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Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Soaps and Detergents Clean


People use artisan, handmade soap rather than bars of detergent they buy at the grocery store, for many reasons. Some like the look, smell, or moisturizing effects of the handmade soap. Some people's skin is irritated by the petroleum products found in the bars at the grocery store. Rarely does the chemical process of how soaps and detergents clean enter into the decision making process, however different the two may be.

Soaps are made by combining oils and lye together via a chemical process called saponification. Soap is an excellent cleanser because it acts as an emulsifying agent. It's able to combine one liquid with another immiscible liquid. This allows it to take oil (which attracts dirt) that doesn't usually mix with water, to suspend to the water and be washed off.

Detergents, on the other hand, are surfactants which are produced from petrochemicals. Surfactants lower the surface tension of water making it 'wetter' and less likely to stick to itself and more likely to combine with grease and oils to be washed off.

Both soaps and detergents need a little agitation (a sponge, washcloth, or a washing machine's agitator) in order to complete the cleaning process.

When it comes to cleaning, both soaps and detergents get the job done via different methods.

More information regarding the chemical process used by soaps and detergents can be found here:

http://chemistry.about.com/od/cleanerchemistry/a/how-soap-cleans.htm
http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingswork/f/detergentfaq.htm

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