A Primer on Detergents: How They Work and Why They are Different From Soap

Person holding cleaning productsYou probably know that it is okay to use detergents on woolen garments, whereas the converse is true for soap. Some people use the words “soap” and detergent interchangeably, but they are not the same. Soap is a type of detergent this is typically in solid form. Most of the time, soaps are made from naturally sourced raw materials.

Let us take a closer look at detergents and how they work.

A spotlight on detergents

Aside from soap, stain removers, hair shampoo and shaving foam can be considered as detergent products. Liquid is the most usual form for detergents used for cleaning today. They are chemical compounds widely used for cleaning purposes.

The first detergents based on surfactant were introduced to America in the 1930s. Laundry products and commercial dishwasher chemicals – like those available from firms such as BC Industrial Services, LLC – have undergone various incarnations since then.

How detergents work

The surfactant composition of detergents make them effective cleaning products. Once mixed with water in the dishwasher or washing machine, one end of the surfactant is attracted to oily substance, while the other is hydrophilic (attracted to water).

As the machine works, the grease breaks down further and further until it detaches from the dirty dishes or your clothes.

Detergent versus soap

Detergents are more soluble in water and offer better cleaning results even with hard water. Moreover, because of their hydrocarbon structure, detergents are biodegradable. However, synthetic products are not fully degradable, and end up as pollutants, when they are not dissolved by microorganisms in sewage.

Synthetic detergents became available in the aftermath of the Second World War. Most chemical cleaners today are of synthetic compounds. Since the 1970s, there has been a huge concern for the buildup of pollutants from detergent use, and the demand for biodegradable surfactants is relevant now more than ever.

The next time you wash jeans stained with grease or place dirty dishes on the dishwasher, think for a minute about what goes on in there. It’s good to choose detergents that are effective cleaners but also cause fewer problems as pollutants.