SIC 2842

This category includes companies that primarily make specialty cleaning products (those designed for specific surfaces such as bathrooms, ovens, drains, carpets, and upholstery), polishes and waxes (such as for furniture, metal, flooring, and glass), and other sanitation preparations including disinfectants and deodorizers. This category also includes companies making products such as household bleaches and ammonia, laundry starches, and fabric softeners. Companies that primarily make industrial bleaches are in SIC 2819: Industrial Inorganic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified. Companies that primarily make household pesticides are in SIC 2879: Pesticides and Agricultural Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified.

NAICS Code(s)

325612 (Polish and Other Sanitation Goods Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in the late 1990s a total of 728 establishments manufactured products in this category. They shipped $8.4 billion worth of merchandise, spent $3.2 billion on materials, and invested $154.0 million in new and used buildings and other structures, machinery, and equipment in 2000. About 29 percent of these establishments had at least 20 employees. The largest number of operations was in California, followed by Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

Goods in this category were often classified as commodity cleaners or specialty cleaners. Commodity cleaners were usually sold in bulk at lower prices. Specialty cleaners were sold in smaller quantities at higher prices. About 65 percent of products were sold to the industrial and institutional market, which included contract cleaning firms, office buildings, restaurants, hospitals, schools, hotels, and nursing homes.

Background and Development

The specialty cleaning, polishing, and sanitation preparations industry made hundreds of products, each serving specific cleaning needs of consumers in different markets. Products were developed as a response to changes in technology, consumer need, government regulation, and other factors. This makes it hard to generalize about the industry's development, but the history of fabric softeners serves as an example of how certain factors have affected this category.

Fabric softeners were introduced during the early 1950s after synthetic laundry detergents became popular. Because detergents stripped natural oils out of fabrics as they cleaned, clothes came out scratchy and often developed negative ionic charges (static cling) in the dryer. The first fabric softeners were liquids that were added to the laundry during the rinse cycle. In the 1970s fabric softeners for use in the dryer were developed. Some were porous foam sheets doused with softener, while others were sprays and dispensing bars. The 1980s brought all-in-one detergents with fabric softeners for use during the wash cycle.

Because the coating action of softeners caused fabric to appear dingy, manufacturers invented optical brighteners, also called fluorescent whitening agents (FWAs). FWAs were chemical compounds that made fabrics appear brighter by converting ultraviolet light into visible blue light.

Fabric softeners made fabrics fluffy by coating fibers with fatty compounds. They eliminated static cling using "cationic surfactants," chemicals added to liquids to allow the wetting, foaming, dispersing, emulsifying, or penetrating actions of the solution on a fabric while adding positive charges to offset the negative ionic charges from static electricity. In addition to cationic surfactants, which did not clean effectively when used alone, the industry developed other surfactants. Anionic surfactants carried negative charges and were typically high sudsing. Nonionic surfactants carried no functional ionic charges but worked against oily soils. Amphoteric surfactants might be either positively or negatively charged depending on water conditions.

A national trend toward mild, natural, and environmentally safe products affected fabric softener development through the mid-1990s. Historically, customers wanted softeners to add fragrance, but an emphasis on using fewer chemicals led to new formulas. Procter & Gamble, for example, introduced Bounce Free, which had no perfumes, inks, or extra additives. The environmental movement's campaign to reduce packaging waste led to the development of concentrates and refills. In 1990 Procter & Gamble introduced Downy Refill, which customers mixed with water to make full strength. It required 75 percent less packaging than the original 64-ounce bottle. By mid-1991 refills made up 40 percent of Downy's sales.

Fabric softener sales rose 2 to 3 percent in the early 1990s. Sales of fabric softeners for use in dryers rose faster than sales of traditional liquid softeners made to be added during the washing machine's rinse cycle. Sales of detergents with added softeners declined.

Environmental concerns also affected polishes and waxes. Few ingredients and industry by-products were biodegradable. The Clean Water Act challenged floor wax makers to meet product disposal requirements. Regulations concerning volatile organic compounds led some makers to phase out solvent-based products in favor of water-based systems. Zinc was also regulated, since it harmed sewage treatment facilities.

