P & G and NASA team up to tackle astronauts' dirty space laundry

P & G and NASA team up to tackle astronauts' dirty space laundry
New space detergent will be tested on the ISS in the quest for ways to launder astronaut clothing
New space detergent will be tested on the ISS in the quest for ways to launder astronaut clothing
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New space detergent will be tested on the ISS in the quest for ways to launder astronaut clothing
New space detergent will be tested on the ISS in the quest for ways to launder astronaut clothing

Procter & Gamble, through its Tide brand, is working with NASA to develop special detergents and washing machines to launder clothes in space. Under a Space Act Agreement, the company's Mission PGTide (P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments) will test detergent and other cleaning products aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022.

Doing the laundry is a chore that most people take for granted, but for astronauts in space it is an unheard of luxury. Ever since the first Vostok mission, space travelers have lacked any means of washing their clothes. This was bad enough in the early years when missions lasted only a couple of weeks at best, but today crew members can spend more than a year aboard the ISS.

This is made even more unpleasant by the need for astronauts to exercise vigorously on a regular schedule to minimize muscle atrophy and bone mass loss, which makes for some pretty ripe articles of clothing. As a result, station crew members simply wear their clothes for a couple of weeks or so and then discard them, which is not only a bit odorific, but also expensive. With the high cost of sending supplies to the ISS, keeping a single astronaut clothed for a year costs around US$1.6 million.

That's bad enough for visiting the ISS, but missions to Mars, which could last as long as three years, makes packing enough clothes completely impractical. As a result, NASA is looking for ways to clean clothes, but that means more than sending up a wash tub and a packet of soap flakes.

Procter & Gamble's task is to come up with laundering techniques and ingredients that are compatible with the restrictions of spaceflight. This means they must be safe and compatible with the vehicle's life support systems. In addition, the machine must use very little water and what is used must be able to be recycled back into a drinkable quality.

To do this, the company is looking at a fully degradable detergent that can deodorize, clean, and remove stains. The 2022 Mission PGTide working with the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and SEOPS satellite redeployment and operations company will send a series of experiments to the space station by cargo ship to learn more about the stability of cleaning ingredients under weightlessness and exposed to space radiation, as well as the efficacy of stain removal products like Tide To Go Wipes and Tide To Go Pens.

Another goal of the project is an optional washer/dryer unit that uses the new space detergent. Because this machine would be used on missions to the Moon and Mars, it will need to operate under low and variable gravity conditions.

"Humanity has reached a pivotal point where on one hand, we’re on the exciting cusp of space colonization, and on the other, facing a critical period where action must be taken now to save the planet we all call home," says Aga Orlik, Senior Vice President, P&G North America Fabric Care. "The collaboration with NASA and the ISS National Lab are particularly exciting because it allows us to push the bounds of resource efficiency to its absolute limit, uncovering learnings with practical applications for both the future of laundry in space and here on Earth."

Source: Procter & Gamble

If successful this technology would be a boon not only to space travel but to help reduce the pollution footprint of everyone that lives on the planet. If we can reduce the water used and recycle it back for reuse it would go a long way in reducing the overall pollution of the planet.
David, thanks for revealing another fascinating aspect of life aboard the ISS...laundry duty. It's refreshingly egalitarian that none of the ISS crewmembers get stuck with the odious task of cleaning others' clothing. Instead, crewmembers can just chuck that stank clothing into the laundry disposal bin, which brings up another question. Is the laundry bin stored within the ISS or is it kept 'outdoors' where the stench won't permeate the crew quarters atmosphere?

Does anyone know where we're at with the concept of using ultrasonics to clean laundry without water?

What lottery method does the ISS crew use to determine who gets to clean the space toilet or personal hygiene area?
They use CO2 for dry cleaning now and they already have a CO2 supply there. And no adding more chemicals/detergents to the environment there because what goes in has a had time coming out.
They should exercise in the cold which they have in abundance there to keep from sweating.
And they need to filter the air far better making them live in such stench, humidity. At least make breathing tubes of ultra clean air available especially for exercise. Collecting the breathing and treating it directly could cut the air fouling load.
Probably need to clean all the surfaces often as a biofilm develops and why they need to kill the humidity to kill the smell.
And more sponge baths. The cost of getting things to the station has dropped a lot and crew comfort should be more of a priority.
Nelson Hyde Chick
The space station has been up there for decades and they are just now getting around to doing laundry?