific guardrails around safety and efficacy. Most eco or plant-based detergents often lose in stain and odor removal performance compared to traditional detergents. We’re utilizing the most advanced biobased ingredients to solve for that tradeoff. In addition to having one of the cleanest ingredient lists in this category (our detergent has lower toxicity than your average shampoo), our stain and odor removal performance has been competitive with our petroleum-based counterparts.
You use a proprietary formula called Phytolase. Can you tell us more about it and how it works?
Phytolase® is an enzyme-driven cleaning technology that utilizes a unique blend of enzymes and sugar-based surfactants to precision-target stains. Our advanced enzymes are highly specialized and each type of enzyme targets a specific type of stain. As active stain processors, they are constantly searching for a specific stain substrate. Once they find it, they break down the stain into simpler component pieces which then lift and rinse away with the wash water. Enzymes are incredibly efficient stain fighters and unlike surfactants don’t rely solely on probability (the chance that a stain comes in contact with a surfactant) to be able to break down stains.
Most of our customers are pretty active people. How does Dirty Labs effectively rid athletic wear of the post workout stink?
Permastank is a term we use to describe that persistent sweaty smell in activewear that never seems to go away. That odor is a result of stains and bacteria that get trapped in the complex weave of synthetics and activewear. Because enzymes are active stain fighters, they are better able to reach these trapped stains and break them down, eliminating the stains (like sweat and sebum) that odor-causing bacteria love to live on.
Do you have any quick sustainability tips for our readers?
When it comes to laundry, one of the simplest sustainability tricks is to reduce the amount of heat used in both the washer and dryer. Heating up water takes an incredible amount of energy, and washing in hot water should be kept at a minimum since heat is pretty damaging to fabric fibers. One of the easiest ways to make your clothes last longer is to wash and rinse in cold water and opt to hang dry. Taking care of your clothes and wearing them longer is one of the most sustainable things you can do.