Tell me how you clean – and I’ll tell you where you come from

Weinheim, March 8, 2013. The Spanish like it wet; the Japanese prefer small and convenient products and in the USA everything has to be “ready to use.” Each country around the globe has its own cleaning habits. Freudenberg Household Products, undoubtedly one of the largest manufacturers of mechanical cleaning equipment with its vileda brand, decided to take a look at the issue in depth. The company, a subsidiary of the Freudenberg Group, came up with some intriguing results. Alongside product innovation, research into consumer behavior forms the basis of product development at Freudenberg Household Products.

Observations of the floor cleaning market:
Geographic location plays a decisive role. The prevailing climate and the resulting floor-covering, together with traditional cleaning habits handed down from generation to generation, often determine cleaning behavior.

The American market is completely different from the European, but shares similarities with the British market. In the USA, consumer behavior is driven by “convenience.” Cleaning products should be “ready-to-use” (throw-away society) and therefore most people use disposable cloths made of paper, sponges (but not cloths) and a lot of chemicals to clean. A further phenomenon is that neither the Americans nor the British use buckets, but rinse out their sponges and mops in the kitchen sink, preferring not to put their hands in dirty water. Mechanical wringers with handles are therefore very popular. Sponge mops, fitted with a “wring mechanism,” are also often used in America, Australia and Britain, so that contact with a wet sponge is avoided.

In addition to the climate, water hardness also plays an important role. Water becomes increasingly hard the further south the country lies in Europe. The Scandinavians therefore use fewer chemicals and are especially ecologically-friendly, because the water there is very soft. Usually only a light spray of chemical cleaners is used in the north.

A further difference is that Scandinavians consider odorless surfaces cleaner, compared to surfaces that reek of chemicals. The Germans on the other hand think that citrus aromas represent freshness and cleanliness. The Spanish only believe something is clean when it smells of bleach. This is especially true of public buildings (hospitals, toilets etc.). The Belgians enjoy special status when it comes to cleaning habits. They wrap large floor cloths around a squeegee and, as a result, vileda develops special products specifically for this market.

The North Africans also use a form of squeegee and are prone to flooding their houses with water each week. The squeegee is then used to remove the water from the house.

Observation of the surface cleaning market (excluding flooring): There are also considerable differences in surface cleaning. Dish mops are mainly used in the North, whereas in Scandinavia and Holland people do all they can to avoid getting their hands wet.

Cleaning behavior is totally different in the southern Europe. A reason for this may be that cooking plays a considerable role in daily life in the South. The family meets at least once a day for a large meal consisting of several courses, following which there is usually a lot of clearing up to do. Scouring pads are therefore very popular here and are frequently used.

The French mainly use sponges made of viscose which are very soft. As the sponges have a strong affinity for water, they become easily saturated with water. The Italians use only the sponge side of the vileda Glitzi, whereas all other consumers use the hard, scouring side.

In the USA, cleaning is very mixed. Here dish mops and scourers are used, but no cloths.

Cultural differences also exist in the use of cleaning cloths. Whilst in the northern hemisphere, several cloths are available for different purposes (glass cloth, all-purpose cloth, kitchen cloth, duster, washing-up cloth and bathroom cloth) generally only one all-purpose cloth is used in the south. This usually starts life in the kitchen and ends up in the bathroom – but is never used to clean the floor. And a golden rule is always adhered to: if the cloth has been used for the floor, it should never be used for any other cleaning purpose. The migration of the cleaning cloth from kitchen to bathroom is also seen in the north. Here a cleaning cloth is generally specifically used for the toilet – however, as the range of cleaning cloths is larger, a kitchen cloth may also be demoted to the toilet if necessary.

Whereas cleaning cloths in Germany and in northern countries are often washed in the washing machine, south Europeans keep their cloths immaculate by soaking them in chemicals such as bleach. In France, in particular, it is usual to soak cleaning equipment and cloths in bleach, as this is associated with a higher standard of hygiene.

There are also considerable differences in the use of household gloves. Generally, no-one likes using them – they make the hands sweat, they have an unpleasant odor, they are not especially tactile and have little grip. Whereas in northern Europe and Germany, the advantages are justified rationally, e.g. good grip, comfortable, good protection - in southern Europe emotional arguments, such as they provide a second skin and are very sensitive etc., are used to advertise household gloves.

Essential differences also exist with more recent products, e.g. new developments such as ceramic hob cleaners. Up to 80 percent of cookers in Germany have ceramic hobs. In southern Europe, e.g. in Italy this figure falls to 20 percent. Around the globe, researchers have tried to develop solutions to clean ceramic hobs more effectively. The scraper, which removes food from the hob that has boiled over, is very popular.

The majority of ceramic hobs are found in northern kitchens. On the other hand, gas hobs are found mostly in the South. Vileda has developed the Pure-Active-Ceramic hob cleaner which is hard enough to scour a ceramic surface without scratching it. Pure-Active is very popular in northern Europe. However, as ceramic hobs are rarely found in Mediterranean countries, Pure-Active has not been marketed in southern Europe.

The “Virobi” which won the Red Dot Design Award in 2012, represents a huge success story in the world of cleaning equipment. Virobi is marketed around the globe and is even sold in the USA. The advantage of this small, rotating robot is that an electro-static cloth can be attached to it. As the robot is very small and agile, it is able to gather large amounts of dust from corners that are difficult to access. More than 700 Virobis were sold in Spain in just one day.

