ASA Adjudication on Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd
Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd
31 October 2012
Internet (on own site)
Number of complaints:
A claim on www.calgon.co.uk stated "Washing machines live longer with Calgon". Next to the claim was a colour-coded map depicting the varied water hardness across the UK.
Which? challenged whether the claim "Washing machines live longer with Calgon" was misleading and could be substantiated, because they did not believe the evidence used to support it reflected relevant washing conditions.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare (UK) Ltd (RB) stated that limescale build-up in washing machines had an effect upon both the mode and the speed of machine failure, and that the rate of build-up was faster in hard water areas. They explained that limescale built up on parts of the machine in contact with water, including drums, pipes, seals and, most notably, heating elements. They stated that the build-up of limescale on any of those components, and particularly on the heating element, could cause a machine to fail and they provided an extract from a survey of repairers that detailed the most common causes of limescale-related machine failures and the most common age at which machines failed in hard water areas. They also sent an extract from research carried out by a manufacturer of heating elements that focused specifically on the different mechanisms of heating element failure caused by limescale build-up.
RB said the claim was intended to refer to the impact on the effective working life of washing machines when using Calgon compared to not using Calgon, or any other water softener. They provided reports of two accelerated tests, one conducted by them and the other conducted by the Cleaning Technology Institute (WFK) in Germany, which they said clearly demonstrated that Calgon reduced the build-up of limescale on the heating element, which delayed machine failure. They provided a third report from the Stazione Sperimentale per le Industrie degli Oli e dei Grassi (SSOG) in Italy which had not been accelerated to produce machine failure but which also recorded limescale build-up with and without Calgon. They believed that report demonstrated that the claim was true in "real world" washing conditions in the UK.
The ASA understood that the claim was intended to refer to the benefit of using Calgon compared to not using a water softener, and we considered that that was how the claim would be interpreted by consumers. We also considered that consumers would expect the claim to relate to the performance of Calgon in normal ("real world") washing conditions, for example, when used in a domestic washing machine with a standard load size and composition, a standard detergent and wash temperature and a standard mains water supply. We noted that a map that highlighted the areas of the UK with the hardest water was shown on the home page and that additional information on the home page related specifically to the performance of Calgon in hard water areas. We therefore considered that consumers would expect Calgon to have a more significant impact on the lives of washing machines in hard water areas.
We noted that the RB and WFK reports related to tests in which the machine, the load, the detergent and the wash temperature had all been selected to reflect normal, "real world" washing conditions. The tests showed that the build-up of limescale (measured in grams) on the heating elements of machines using Calgon was significantly less than on machines using detergent only. We also noted that the heating elements in each of the detergent-only machines had failed during the course of the tests, but that the machines that used Calgon had not. However, the tests had been conducted using water that was harder than the mains water supplied anywhere in the UK and we understood that the hardness of the water was a significant factor, because hard water left behind more of the mineral deposits that caused limescale. We understood that it was for this reason that very hard water had been used, because it accelerated the effects of limescale build-up and allowed for more information to be obtained.
We understood that the average lifespan of a domestic washing machine was predicted at around 12 years and that each of the detergent-only machines in the RB and WFK tests had broken down before they had completed the number of washes that a machine would be expected to complete in a year. We considered that those tests clearly demonstrated that the heating elements in washing machines could fail as a result of limescale build-up and that the use of a water softener could substantially reduce the amount of limescale produced. However, we were conscious that it was not possible to determine from those tests alone whether the use of Calgon would reduce the amount of limescale by an amount that would impact on the lifespan of a machine under conditions that consumers in the UK were likely to experience.
The SSOG study, however, used water of a hardness that was well within the range of the mains supply in the UK, as well as a standard domestic machine, load, detergent and wash temperature. We noted the amount of limescale that had been present on the heating elements at the point of failure of the machines in the RB and WFK trials and the amount of limescale on the heating element of the machines at the end of the SSOG trial. We considered that the heating elements of the detergent-only machines in the SSOG study would have reached the same amount of limescale that caused machine failure in the other studies after the equivalent of around five years of use, based on an average number of annual washes. We accepted that the results showed it would have taken considerably longer for the machines that used Calgon to have generated the same amount of limescale.
We accepted that limescale was a cause of washing machine failure, particularly for machines that used hard water, and that Calgon would reduce the build-up of limescale. Furthermore, we considered that the evidence we had seen showed that it could reduce the build-up of limescale sufficiently to extend the working life of washing machines operated in "real world" conditions in the UK. We therefore concluded that the claim had been substantiated and was not misleading.
We investigated under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.