Leslie Sachs with sheets and a pillow at the Good Housekeeping Institute headquarters

Human Ecology Alum Puts Consumer Products to the Test

Stories You May Like

Holy Cows! Brothers (and their Farm) Star on New TV Show

With Online Clothing Business, Nigerian-Born Alum Gives Back

At the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection, History Is Always in Style

At NYC’s Good Housekeeping Institute, Lexie Sonis Sachs ’09 and colleagues evaluate everything from pillows to power bars

By Joe Wilensky

The plain white fabric is marked with a grid of 20 squares, each one framing a labeled, precisely portioned stain—including ketchup, crayon, mud, mascara, wine, chocolate syrup, grass, ink, and even (non-human) blood.

Its purpose: to rate the efficacy of a variety of laundry detergent brands. But contrary to the claims on some packages, says Lexie Sonis Sachs ’09, “nothing takes out everything.”

detail view of a fabric swatch with stains applied for detergent testing
A grid of stains, ready for testing.

The Human Ecology alum is executive director of strategy and operations at the Good Housekeeping Institute, the 124-year-old consumer product testing facility of the eponymous magazine.

Housed in a Midtown Manhattan office tower, the institute tests thousands of household products a year.

Browse the magazine (or social media) and you’ll find answers to questions such as: What’s the safest baby gear? What roofing and siding holds up to the weather? What’s the best mattress under $500? What robot vacuum is most effective on pet hair? Which skincare products actually reduce the appearance of wrinkles?

Leslie Sachs in a screen grab from a TV appearance on the “Today” show
With “Today” host Hoda Kotb in 2022. (Provided)

On any given day, the two dozen or so scientists and product experts in the institute’s seven labs may be putting luggage through its paces, testing air fryers and vacuum cleaners, or evaluating the resilience of vinyl flooring.

Stocked with specialized equipment, the labs fill nearly 18,000 square feet on the 29th floor of Hearst Tower, directly above the magazine’s editorial offices.

“Good Housekeeping is obviously a media brand,” Sachs says. “But the institute has always been backed by experts; our beauty lab has chemists, and we have a registered dietitian running the nutrition lab.”

The labs fill nearly 18,000 square feet on the 29th floor of Hearst Tower.

The institute launched in 1900, 15 years after the magazine. The Good Housekeeping Seal, which products can earn (and which is backed by its own warranty), was introduced in 1909—before the advent of modern government regulations on deceptive marketing.

“There was no FDA or FTC. There were a lot of new appliances coming into homes—and a lot confusion and misleading claims,” says Sachs. “The institute was formed to help readers navigate these new products.”

The Good Housekeeping Seal is displayed at the institute's headquarters in NYC
The famed seal at the institute’s entrance.

A fiber science major on the Hill, Sachs interned at the institute as an undergrad and worked elsewhere in the industry before returning as a textile product analyst in 2013.

She now appears regularly on TV shows like “Today” and “Good Morning America,” touting the institute’s awards and giving advice.

(“You don’t need to pre-rinse your dishes!” she told “Today” host Savannah Guthrie in one memorable spot.)

Stories You May Like

Holy Cows! Brothers (and their Farm) Star on New TV Show

With Online Clothing Business, Nigerian-Born Alum Gives Back

Sachs has also been featured as an expert source in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other news outlets.

As she notes, the institute conducts its tests with practicality in mind. For example, a diaper brand may claim to be the most absorbent because it holds 10 times its weight—but how often would a baby actually be in that situation?

Leslie Sonis Sachs at Cornell’s 2009 Commencement with the College of Human Ecology banner
At Commencement 2009. (Provided)

“That’s not what we think of when we’re measuring absorbency,” she says. “We’ll hold the diaper at an angle and measure how much runs off, then we’ll do pooling tests to see how quickly it absorbs, and we’ll do a re-wet test to see how well it holds all of that.”

Sachs has helped the institute turn its results into not only compelling stories for the magazine and website, but also social media posts that have gone viral.

She and her team have created hit TikToks on how to properly clean your windows, how luggage is tested, things you didn’t know you could machine wash, and even how to achieve the perfect tie-dye swirl.

She notes that unlike past generations, today’s audiences often have specific preferences and are already googling around for product recommendations.

And those searches, in turn, can help the labs focus their testing.

detail view of a fabric wear and stress-testing machine at the Good Housekeeping Institute
A stretch-and-stress tester for fabrics.

“If people are looking for bath towels,” she says, “some want the softest, some the most absorbent, and some the ones that dry fast, and some care more about appearance.”

The institute’s lab work is supplemented by the thousands of volunteers who test products under real-world conditions.

Sachs and her family—she and husband Andrew Sachs ’01 have two daughters—have tried out toys, kitchen equipment, and more.

Leslie Sachs in a screen grab from a TV appearance on “CBS Mornings”
On CBS with Vladimir Duthiers. (Provided)

(And Sachs’s colleagues include two fellow HumEc alums: Emma Seymour ’18 and Grace Wu ’21, MEng ’21, both analysts in the textile lab.)

What’s next on consumer wish lists?

Sachs cites such emerging products as luggage that can be worn as a backpack and standalone ice makers that create nugget-sized cubes.

Says Sachs: “People are getting very particular about their ice.”

Top: Sachs in the institute's Textiles, Paper, and Apparel Lab. (All photos by Joe Wilensky / Cornell University, unless indicated.)

Published June 28, 2024

Leave a Comment

Once your comment is approved, your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other stories You may like