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Americans have changed the way they wash their messy dishes.

Procter & Gamble (PG) says its old-fashioned liquid detergent, which debuted in 1972, just isn’t cut out for the job anymore, so it invented a new Dawn dish spray designed for how people are washing their dishes today.

More consumers are washing one or two dishes during “cooking downtime,” instead of letting them pile up and doing one big wash once they’re all done, according to P&G. The company says the old Dawn wasn’t intended to be used that way. Traditional dish soap is designed to combine with water and create suds to help get dishes clean, not to directly apply to dirty dishes or sponges.

Today, 61% of Americans prefer this “clean-as-you-go” method, according to P&G’s research.

Procter & Gamble's new "Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray."
Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble's new "Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray."

“People are much more time-starved today” and they see the clean-as-you-go method as a “‘life hack,’” said Morgan Brashear, a home care senior scientist at P&G. “The product they were using wasn’t really keeping up.”

So after five years of research and development, P&G is introducing “Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray,” its first new form of dish detergent since Dawn soap in a bottle was released nearly 50 years ago. The new formula, which comes in a spray bottle, doesn’t require water to activate cleaning suds the way traditional dish soap does.

This new bottle of Dawn spray with a nozzle costs about two dollars more than the regular version of Dawn liquid soap. P&G hopes consumers are willing trade up for the higher-priced version of because of the convenience the soap should bring to daily chores.

P&G has innovated with Dawn in the past with different foams and liquids, but says this is the first completely new form of soap since the 1970s. The company hopes the new spray will become one of the company’s most successful innovations since the launch of Tide Pods in 2012.

“This is our Pods launch,” said Kristine Decker, P&G’s dish care director. “We’re really treating this as a revolution to the category.”

Washing dishes is consumers’ second least-favorite household chore, behind cleaning the toilet, according to P&G. Between scrubbing, waiting, and scrubbing again, consumers told P&G’s research teams that they were looking for quicker solutions. P&G observed customers doing chores and washing their dishes in their homes or at company offices.

“Their two biggest frustrations with the dish-washing process are the soaking and the scrubbing,” said Brashear, the home care senior scientist at P&G.

So P&G went to work. It says it the new formula breaks down burnt and baked-on-food without having to use water or soaking the dishes. The company claims it works five times faster than traditional dish soap.

’Spray, Wipe, Rinse’

P&G is trying to jolt a stagnating part of the household goods industry. Dish soap sales have inched up only 0.4% over the previous year ending on November 23, according to Nielsen. That followed three straight years of sales declines.

The growing number of Americans who eat out and order in has hurt dish soap sales.

“Cooking at home has become more of a pastime to those who are dedicated enough,” Khaled Samirah, research analyst at Euromonitor International, said in a research report. “This trend can be attributed to many consumers not having enough time to cook at home.”

Adding to dish soap troubles, earlier this fall, Walmart, P&G’s largest customer, also warned of a “national supply shortage” of dish soap at some stores, leading to some customer confusion.

P&G does not break out Dawn sales, but the brand is part of its home care division, which makes up one-tenth of the company’s more than $67 billion in annual sales.

Dawn was initially a beauty bar. In 1972, Dawn launched liquid detergent in a bottle.
Procter & Gamble
Dawn was initially a beauty bar. In 1972, Dawn launched liquid detergent in a bottle.

Last year, Dawn controlled 46% of the $1.6 billion of the US hand soap market, followed by Palmolive at 17%, which is made by its longtime rival Colgate-Palmolive Co. P&G also owns Gain and Ivory, which together hold about 10% of the market.

Dawn began as in the 1950s as bar soap for consumers to use to clean oil and grease from their faces. In the 1970s, Dawn introduced liquid detergent in a bottle. But there had been few innovations in dish soap since, even as Americans changed the way they washed their dishes.

Dawn Powerwash will be available in stores and online beginning in January, coming in fresh, apple and citrus scents. A 16 oz. starter-kit bottle will retail for $4.99, while refill bottles will go for $3.99.

P&G knows it will have to prove to consumers why it makes sense to swap out liquid soap for the new spray, as well as teach them how to use it. The company plans to advertise the product online, through in-store displays and on national television to help introduce customers to the spray.

“We will be doing a lot of work making sure that the educational piece of it is kind of shouted from every rooftop,” said Brashear.