The electric brush has enjoyed considerable success in Spain and Italy. It is also a project with a high convenience factor. There is no need to bend down to use the product. Rotating brushes throw the dirt into a chamber which means that the floor can be cleaned very easily and the cleaning equipment is especially suitable for older people.

Cleaning habits in South America are very similar to those in southern Europe.

However, cleaning behavior is very different in China. Traditionally a cloth fixed to a handle is used to clean here. The implement is similar to the cloth mop, which is very popular in China. Household gloves are used in a completely different way. First and foremost, they serve as protection against cold water, as there is often no warm water available in China during the winter months. Cold water is therefore used for cleaning purposes and household gloves make the low temperature more bearable.

In Arabian countries it is perhaps surprising to learn that despite the water shortages, copious amounts of water and chemicals are poured over the tiled floors. The water is then distributed evenly using a floor squeegee, before being drained away or pushed out over the balcony or terrace. Finally, the surface is dried using a large floor cloth wrapped around the floor squeegee, to give the floor a streak-free shine. The kitchen floor is washed around three times daily. Traditionally, cleanliness is very important here, whereby convenience plays only a secondary role, especially in affluent households where cleaning staff are employed.

Vileda has been active in the Arabian states since the beginning of the 1970s; introduced the first modern products to the region and shaped cleaning behavior there with its scouring pads and sponge cloths. As in southern Europe, cleaning takes place more regularly and with far more vigor than in northern Europe. For example, the well-known vileda Glitzi is often kept next to the sink in a cocktail of chemicals. Cleaning is rounded off with a lot of foam and a fresh, pleasant scent. 

Car cloths are mostly sold in Japan. Cleaning tools may only have an 80cm long handle, so that they can be stored behind the washing machine. Otherwise, housewives refuse to buy the product.

Differences also exist between Germany and France in floor cleaning. Whereas the French like to use their traditional “Soap de Marseille” or “Savon de Marseille”, the Germans prefer a lemon-scented all-purpose floor cleaner. More water is used for cleaning the floor in the South of France than in the North. In Germany, microfiber mops have gained in popularity in the last few years, compared to the traditional scrubber preferred by the French, despite the fact that microfiber mops are found more frequently in supermarkets and households. Due to the continuing popularity of the scrubber, however, the range of different floor cloths in French supermarkets compared to German supermarkets is demonstrably larger.


Sponges in France are frequently thinner with holes of different sizes. These sponges are mostly made of natural fibers such as cellulose. In Germany, the sponges are thicker and the structure uniform. They are usually manufactured from synthetics and specialists therefore refer to them as polyurethane sponges.


Around 85 percent of the sponges sold in France are made of cellulose, and 90 percent of the sponges sold in Germany of synthetic materials. The French dislike synthetic sponges; and the Germans dislike natural fiber sponges. The Germans consider cellulose sponges too expensive. Not without good reason – a synthetic sponge costs 25 cents, whereas a cellulose sponge costs 59 cents.


Above all, the Germans like indentations which make the sponge non-slip. It fits perfectly in the hand and, last but not least, unlike cellulose sponges, it protects the finger nails. The Germans also have the impression that synthetic sponges are a bargain, as they are thicker and more absorbent. This demonstrates very clearly the different cultural needs. For a German, it is important that a synthetic sponge floats on the water like a rubber duck, whereas the French criticize the product for exactly this characteristic – the sponge does not fulfill its raison d’être which is to absorb water. Cellulose sponges are not especially popular with the Germans, as they are almost unknown in the country.


There is a further reason however. The cellulose sponge feels like paper, and is sticky and limp after repeated use, whereas the synthetic sponge tends not to lose its appearance. The synthetic sponge also deteriorates relatively slowly – a characteristic that the Germans like.

How does product development work?


Consumer Research


1. Qualitative


Focus groups consisting of 10 people and a facilitator are formed. During a survey lasting 90 to 120 minutes, the opinions and ideas of these 10 people are sought. As a result, a concept is developed which, on the one hand, describes the problem and on the other presents a solution – or benefit for the consumer, together with reasons why the customer should be convinced to buy the product.


2. Quantitative


Customers are asked whether they would buy the product developed as a result of the focus group’s work. Photos are shown and the description tested according to attributes such as new, relevant, unique, credible value for money etc.
This means that the actual product development begins.


3. Concept and use


A pilot product is manufactured in accordance with the “concept and use” principle, usage is tested and the question “does the product have what the concept promises?” addressed. Freudenberg household products are tested in the home, whereby specialists seek to establish how the consumer thinks and what he needs.


In total, vileda has 65 years’ cleaning experience as well as 65 years’ experience of fibers through nonwoven use.


The target group is brought together by means of this segmentation. A product is developed that works, but color and design are determined by the country in which the product is marketed.


As a result of constant development, a wide range of technology is available at Freudenberg’s nonwovens subsidiary and Freudenberg Forschungsdienste. New materials and applications are continuously developed in the partnership between the two companies.


Most of the products are manufactured at Freudenberg Household Products and the majority of manufacturing plants are in Europe. Cleaning products must be adapted to the actual dirt, as well as to the cleaning surface. This means they need to be tough enough to beat the dirt, but soft enough not to scratch the surface.


Freudenberg manufactures 95% of the materials needed for vileda products and 5% are purchased.


Vileda GmbH is the German distributor of the globally-active Freudenberg Household Products KG, headquartered in Weinheim. It is represented in the field of cleaning and laundry products by the brands vileda®, O’Cedar®, Wettex®, Gala® and SWASH®.