How We Created the Most Effective Plant-Derived Dishwasher Detergent on the Market
Written by Lisa Truesdale. Reviewed by cleaning expert Sean Busch.
At Puracy, we have an important motto that guides our work every day: “The customer is always right.”
Yes, we know we didn’t come up with it; it’s an age-old motto that all (well, most) businesses follow. But it’s essential to the story we’re about to tell, so it’s worth repeating.
Back in 2017, when Puracy was only a few years old, we began receiving requests from our customers for an automatic dishwasher detergent product. Many of these customers had already switched over to an almost all-Puracy household, having dumped their harsh chemical-laden cleaning and personal care products in favor of Puracy’s natural, plant-based formulas that are safe for people, pets, and the planet.
One thing that was missing from our product lineup, they told us, was an effective, natural, plant-based formula they could use in their dishwashers. And it seems they were pretty fed up with the existing options out there -- detergent packs and “pods” filled with ingredients like harsh chemicals, perfumes, dyes, and other nasty things Puracy would never use.
We quickly realized that we were perfectly positioned to fill a gaping hole in the market, and we got right to work. Here’s the surprising story of how we went from customer feedback... to major flop... to final winning product.
We started working with our trusted team of chemists and other experts to develop a revolutionary new dishwasher detergent formula that worked flawlessly while only using 99.5% plant-derived ingredients. We knew it might take some time because we refuse to use phosphates and other petrochemical ingredients.
There are also many variables we can’t control regarding washing dishes in a dishwasher. For one, every part of the country has a slightly different composition and type of water. For example, some have “hard” water, and some have “soft.”
There are also significant differences in dishwasher models and features:
- how old (or new) the dishwasher is
- the way dishes are scraped, rinsed, and wiped before loading them
- how tightly dishes are packed in
- which dishes are used (e.g. ceramic, plastic, silicone, glass, pots, pans, silverware)
We worked closely with our chemists to create our new formula, although we were hindered by the fact that we refuse to use certain ingredients that our competitors use, like phosphates and other petrochemicals. Once we had a polyvinyl disposable pod that we thought would work, we did some extensive testing, including enclosing the dissolvable packs in a 99% humidity chamber for 30 days. This test emulates our desired 2-year shelf life; if the packs are 100% intact after the 30 days, then that’s equal to 2 years sealed in the package.
We got weekly updates and everything looked great until about the 26th day. We noticed that the packs had developed microscopic holes due to the formulation reacting with the material at 99% humidity. It was back to the drawing board.
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We made some very small changes to the concentration of the ingredients, per the recommendation of the dissolvable material manufacturer. They’d seen this before and recommended tweaks that affected less than 5% of the formulation, with no ingredient additions or subtractions. We then sent the formula back for testing in the dissolvable material and the packs passed with flying colors, so we moved to the next step.
We had employees, friends, and family test these revisions and none noted anything other than highly positive results. Everyone loved it! It was time to launch. Looking back on it, however, our testing group was far too focused on the geographic area around our home base, Austin, Texas. And as a result, the testing didn’t incorporate enough different varieties and types of water to adequately simulate the real-world use of our dishwasher detergent packs throughout the United States.
We introduced our “first generation” dishwasher detergent packs on Amazon and Puracy.com, and we processed hundreds of orders within the first few days. Sadly, however, it turned out to be a total flop. After receiving several bad reviews within the first week, we quickly pulled the product off the market and we provided full refunds to those customers who had a bad experience with our first-generation formula.
It was clear pretty quickly that we just hadn’t gotten the product right. Some of our customers were having issues with streaks and residue left on glasses and plastic. This was happening in areas of the country that have hard water, so we knew that was a problem we needed to address.
We had a lot of product left over, so we donated it to some organizations in need. We were careful to note that it shouldn’t be used in areas of the country that have hard water, and we followed up with the organizations after a few weeks to see if there were any issues. There weren’t.
We then went back to the drawing board to develop a “second-generation” dishwasher detergent pack. This one was better than the first, but it still wasn’t great. And we just weren’t willing to hang our hat on a product that wasn’t able to consistently earn 5-star reviews, so we pulled it off the market within the first month.
We set out again to develop the perfect formula -- and to win back the customers we might have lost through our missteps. As we were preparing to adjust our formula in an effort to make it work flawlessly, something wonderful happened. After relentlessly searching for and talking with dozens of chemists and experts across the country, we eventually found a chemist in Montana who is arguably the foremost expert in dishwasher detergent formulation in the United States.
That’s his entire job, and it has been for more than two decades. He spends all of his working hours formulating and tweaking dishwasher detergent, and he’s worked with many of the major companies.
We informed him about all the issues we’d been having, making it clear that we were only interested in creating a natural formula that was free of sulfates, phosphates, and a laundry list of ingredients we do not use (including some harsh chemicals that you’ll find in many of our competitors’ products). We also told him that the final formula cost was no object.
