Table of Contents

The History of Tide Laundry Detergent

Lisa M. Russell
Table of Contents

In 1946, Tide was not just another laundry soap; it was not soap at all. Tide was the first heavy-duty synthetic detergent. Prior to this product, traditional laundry soaps left clothes stiff, dull and dingy.

Tide and the automatic washing machine (that debuted the same year as Tide) changed the way families did laundry.


Rationing during World War I forced the invention of chemical alternatives to laundry soaps. Proctor and Gamble introduced Dreft in 1933, but it was only able to clean lightly soiled laundry. In 1943, P&G created Tide combining synthetic surfactants (works on the surface of fabric) with builders that penetrated clothing to remove heavy soils. The research continued with 22 improvements in Tide during its first 21 years; P&G produces new products to meet the current customer needs.


David "Dick" Byerly, holder of the key Tide patent, recalled that after 10 years of experimenting with basic cleaning agents there was no satisfactory, heavy-duty, non-soap product. Despite World War II shortages, manufacturing issues and company delays the correct formula was discovered. Within one week of introducing Tide, the detergent that "washes cleaner than soap," it became a best seller.


By the 1950s, synthetic detergents outsold laundry soap; surfactants and builders replaced naturally produced soap. Detergents overcame the soap scum problem and the poorly washed clothes.


The discovery of the correct surfactants in the chemical composition of Tide provided the breakthrough Tide inventors needed. Surfactants work on dirty fabric by suspending, dissolving and separating the soil so it will not re-deposit on the clothing.

Environmental Considerations

In the 1960s, laundry detergent companies advertised that their product produced the most suds. More suds required more phosphates and more polluted drainage. To solve this problem, washing machines were redesigned to use as little water as possible creating a strong chemical mix with less phosphates to rinse into ground water.