Smells like Warehouse District spirit

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May 12, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

How one Downtown company produces \"cosmetics for the home\" in lavender pine, citrus mint, green tea patchouli and jasmine lily

You may have seen Caldrea dish soap, all-purpose cleaner and counter-top cleanser in shops such as Ampersand, Bibelot Shop or Patina. With a clean but expensive-looking bottle and label design, these products complement the other pretty things at these stores.

However, Caldrea products have more than just a pretty face - they\'re conjured and manufactured in Downtown.

Caldrea Co.\'s headquarters, as well as its offshoot, Mrs. Meyer\'s Clean Day Aromatherapeutic Household Cleaners, are in the Warehouse

District\'s Ford Center, 420 N. 5th St. At first glance, this office space looks much like many of the building\'s offices- expansive windows, open space and an air of creativity that tenants of a quirky converted warehouse often possess.

However, if you look through the interior windows toward the back of the office, you\'ll find a setting more suitable for a high school \"home ec\" classroom.

Amid stainless steel and Formica countertops, there are Bunsen burners, washers, dryers and ovens producing an overpowering floral scent. Light streams through multi-colored glass bottles on the windowsill. This is the lab where people such as development chemist Myron Granlie concoct the formulas to make dish soaps or laundry detergents that smell good and clean effectively.

No masking candles

Caldrea president Monica Nassif co-founded her company three years ago after 18 years of building brands for retailers and consumer product companies. While grocery shopping one day, Nassif noticed a palette of different cleaning products.

\"The cleaning products were poorly displayed and designed, and they had horrible fragrances,\" Nassif said. \"I thought, what if you made this incredible cleaning product? You have to clean. Why not make cleaning like cosmetics for the home?\"

Nassif wanted to create products that would be pleasing to the eye, and to the nose.

\"I thought, what if you had one smell for your whole house? I used to light candles to mask all of the different smells [from different cleaning products] in my home,\" Nassif said.

So Nassif and partner Mary Dearing designed the Caldrea line - all-purpose cleanser, dish soap, linen-spray, countertop cleanser and stainless steel spray and more- and chose four main scents: a relaxing lavender pine, an energetic citrus mint ylang ylang, a sensuous green tea patchouli and an alluring jasmine lily.

\"We thought about what makes you feel good. Do you want to be energized or relaxed? Essential oils can alter your mood,\" Nassif said. \"Customers like options, so we chose four different scents.\"

(Sixteen ounces of Caldrea liquid dish soap or countertop cleaner is $8, 16 ounces of linen spray is $10, and 48 ounces of laundry powder is $20. Mrs. Meyer\'s Clean Day - the less expensive line of cleaning products usually found in grocery stores - comes in lavender and lemon verbena scents.)

Making smells pleasurable

Pam Helms is the director of resources and development for Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer\'s. She and her team of chemists figure out the formulas for the products, test them and ensure that they are aesthetically pleasing.

\"We make sure the products are stable and smell great,\" Helms said. \"It\'s like a kitchen here. There are different ingredients and you have to balance them all. Certain ingredients clean, others smell good. We play until we get something that functions.\"

According to chemist Myron Granlie, there is an inside joke in chemistry that says if you can\'t develop a formula for a product (such as hand soap) with a consistent color, just put it in an opaque bottle.

Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer\'s come in clear bottles.

A lavender-scented all-purpose cleaner was one of the chemists\' most difficult formulas. Helms said that the lavender cleaner always started out lavender in color but, over time and after being exposed to certain conditions, became every color in the rainbow. They finally figured out the right balance of ingredients to keep the cleaner a consistent color, but other formulas have not done so well. Plans for citrus-based products had to be shelved after chemists could not stop the products from changing hues.

\"When something fails, it fails here [at the lab]. It never goes to market because we are judged by what our product does,\" Nassif said.

According to Nassif and the chemists, each product undergoes extensive testing in the Ford Center before it ends up on store shelves.

\"For example, we have to test the effect of an oven on our products, to replicate them sitting on a dock in Miami,\" Nassif said.

Ford Center neighbors have not complained about overpowering smells, she adds - except when the company received a shipment of scented clothespins.

Do they work?

While there doesn\'t seem to be any argument that the Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer\'s products smell good and look pretty, some may wonder if a \"pretty\" product can clean effectively.

\"Our biggest obstacle is that people assume it just smells good but doesn\'t clean that well,\" said Dearing. \"We\'ve heard from people who have tried the products that it often cleans better than other brands.\"

And Granlie explained that figuring out a formula is quite scientific. \"For example, in making a laundry powder, there are a lot of aspects essential to cleaning to look at. It has to condition the water. It has to encapsulate the dirt so it doesn\'t come out in the water and back on the clothes,\" he said.

Nassif also said that all products have been tested in an independent lab. They have a plate test - an industry standard where they put a pile of dirt on a plate and see how many plates they can clean with the product and how long the bubbles last. \"We outpaced some of the national brands,\" she said.

Nassif says her 18-employee company is already profitable, although as a privately held business, she won\'t disclose sales. The product is available in about 600 stores nationwide, and Nassif has already decided 6,000 stores is the saturation point.

So, how did Nassif come up the names for her products? Caldrea is a mixture of her teenage daughters\' names - Calla and Aundrea. And Mrs. Meyer is her mother.

\"We had to be creative in finding names [because so many names were already claimed on the internet],\" Nassif said. \"Mrs. Meyer\'s was because my mom raised nine children, and she was an avid cleaner and cook. Now she thinks she\'s Betty Crocker.\"