The Chemistry of Cleaning Soaps

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The Chemistry of Cleaning Soaps

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Household cleaners have come a long way from the invention of the very first cleaner called soap. The concept of soap is an old one; in fact, evidence thereof can be traced back to around 3000 B.C. with directions on how to make it found on clay tablets. Over the past 100 years, cleaners have been adjusted to fight more specific soils. After World War I, detergent was invented in Germany as a soap substitute, when animal fats were hard to buy. Now, cleaning agents are much more complex, with a compilation of several ingredients that work together to fight dirt and kill germs. Cleaning supplies have ingredients that work different jobs, build the strength of the soap, and create chemical reactions.

The two most important ingredients are the solvent and the surfactant. The solvent, like water, is used to help dissolve the soil and serves as a place the grime can go after it detaches from a surface. The surfactant, like soap, has a hydrophobe end and a hydrophile end that form a line between the solvent and the dirt. When water, soap and a dirty surface are combined, a chemical reaction happens. The hydrophobic end is afraid of the water and stays by the dirt and begins attacking the dirt. The hydrophile end is afraid of the dirt and stays by the solvent, allowing a place for the attacked dirt to be released. Using applied science and technology, the strength of this chemical reaction can be adjusted; this means the hydrophobic end can be increased, so there is more strength on the side by the dirt to make it more deadly against germs and bacteria. With the use of science, cleaning supplies are more powerful than ever.

Cleaning Supplies History

  • Brief History of Bleach: Read about how bleach was born and a brief timeline of how it became a cleaning agent, starting with its first official use in Vienna to disinfect and prevent the spread of the fever.
  • The History of Soap: This article begins with covering the basic chemistry of soap and then dives into the discovery and timeline of when it was first made and used.
  • Automatic Dishwasher Detergent: Over the years, cleaners have had to evolve for modern technology. Learn about the man who invented detergent for the dishwasher, so you can feel confident your dishes are being sanitized.
  • Soaps and Detergents History: During World War I, there was a shortage of many things people used every single day, like fats. Fats are used to make soap, but Germany was able to create a cleaner, known as detergents, without using fat. Read more on the history of soap and detergent from the late 1900s to now.
  • Liquid Laundry Detergent: This article covers everything you need to know about the chemistry of liquid laundry detergent, starting with the history and invention thereof.

Household Cleaner Chemistry

  • What is Soap Made of?: This is a great article to get you started in learning the basic chemistry of soap and how it is created.
  • What Makes Antibacterial Soap Antibacterial?: Ever wonder what special ingredient in soap kills all those nasty germs and bacteria? Learn about the synthetic chemical called Triclosan and why it is the main active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps.
  • Soaps, Detergents and Cleaning: The chemistry of soaps and cleaning detergents begins with something as unusual as fat. Read how separating the fat from animals and even plants can be used to make soap.
  • The Science of Soil Removal: To completely understand how cleaning supplies work to remove soils, you have to first understand the pH scale. This article covers the basic chemistry and pH of different soils like dirt, grease, rust and mold, and how cleaners are designed at a certain pH level to react with the soils.
  • Chemical Classifications of Detergents: Detergents can be separated into three groups depending on the reaction and strength they have on water or a solid. The broad groups are ethoxylates, cationic detergents, and anionic detergents. Although their names are a little intimidating, this article is very interesting as it covers what each group does to fight different soils and then expands on how detergents work.
  • Soap, Water, Oil: Water can work as a cleaning detergent for organic material like dirt, but for oils and grease, water by itself can’t do anything because oil and water have opposite polarity. Read more about combining soap and water to break down oils and grease with chemical reactions.
  • Hazardous Household Chemical Mixtures: This article covers the different chemicals found in specific cleaners and what you should not mix them with; for example, when bleach and ammonia are mixed together, they create a toxic gas.
  • Chlorination Chemistry: Bleach is a detergent that is an ingredient in many cleaning supplies. The second it is added to water, several chemical reactions begin to happen. Read more about the chemistry of bleach and how it works to kill microorganisms.

Last modified: April 9, 2018