During the early 1990s, the market for household polishes and waxes declined. The popularity of no-wax floors and a desire for more convenient products lowered demand for floor wax. Within the industrial and institutional market, improvements in maintenance technology, such as high-speed floor buffers, reduced the need for floor wax. New acrylic floor materials also required less maintenance.

Demand for other floor care products increased, however. The growing popularity of mineral surfaces, such as marble, terrazzo, quarry tile, and ceramics, brought a need for new types of cleaners. In addition, old asbestos flooring required constant care to keep it sealed and polished.

Carpet cleaner sales grew as manufacturers introduced products with deodorizers. The carpet care industry also reacted to environmental concerns about indoor air quality. Formulas that were less harsh, nontoxic, and pleasant smelling were emphasized, while some companies promoted all-natural formulas. Many aerosol cans were replaced by plastic spray-pump bottles. More communities were able to recycle plastic than steel, so plastic was seen as a better choice for the environment. In addition, aerosols were perceived to be environmentally dangerous, even though CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) had been banned since 1978.

Within the household bleach market, environmental concerns had less effect. Although perborate bleaches (the most widely used type of non-chlorine bleach) seemed safer for the environment and gentler on clothes than chlorine-based bleaches, consumer acceptance of perborates was not as strong as analysts anticipated, because these bleaches performed poorly at the low wash temperatures preferred by many Americans. In Europe, where higher wash temperatures were popular, perborates captured 80 percent of the bleach market. One product expected to bring increased acceptance of perborates was Tide with Bleach, which contained a patented low-temperature activator called sodium nonanoyloxbenzene sulfonate (SNOBS).

Another trend during the early 1990s was an interest in disinfectants to control the spread of infectious diseases, especially HIV, the virus connected to Acquired Immuno-Defiency Syndrome (AIDS). Disinfectants were widely used by hospitals, clinics, schools, building service contractors, and hotels. Developing countries also began buying more disinfectants. For example, disinfectants were used in South America to fight cholera.

One problem involved products for stopping the spread of HIV and hepatitis. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) regulations required health care employees to work assuming all body fluids were infected with HIV or hepatitis. Disinfectant makers complained the EPA measured disinfectant strength according to its ability to kill bacteria responsible for tuberculosis. According to the industry, the efficacy tests were not comparable because tuberculoides were airborne and most disinfectants used against HIV and hepatitis were designed for surface use.

The disinfectant industry came under scrutiny in 1990 because of a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office. The report stated that up to 20 percent of disinfectants were ineffective, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not ensure that registered disinfectants worked according to their claims. The Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association (CSMA) responded by evaluating the quality of the data used in the tests. It also conducted its own random product reviews and reported that U.S. disinfectants worked and had passed the most stringent testing in the world.

Disinfectant registration brought contention, with industry leaders complaining that registration took too long and made it too costly to create new products. They claimed the process was further complicated by individual state requirements, which were often different from EPA requirements. The CSMA favored standardized, nationwide regulations.

Because of pressure from the environmental movement, manufacturers looked for ways to reduce volatile organic compounds and make products more biodegradable. In addition, marketers turned to packaging made of recycled postconsumer waste.

Environmentalists also criticized dry cleaning chemicals, which were often improperly discarded or leaked from faulty equipment and seeped into the ground, contaminating wells and aquifers. One of the biggest offenders was perchlorethylene (PCE, also called perc). More than 80 percent of U.S. dry cleaners used perc, and approximately 500 million pounds of perc were produced in the United States annually. The Clean Air Act of 1990 listed perc as a hazardous pollutant that could cause dizziness and headaches. Some studies also linked perc to miscarriage and cancer. The EPA proposed that dry cleaners reduce perc emissions 13 to 26 percent by 1996.

In 1987 the specialty cleaning, polishing, and sanitation preparation industry shipped goods worth $5.6 billion. Of this total, $3.9 billion were considered primary to the industry and $1.5 billion were secondary products. Miscellaneous transactions made up the remaining $227.9 million. By 1991 shipments totaled $6.0 billion, exports totaled $455.0 million, and imports totaled $175.0 million. By 1995 sales reached $8.7 billion.

