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Consumer Products

Periodic Graphics: Powder versus liquid detergents

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning compares the ingredients in the two different laundry formulations

by Andy Brunning
January 27, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 4


Andy Brunning/C&EN
Andy Brunning/C&EN

To download a pdf of this article, visit

References used to create this graphic:

Aspects of polymer use in detergents

What is the right detergent for you?

Laundry detergents ingredients and products

Laundry detergents: an overview

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit




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Guest2234 (January 29, 2019 7:28 PM)
In your "Powder vs. Liquid Detergents" graphic you have mislabeled sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) as sodium percarbonate (Na2H3CO6).
Andy Brunning (February 5, 2019 1:07 AM)
The label here is for the full adduct (sodium percarbonate is an adduct of sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide – the formula you’ve provided is actually just the simplified formula for this adduct).
Tracy Davis (January 30, 2019 3:39 PM)
So which is the more environmentally option - liquid or powder detergents? And, what is the market size of each?
Lauren Wolf (February 4, 2019 10:38 AM)
Hi Tracy, I'm not sure about which is better environmentally, but you can see differences between the products in terms of how they clean and what their market sizes are, in this associated story:
As the author notes in the comments of that story, some view the packaging to be the most important consideration in terms of environmental impacts: liquid detergents are shipped in plastic containers that are often not recycled.

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