“I’ve been in this business for decades, and no one has ever said that (no budget) before,” he replied incredulously.
Why was he so surprised? Well... our approach here at Puracy is different. When our competitors develop a new formula, they do so by starting out with a particular profit margin in mind. Their goal is to develop a product that falls below a certain cost threshold (in this case, the cost per packet of dishwasher detergent). But in doing so, they’re forced to make compromises when it comes to ingredients and efficacy.
We take a completely different approach -- an approach that gives our chemists the freedom and budget to create innovative new formulas that are unlike anything they’ve worked on before. In this case, we told the chemist we were absolutely certain what type of ingredients we wanted to use (and not use), and if he could figure out a way to formulate a great dishwasher detergent that works within our parameters, then we would figure out a way to get it to market.
Luckily for us, he was up to the challenge. He worked nonstop for 2 months, constantly tweaking his formula to achieve exactly the right balance of ingredients that wouldn’t leave residue on dishes but also wouldn’t cause excess foaming. (Too much foaming action can hurt your dishwasher’s motor, and it can also leak out onto your kitchen floor.)
Although our new dishwasher detergent expert came up with dozens of versions during that time, he didn’t send us anything until he was sure he had gotten it exactly right. When he finally did, our co-founder, Sean Busch, put it to the test over 2 weeks at three different locations. Frankly, we were surprised how well he did on the first try. Never before in our company history have we been sent a sample and had absolutely no constructive feedback. Until now.
We then asked for 100 premeasured vials of the new detergent and we did something unusual with them. We didn’t test them by only sending them to the select group of friends, family, and subject matter experts (doctors, cleaning experts, etc…) that we typically send our formulas to for testing. Instead, we also sent them to our most vocal critics – the roughly two dozen customers who had given 1-star reviews to our first and second generation dishwasher detergent packs.
These customers were still fuming about the residue and other issues they’d experienced, and some of them had lost trust in our brand. We knew they were frustrated, but we wanted to make things right. We also wanted to show them we had listened to and paid close attention to their feedback.
The valuable piece we learned here was that these customers were located all over the U.S. with varying water types, qualities, and types of machines. We sent them the new formula free of charge, and we humbly asked them to give us another chance by performing three loads in a row with the new detergent and then report back to us. We didn’t give them any other directions, so they could prep and load their dishes any way they wanted.
Finally, the decision was unanimous: This was the formula! Our testers, including our most vocal critics, had absolutely no concerns. After testing the new formula for several weeks, all of their dishes were spotless. Their only complaint is that we hadn't released our “third-generation” dishwasher formula so they could buy more.
We had achieved our goal of making the very best 99.5% plant- and mineral-derived dishwasher detergent possible, so we finally released our third generation dishwasher detergent. Our new product created quite a buzz among our customers, and we were also able to save those very important customer relationships.
Today (December 2019), nearly two full years after we started development, our Natural Dishwasher Detergent Packs packs are one of our best-selling items, and they’ve generated more than 300 five-star reviews on Amazon. We’re pleased to have created an extremely effective product that’s also non-toxic, biodegradable, and safe to use around children and pets.
We’ve even tested its safety right in our own homes -- although not all of the tests have been on purpose. Sean Busch, Puracy’s co-founder and resident cleaning expert, tells this story:
“About a year ago, I was in the kitchen with my 18-month-old daughter. I was cleaning the counter with our Multi-Surface Cleaner, and I turned away from her for only about six seconds. Well, kids that age are quick! In that short amount of time, she grabbed a dishwasher detergent pack that I was in the process of testing and took a bite. She started crying, mostly from confusion, because I quickly grabbed it out of her hand and thoroughly rinsed out her mouth with fresh water. It also tastes pretty bad. Accidents do happen, but because Puracy products are safe to use around kids, she was completely fine, with absolutely no ill effects.”
This incident only served to underscore the fact that Puracy’s dishwasher detergent packs are safe -- unlike the sad stories we’ve heard recently about kids (and teens) biting into pods from other companies and being severely injured, or worse. These companies are being pretty vague about what’s in their products, and that’s a shame. We’ll always tell you exactly what’s in our products. In fact, we have a comprehensive ingredients page that explains every single ingredient in every product we sell.
You don’t want to take a bite of our dishwasher detergent packs like Sean’s daughter did, but on the off-chance some of it made it into the mouth of one of your little ones, they should be perfectly fine. (Just keep rinsing with fresh water, and don’t induce vomiting.)
Our dishwasher detergent packs work just as well or better than the other pods on the market -- guaranteed. They’re also fully biodegradable within 30 days, they won’t harm water sources or aquatic life, and they’re gentler on the planet and the people who live here.
After all the hard work that went into developing our Natural Dishwasher Detergent Packs, we just know you’ll love them. If you don’t, we’ll refund your purchase, no questions asked. And you’ll never have to hassle with returning any unused product.
For more ways to create an eco-friendly kitchen with the help of Puracy’s natural products, check out these previous posts: