While watching The Theory of Everything, during a scene set in the 1960s, Steven Hawking remarked to his future wife that peoples' clothing were glowing because of the florescent brightener dyes added to Tide detergent.

It immediately struck me as a likely anachronism, as I remember first reading about them in Consumer Reports in the nineties or later.

When were optical brighteners first added to commercial laundry detergent on a large scale?

  • This is not question about significant historical events. Trivia is off topic. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:05
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    I don't think this is off-topic. It may not be very interesting to many people, but seems like valid industrial history question to me.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:40
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    Prior to the use of fluorescent optical brighteners the use of bluing agents was commonplace for centuries: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluing_(fabric) Are you enquiring about the use of optical additives in general, or fluorescent such in particular? Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 2:06
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    iiconservation.org/node/2144 might be of interest
    – Henry
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 8:42
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    @TylerDurden That's not trivia. That's a real history of real people washing their clothes. The irrelevant trivia that overflow this SE is some quirky details of various machines of death.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 13:17

1 Answer 1


Household laundry detergents with fluorescent optical brighteners were common by 1967.

See Optical brighteners as detergent additives Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, Volume 45, pp 497–504 (July 1968).

See especially table XI which gives the specific compounds in use in 7 different US laundry detergents as of early 1967.

See also The use of optical brighteners for synthetic fibers in detergents Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, Volume 46, pp 75–80 (February 1969)

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