I’m not going to say that a fraud has been perpetrated on the American consumer, but I think a fraud might have been perpetrated on the American consumer (OK, another one).

I came to this conclusion the other day as I was doing dishes. I suppose I could have come to this conclusion years ago, but usually when I do dishes, I don’t think about doing dishes — I think about quantum mechanics or Gregorian chants. But the other day I paid attention.

Here’s what happened: I was doing the dishes as I usually do, squirting a little detergent into my sponge and working up some suds, and I noticed that I had to keep doing this more often than I remembered. I’d wash a fork or two, a knife maybe, then need a little more detergent. It was almost as if someone had watered down the dishwashing liquid.

And that’s when it hit me. You see, I always buy the old-fashioned dishwashing soap because it comes in bigger bottles, seems less expensive and isn’t labeled “Ultra” or “Concentrated.” I mean, who needs concentrated dishwashing liquid when the unconcentrated kind works just fine?

Except it doesn’t — at least not the way I remember it. Seems to me that in days gone by I could squeeze some detergent into my sponge and the suds would go on and on and on — just like the ultras do now. So is that what’s going on? Are the smaller bottles labeled “Ultra” filled with plain old laundry detergent and the bottles of plain old laundry detergent just watered down?

Part of me whispers, “That’s impossible. Surely manufacturers wouldn’t dupe the public in such a way, would they?” Another part of me says, really loud, “Don’t be so naïve!”

And when I remember the Ultra 2X laundry detergent sitting over by my washing machine, I slap my forehead and say “Silly me.” Because it’s the same thing all over again with clothes. And did I forget the concentrated bleach? BLEACH? How on earth do you concentrate bleach?

I know what you’re thinking. So what if the manufacturers of these products save a little money by using less water in their products. After all, water is precious, right? And if the bottles are smaller, they’re using less plastic. Isn’t that also a good thing? But then they’re selling what must be that watered-down version I’ve been using, so water isn’t that precious after all, is it? And putting it in the original-sized bottles, so they don’t give a hoot about plastic, do they?

Incidentally, my findings have been corroborated by an independent test kitchen in western Massachusetts, so it’s not just me.

Consumers everywhere don’t know if they’re getting a break or being taken for a ride. All I can say is this: If there had been a little more soap in my soap, I would have written about something else — maybe the incredible shrinking pound.

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