Current Conditions

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, industry shipments declined from $8.6 billion in 1998 to $7.8 billion in 1999, before rebounding to $8.4 billion in 2000. During the late 1990s the industry shipped more than $1 billion worth of household chlorine and other inorganic bleaching compounds, $5 billion worth of specialty cleaning and sanitation products, and $1 billion worth of polishing preparations and related products. This included $194 million worth of nonagricultural disinfectants for industries and institutions; slightly more than $1 billion worth of laundry aids; $713 million worth of air and room fresheners; $264 million worth of household glass window cleaners; $24 million worth of industrial and institutional glass window cleaners; $39 million worth of automotive windshield washer fluid; $104 million worth of oven cleaners; $250 million worth of household toilet bowl cleaners; $39 million worth of industrial and institutional toilet bowl cleaners; $180 million worth of drain pipe solvents; $437 million worth of bathroom, tub, and tile cleaners; $131 million worth of household rug and upholstery cleaners; $50 million worth of industrial and institutional rug and upholstery cleaners; $11 million worth of household ammonia; and $525 million worth of other specialty detergents such as waterless hand cleaners.

In terms of the value of products shipped, California led the household chlorine and other inorganic bleaching compounds segment. Ohio led the specialty cleaning and sanitation products segment, followed by Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Missouri. Wisconsin led the polishing preparations and related products segment, followed by Illinois and Ohio.

Industry Leaders

Among firms that made products in this category as their primary business, Du Pont Performance Coatings (a subsidiary of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. based in Troy, Michigan) was one of the largest with 6,000 employees and sales of $3.0 billion. S.C. Johnson and Son Inc. (Sturtevant, Wisconsin) had 12,500 employees and estimated sales of $2.8 billion. Its products included Glade air freshener, Shout laundry stain remover, Pledge furniture polish, and Windex glass cleaner. Clorox Co. (Oakland, California) had 6,600 employees and sales of $2.7 billion. Clorox, a former division of Procter & Gamble, had become independent in 1969 due to antitrust regulations. In addition to Clorox brand bleaches, the firm's products included Formula 409, Soft Scrub, Liquid Plumr, and Pine-Sol.

Other industry leaders included Madison BiOnics (a subsidiary of Systems General Inc. based in Tempe, Arizona) with 10,380 employees and estimated sales of $2.2 billion; and Reckitt and Colman Inc. (a subsidiary of the British company Reckitt and Colman PLC based in Wayne, New Jersey) with 2,500 employees and estimated sales of $1.3 billion.

Several large, diversified companies also competed in this category. They included Unilever Group (London, England) with sales of $47.5 billion; Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Michigan) with sales of $18.4 billion; Colgate-Palmolive Co. (New York, New York) with sales of $8.9 billion; and MotorVac Technologies Inc. (Santa Ana, California) with sales of $4.2 billion.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20,357 people were employed in this industry in 2000, compared to 23,000 in 1995 and 21,700 in 1991. Total payroll was $730 million, compared to $702.3 million in 1995. The industry's 11,587 production workers earned an average hourly wage of $14.52 in 2000.

Research and Technology

During the 1990s, changing regulations and environmental concerns brought more "earth friendly" technologies and products. One new development was packages made of resin from recycled products. Clorox, for example, increased its use of postconsumer waste in containers. Clorox claimed its efforts saved eight million pounds of virgin plastic, glass, and corrugated paper-board in 1992. Other efforts to reduce packaging materials included making caps and labels smaller and eliminating exterior packaging.

To make safer cleaning products without losing performance or convenience, manufacturers explored ways to reduce volatile organic compounds use in solvent-based formulas, make products more biodegradable, and lessen products' effect on sewage treatment plants. Some efforts toward making products that would be less harmful to the environment were the industry's response to federal and state regulations. Other efforts were market driven. Some industry analysts predicted innovations in "environmentally friendly" formulas would come from small suppliers.

Further Reading

Poppe, Carolyn J. "Scour Town." Soap-Cosmetics, 1 March 1997.

Stapinski, Helene. "Let's Talk DIRTY." American Demo-graphics, November 1998.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. 1996 Annual Survey of Manufactures. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1998.

U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. 1997 Economic Census. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1999. Available from .

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