The Cutting Edge of Laundry Detergent

The Dune Sciences team. Kaplan The Dune Sciences team.

Brand Story - World-renowned scientists in Eugene, OR, create revolutionary cleaning products that save your clothes and are better for the planet.

The nematode is a millimeter-long worm used to test toxicity in cleaning products. Scientists from Dune Sciences, Inc., based in Eugene, OR, placed these nematodes in a petri dish. They added Defunkify Laundry Detergent and the worms kept on wiggling for 24 hours—indicating they were happy and healthy.

Then the scientists tested an off-the-shelf laundry detergent, one designated as “super green”. Yet once this detergent was added, the worms were dead in two minutes.

“We couldn’t even get to the microscope before they were all dead,” said Richard Geiger, CEO of Dune Sciences, Inc., who also noted this level of toxicity is more the “norm” than the exception. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand: that isn’t very good for you.”

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In 2017, Dune Sciences, Inc. developed Defunkify, and their flagship laundry detergent effectively removes odor and stains while causing the lowest environmental impact. “Defunkify performs better than every product we’ve tested,” said Geiger (“performance” meaning: an ability to deep clean clothes so they smell like nothing at all and function as originally designed). “In terms of toxicity, we’re lower than pretty much anything except water.”

As of now, their four Defunkify products—a laundry detergent, a shoe and gear deodorizer, a laundry booster, and a stain remover—are sold in over 1,300 stores nationwide, including Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Defunkify was founded by a team of world-renowned surface and green chemists at University of Oregon. They wanted to create high-performance, safer cleaning products, and started with a laundry detergent that (a) actually removes the source of odor and (b) is minimally impacting on skin and the environment.

JEK 7699Studying nematode health to understand and prevent eco-toxicity.

Here we enter the “smelly side” of typical laundry products.

Synthetic fibers in modern clothing (especially activewear) are designed to repel sweat, but they also trap body oils and a variety of residues. Thus, bacteria thrive within the fibers, building colonies that breakdown the buildup and produce persistent odor. Most detergents aren’t able to infiltrate these fibers; they merely mask the smell with scents, leaving the grime behind. Or they’re designed to kill bacteria with highly toxic ingredients, also leaving the grime behind.

Defunkify, however, delivers active enzymes which get between the fibers and literally unlock the buildup. Odors and stains are removed all the way down to the microscopic level, leaving laundry rejuvenated and smelling like new.

In medical terms, instead of treating symptoms, Defunkify roots out the source.

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This is possible, said Geiger, because Defunkify formulas are developed in-house, a rarity for startup cleaning product companies (generally, he says, product mixtures are outsourced to regular formulators, who provide standard, legacy formulas). This allows the Defunkify team to neutralize, isolate, or amplify certain ingredients to form the most effective solution. “The idea is, keep performance at its highest level and get toxicity lower than anything else.” said Geiger. “High-performance built on sustainability, that’s our reason for being.”

Developing Defunkify products in-house also allows for rigorous performance and eco testing, another exception within cleaning products.

Most cleaning products aren’t tested for toxicity; if they are, the companies aren’t required to publicize the results. “Those results are usually scary,” said Geiger. Often, a product qualifies as “green” based off using ingredients that are usually safe on their own. That classification, however, does not account for mixture toxicity. “Any chemist knows, different mixtures produce entirely different reactions,” he added.

From a performance-perspective Defunkify also gets down to the microscopic level. Thanks in part to collaboration with University of Oregon, Defunkify uses state-of-the-art atomic-resolution imaging, gas chromatography, and microscopic composition analysis to ensure the effectiveness of their products.

Yet beyond an unpleasant stench, smelly clothes cause broader implications.

JEK 7718Richard Geiger, CEO of Dune Sciences.

Trapped buildup leads to persistent odors that are frustrating, and often impossible to remove with most detergents. According to Geiger, this causes many people to throw clothes away far prematurely. This places a higher demand on clothes production, which is notoriously damaging to the environment (BBC reported fashion and apparel as a top-five most-polluting industry in the world). Beyond that, toxic detergents travel from washing machines to sewers and septic tanks, eventually contaminating waterways.

Geiger aims for Defunkify to reduce this impact in two ways: one, people will throw clothes away less frequently if they have a product that actually cleans the garments; and two, washing machines will release a safer mixture into the environment. “We hear it all the time, I was about to toss my favorite yoga pants, then I found Defunkify.”

And while Defunkify proudly aims to curb toxicity and environmental impact, it’s the performance that truly matters. “Regardless of the eco-friendliness, the formula has to be super effective. That’s first and foremost,” said Geiger. “Then,” he added, “You change the world by creating products that clean great and making them safer.”


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.

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