Made Great in Britain: The Swarfega Story

Made Great in Britain: The Swarfega Story

This year marks the 70th birthday of the well-known British brand, Swarfega. Famous for its green hand cleaning gel, it’s a business that’s been part of the fabric of everyday life for UK technicians for generations.

Swarfega was launched during a momentous period of history, with much of the world still reeling from the effects of the Second World War. In the UK, 1947 started with the nationalisation of the coal industry to help fuel the re-building of Britain and ended with the future queen of the United Kingdom, Princess Elizabeth, marrying the Duke of Edinburgh.

Whilst the war had immense impact across the globe, it left Deb – the manufacturer of silkware protection rinse-aid for silk stockings – without a market for its products: nylons had been introduced from America during the war, replacing their silk predecessors.

Looking back to 1947….

According to company legend, Deb founder, AB Williamson, noticed that machinists were using the rinse-aid product to clean their hands at the end of their shifts. Following their lead, he changed focus from rinse-aid to hand cleanser.

AB Williamson created the Swarfega name based on ‘swarf’, an engineering term for oil and grease in Derbyshire and ‘ega’ as in ‘eager to clean’ and began selling the product to people who work with their hands in a dirty environment, such as mechanics and engineers across the UK.

Up to this point, there were limited options available for heavy duty hand cleaning: home-made cleaners were widely used, often with harsh results on skin conditions.

On the back of success with Swarfega hand cleanser, the Deb Group introduced additional products in the Swarfega range, many still in use today, such as Swarfega Heavy Duty, Duck Oil, Jizer and numerous surface cleaners. Generations of mechanics and engineers have used products that have been made by generations of families working at the company’s factories.

Over the years there have been some odd reported uses of Swarfega hand clean, including the use of it by the BBC to create sound effects. None are stranger, though, than the batch of counterfeit condoms with Swarfega on them found by the Scottish trading standards agency in 2014. Definitely not a recommended use!

2017 and into the future…

The Deb Group is now a global business, developing and manufacturing skin care, hand hygiene and cleaning products in Denby, Derbyshire only few miles away from the site of the original factory.

The original green gel is still sold and loved today, with its distinctive scent and ‘ringing’ qualities when its packaging is tapped. The formulation has evolved as knowledge of the human skin has changed and the type of contaminants in use in industry have moved on.

Whilst it’s a name well known to mechanics, engineers and technicians, keeping a product and brand leading the market is a significant achievement. MD of Deb Group, Jeff Bell, commented:

“For any brand or product to stand the test of time for so long is testament to the quality of the product, the ability of the staff to keep pace with an ever-changing world and the loyalty shown by generations of mechanics, technicians and engineers.’

Looking forward to the future, Bell also said: “We’re excited about the future for Swarfega, and we’re keeping the existing products in the range – as the saying goes: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and as it’s a special year for Swarfega, there are a number of limited edition products coming out in Spring, so watch this space.” 

For more information on Swarfega click here.

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