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Not to be confused with Calgon Carbon
Calgon RB logo.png
Product type Water softener
Owner Reckitt Benckiser
Country United States
Introduced 1933
Previous owners Calgon, Inc.
Merck & Co.
Tagline Washing machines live longer with Calgon.

Calgon is a brand registered trademark of water softener, and bath and beauty products. The original product consisted of powdered sodium hexametaphosphate (amorphous sodium polyphospate), which in water would complex with ambient calcium ion and certain other cations, preventing formation of unwanted salts and interference by those cations with the actions of soap or other detergents. Its name was a portmanteau derived from the phrase "calcium gone".[1] Originally promoted for general use in bathing and cleaning, it gave rise to derivative products which have diverged from the original composition. Today, Calgon water softener contains the active ingredients zeolite and polycarboxylate, which are less problematic in wastewater treatment than phosphates.

The Calgon water softener was first introduced to the market in 1933 by Calgon, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Calgon, Inc. was acquired by Merck in 1968 and later broken up and sold off. Today, the brand is owned by Reckitt Benckiser for use in Europe as a water softener, and in the United States by Ilex Consumer Products Group as a bath and beauty product.


The brands have their origin in Calgon, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which first put Calgon water softener on the market in 1933.[2] It was acquired by Merck in 1968 and later broken up and sold off. Calgon was broken into:

Calgon bath and beauty products logo
  • Calgon bath and beauty products, sold to Coty, Inc., and then acquired by Ascendia Brands on 9 February 2007. Ilex Capital of Annapolis, Maryland purchased the product line and the rights to the name for $4.2 million in 2008. The brand's operations are run by Ilex Consumer Products Group LLC, the parent company's Baltimore-based arm headquartered in the Warehouse at Camden Yards.[1]
  • Calgon Carbon Corporation, acquired by its management in a leveraged buyout in 1985 and taken public in 1987
  • Calgon Water Management, sold to English China Clays in June 1993 for $307.5 million[3]
  • Calgon Vestal Laboratories, sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb in November 1994 for $261.5 million[4] and then to the Steris Corporation in 1996[5]


In North American popular culture, Calgon's advertisements have generated several popular catchphrases and/or definitions, which have been referenced in numerous subsequent songs, television shows, and motion pictures.

"Calgon, take me away!"[edit]

This commercial was for Calgon bath and beauty products.

In this advertisement, a woman wearing a fluffy pink robe is seen in a chaotic home scenario. As tension rises, she utters the slogan "Calgon, take me away!" The next scene shows her relaxing in a bath in a quiet room.

"Ancient Chinese secret, huh?"[edit]

A set of commercials from the early 70s that ran for years was for Calgon powdered water softener for laundry. They were set in a Chinese laundry somewhere in Anytown, USA.

A Caucasian lady customer at the counter (American actress and director Nancy Weiner) asks "Mr. Lee" (played by Chinese-American actor, Calvin Jung), "How do you get your shirts so white?" He puts a finger to his lips and says, with a light Chinese accent, "Ancient Chinese secret."

The scene shifts to Mrs. Lee (Japanese-American actress, Anne Miyamoto) in the back room, who overhears her husband and says - in a perfectly flat Midwestern accent - "My husband! Some hotshot! Here's his "Ancient Chinese Secret" - new formula Calgon!"

The customer is just about to exit the laundry when Mrs. Lee, having extolled the virtues of new formula Calgon - how, when added to rinse water, it helps make clothes 30% cleaner - pops her head around the door frame and calls to her husband, "We need more Calgon!" This prompts the customer to turn around from the door and stare daggers at Mr. Lee as she says, "'Ancient Chinese Secret,' huh?" Mr. Lee simply smiles and shrugs his shoulders.

Advertisements in Other Countries[edit]

Calgon water softener adverts in the United Kingdom, Ireland and in the rest of Europe promote the product solely on the basis of saving washing machines from breakdown rather than any benefits to the clothing in the wash, although the products on sale are identical to those in the United States. The difference is accounted for by the prevalence in Europe of household washing machines with intrinsic heaters, whose elements benefit from the prevention of boiler scale. In Portugal, the Calgon advertisement jingle is the same popular one, for almost 30 years. In Italy, until Spring 2008, Calgon was called Calfort.[6]


In May 2011 a study by Which? magazine demonstrated that there was no evidence to suggest that washing machines lasted longer when treated with Calgon under "normal" washing conditions. Calgon disputes this, however.[7] In October 2011, Dutch TROS TV program Radar also concluded Calgon water softener is not necessary under "normal" washing conditions for Dutch customers. [8]

In popular culture[edit]

The slogan "Calgon, take me away!" has been referenced in a number of forms of entertainment.

  • "Shake It Off," a 2005 single by recording artist Mariah Carey. The chorus includes the lyric "Just like the Calgon commercial/I really gotta get up outta here/And go somewhere . . ."
  • The L7 (band) song "Diet Pill" contains the line "Calgon can't take me away"
  • A 1996 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featuring the film Space Mutiny. Mike and the Bots parody the name of the character Elijah Kalgan (pronounced "Calgon") numerous times; for example, saying "Kalgan, blow me away!" after he shoots another character.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Bundle of Joy", Geoffrey utters the slogan after being overwhelmed by many different requests from the family in a daydream. He utters the slogan again during the end credits of that episode.

On rock band Incubus' album S.C.I.E.N.C.E., the final track is entitled "Calgone". The song tells about the central character's worst day ever, which includes a flat tire and being abducted by aliens. At one point in the lyric, Brandon Boyd sings, "Thank goodness for bathtubs and suds."

The slogan "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?" has also been a reference in a number of forms of entertainment.

In the 1993 film Wayne's World 2, Wayne is sitting on his girlfriend's bed when they start talking about laundry. Wayne asks how she gets the laundry so clean. Casandra, portrayed by Tia Carrere, says "It's an ancient Chinese secret." Wayne, portrayed by Mike Myers, says, "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?" while looking directly into the camera with a box of Calgon in his hand.

Saturday Night Live parodied that commercial with Jackie Chan (as guest host) in May 2000. The commercial parody played like the original, except the customer was male (played by Chris Parnell) and after he said "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?", the husband (Chan) attacked him and said "You tell anyone the secret, you're a dead man".

In the Arrested Development episode Sword of Destiny, Lindsay recommends a Chinese herbal store called Ancient Chinese Secret to her brother, Michael. Michael and Tobias respond, in unison, "Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?", a reference to the 1970s Calgon commercial.

Indie band Clem Snide has a song titled "Ancient Chinese Secret Blues." The final lyrics of the song are "Calgon, take me away".[9]

In an episode of Family Guy, after burning down Mort's pharmacy, Quagmire is stressing out from the guilt to which Peter says "Calgon, take him away!" In the next scene, we see Quagmire relaxing in a bathtub inside a bubble from which he gets up and says to Peter, "This isn't helping it's actually making it worse!" and we just see the bubble float away. They never explain how they get Quagmire down.

In the song "Crazy ABC's" from the album Snacktime! by the Barenaked Ladies, Ed and Steve have an interaction that parodies the "Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?" line. Ed: "X is for Xi'an, an ancient Chinese city, true." Steve: "Ancient Chinese city, huh? My guitar player, some hotshot."


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