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LiquiGlide used in a ketchup bottle.

How LiquiGlide Will Unclog Your Ketchup Bottle (and Make It Easier to Recycle)

Liquiglide's New Coating Makes It Easier Than Ever to Squeeze the Last Drop of Ketchup out of the Bottle

Back in 2012, a video surfaced on the internet of a disembodied hand emptying an entire bottle of ketchup effortlessly, with just a slight twist of the wrist. Even more intriguing, the inside of the bottle was almost entirely spotless. Just a single drop of ketchup remained by the end of the 15-second clip.

The video went viral. News outlets and social media proclaimed the era of banging on ketchup bottles to be over. What made that bottle of ketchup so slippery? The secret sauce, in a manner of speaking, was a super-slippery coating named LiquiGlide, developed by researchers at the Varanasi Research Group laboratory at MIT. 

However, as with any laboratory breakthrough, it takes a long time to go from the moment of “eureka!” to store shelves. But now, nearly five years after their video went viral, LiquiGlide inventors Dave Smith and Kripa Varanasi are now poised to bring their revolutionary coating to market.

The pair now lead their own company, the eponymous LiquiGlide Inc., devoted to finding new applications for their invention, which they describe as a “permanently wet, liquid-impregnated surface.” The company is already working with over 30 clients to adapt their slippery coating to numerous production processes and consumer goods, with such brands as Elmer’s and Heinz lining up as potential customers.

How LiquiGlide Works

LiquiGlide diagram

Image courtesy of LiquiGlide

First, a textured solid is applied to the inside surface of the container. This solid layer contains evenly spaced features that anchor the top liquid layer in place. It’s this top layer that repels the ketchup (or what have you), leaving nothing for the ketchup to grip on its way out of the bottle. 

A Recycling Revolution in the Making

What is truly remarkable about LiquiGlide is its potentially revolutionary impact on the recycling industry. Fervent recyclers know to rinse out empty bottles and cans before putting them in the recycling bin, yet many others either skip this step or simply aren’t aware of it. This forces recycling companies to either rinse out containers themselves or discard them entirely if too much food or other residue remains.  

However, LiquiGlide’s CEO Dave Smith believes his company’s coatings offer a simple solution. “Using LiquiGlide’s coating technology, consumers won’t be left with any product stuck inside containers, therefore making it a lot easier, less time consuming and more convenient to recycle them. The consumer won’t have to work hard to get the remaining product out, waste water to wash out what remains, or even worse, throw it away.” 

Recycling companies would also benefit from this new technology. “Containers coated with LiquiGlide are also less of a hassle for the recycling plants because it also saves these facilities time, water and energy,” said Smith.

LiquiGlide glue test Image courtesy of LiquiGlide

The company also posits that their containers could significantly reduce product waste, as well as allow more products to use recyclable containers. “Many products on the market today are thrown away with as much as 10 percent of the product still trapped inside,” said Smith. But with LiquiGlide’s coating technology: “…packaging can be completely re-thought and transformed. For example, there are many products that are packaged in non-recyclable tubes given their viscous nature, such as toothpaste, cream, ointment, medication, glue, paint and more. If these products were put into new recyclable containers, it would enable even more recycling while also reducing that much more waste.”

Big-name brands are intrigued by this prospect as it will allow them to ship more product in smaller recyclable containers, lowering transport costs and fuel emissions. As an added bonus, consumers are more likely to replace products faster if they can easily tell when they are getting low, which LiquiGlide finally makes possible.

But before LiquiGlide finds its way into your home, it must first make its big debut. As of writing, the company believes the first consumer products to take advantage of its signature coatings will be lotion, mayonnaise and toothpaste. Keep your eyes peeled the next time you are at the supermarket, and you might just see a LiquiGlide container on a store shelf near you.

Cover Image: "Karate Kung Fu Ketchup" by Torbakhopper licensed under CC by 2.0