By Gary Coon

You’re watching television in the 1960s. A commercial pops up with a man selling dishwashing liquid. He draws his fingers along the surface of a newly washed dinner plate, and as he does, he smiles and says, “It’s so clean it squeaks!”

This phrase has been around so long, it has become a permanent part of our culture: if it’s squeaky, it must be clean! Squeaky implies a clean without residue, but if you’ve been in the water treatment business for only one day, you are aware that any suggestion on the part of soap, shampoo and laundry detergent manufacturers that their products don’t leave a residue is iffy at best. Before moving forward with our discussion, let’s look at the chemistry behind squeaky clean… at least how it applies to our everyday lives.

When limestone dissolves into water, compounds of calcium are set into motion that eventually clog water lines and leave energy-wasting deposits in hot water heaters. This scale not only shortens the useful life of water-using appliances, it mars the cosmetic appearance of faucets and fixtures. And there is more bad news. Calcium compounds react with soap to form an insoluble soap curd that we identify as bathtub ring, or soap scum on shower curtains or doors. This soap curd goes a long way toward clogging skin pores every time you bathe. It’s also responsible for detergent residue in laundry and shampoo residue on hair. Soap curd is the insoluble calcium soap scum left on hands that makes the squeaking sound you hear as you pull your fingers down your palms after washing them in soap and hard water.

Soap companies have spent billions of advertising dollars over the past 60 years to convince consumers that squeaky skin is clean, and if laundry smells springtime fresh, then everything is right with the world. After years of repetition, consumers have come to believe this, and there must be a reason. The simple answer has to do with corporate profits and stockholder dividends.

The leading detergent manufacturer makes a battalion of laundry detergents (all of which are essentially the same product), and not all work very well in hard water. Although manufacturers are keenly aware of this, they are equally aware that, were they to admit the problem lies not with their products, but rather with the water, corporate profits would plummet like a rhino off a high dive. Consequently, profits have been protected by cleverly repackaging the same old stuff and selling it to clueless consumers. Clearly, it’s an extremely successful strategy.

The average person uses a laundry product for about six months to two years. Just when dull, faded colors and dingy whites bring their patience to an end, a new television commercial announces another detergent that has new brighteners. So consumers swap brands. Six months to two years later, another brand is promoted as low sudsing. Out with the stuff that bubbles, and in with the stuff that doesn’t. And consumers are jockeyed from brand to brand, justifying a price increase because this or that product is somehow new and improved. Consumers, however, are left asking, “Hey, when are they gonna get it right?”

There’s nothing wrong with their products: again, it’s the water. Permit me to repeat that there is nothing inherently wrong with the soap products. But due to economic necessity, soap companies engage in this theater because no one would willingly pony up a price increase for an ineffective product. Truth be told, all this switching from one brand to the other is dizzying.

For some reason, the buying public hasn’t figured out that if their clothing smells like detergent, then there must be detergent residue on their clothing (perhaps the “clean, fresh smell of Gain”). And it’s not only detergent. What about bar soap? If hands smell like that bar soap, what do you suppose is left on the skin? And why put deodorant or moisturizing cream in a bar of soap anyway if the soap rinses off? The same thing applies to shampoo; if hair smells like shampoo, what do you think is still there?? Fact is, we’re all being taken to the cleaners—pun intended. Which brings us back to squeaky clean.

Nearly every time I have washed someone’s hands in conditioned water during a sink presentation, they thought the slippery sensation was soap that wouldn’t rinse off, and the squeaky feeling meant that the soap was gone. What else can you expect after six decades of misdirection regarding what is really behind the squeak?

So what’s my beef? In 16 years of preaching the benefits of conditioned water, I have yet to see a marketing campaign that keyed on anything other than water treatment as a cure for hard water stains or lousy tasting drinking water. As bad as hard water stains are, they are not a call to immediate action for most consumers. Moreover, although unpleasant tasting tap water may be cause for concern, it is easily remedied by a quick trip to the grocery store for bottled water.

But what if everyone were convinced that laundry detergent wasn’t really rinsed from clothing, or the soap from skin, or the shampoo from hair? What if everyone realized that squeaky wasn’t actually clean? Would this be an immediate call to action? I think so. Our real competition is big detergent manufacturers with lots of advertising dollars. My advice to water treatment manufacturers and dealers is this: think about intelligent marketing campaigns that focus consumer attention on what every water treatment salesperson knows to be the most important feature benefits of conditioned water. Once the public realizes that squeaky isn’t clean, it will be a red-letter day for those of us in the industry. Good luck, good selling, and above all, have a great day.

About the author
Gary Coon, a 16-year veteran of the water conditioning industry, has successfully trained hundreds of water treatment sales professionals. His seminars, ‘What They Mean by What They Say’ and ‘The Theater of Selling Water’ offer instruction in closing methodologies and presentation techniques. Learn more by visiting


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