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Revealing the dangers of imitation washing powder on BBC Fake Britain

Surrey’s Experimental Officer for Separation Sciences, Dr Daniel Driscoll, puts counterfeit products to the test.

Photo: © Screenchannel Television Ltd

Washing powder contains a whole host of active ingredients to clean clothes – including enzymes, to degrade fatty stains, and dye transfer inhibitors, which stop colours running from one item to another. But Dr Daniel Driscoll from Surrey’s Department of Chemistry has revealed that there are various counterfeit products (missing these key ingredients) on the market that we should all be wary of, which are potentially damaging our health.

Featured on BBC’s consumer rights programme Fake Britain, presenter Matt Allwright interviewed Dr Driscoll on the hazards of fake washing powder within Surrey’s new Joseph Kenyon Laboratory and the BP Centre for Petroleum and Surface Chemistry. Dr Driscoll was asked to test out the pH of different detergents. No washing powder in the UK should have a pH over 11, he said, and all products undergo strict tests to ensure this is the case. The real sample was measured at pH level 10.7 – well within safe limits of acidity.

When Daniel tested the fake version, he found that the product had a pH level of 11.5, indicating that it was a counterfeit. “This fake powder is as corrosive as some household bleaches or oven cleaners,” he said. “[It] … has a high pH. This could be a problem if you have wet hands and touch the powder, as it could cause a skin irritation or even minor burns.”

Dr Driscoll was particularly worried about the potential danger posed to young children. “If a child were to swallow this fake washing powder,” he continued, “there’s every chance it could do some real damage [and] … there’s unlikely to be any safety controls as with genuine washing powders, which have other compounds included to minimise the damage. The fake washing powder is very unlikely to have such controls in place.”

Scientists on BBC Fake Britain explained that although a box of counterfeit laundry product may look the same as normal detergent, if the particles smell strongly of chlorine, they may contain high-strength bleach, and if the powder clumps and sticks to the side of the box, the product might not be as real as you first thought it was.

Looking back at the programme, Daniel said, “It’s astonishing that fake washing powders even exist, but the quality of the counterfeit products was so poor and the potential risks high enough that I am pleased we could be a part of the Trading Standards and Borders Agency operation to remove them from the marketplace.”


You can watch the full episode here:

Learn more about the Department of Chemistry and our programmes in the field of Chemistry.

The Joseph Kenyon Laboratory has been shortlisted by the Safe, Successful and Sustainable Laboratory 2014 Awards.

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