How Do Detergents Work?
An Ancient Remedy
Humans have been using soap for a long, long time. The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap dates back to around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Long before humans understood modern chemistry or biology, they noticed that certain materials, when mixed with water, did a much better job of cleaning than water alone.
At the most basic level, soap is a special type of salt derived from vegetable or animal fats or oils—for example, tallow (rendered beef fat), coconut oil, and olive oil are all popular soap bases. The oil or fat is combined with an alkaline metal solution, which breaks it down into the salt. Depending on additives, byproducts, and materials used, the final soap product can be solid, liquid, thick, thin, oily, or greasy. All types of soap do the same thing: remove dirt and the disease-causing germs it contains.
Removing dirt & germs, one micelle at a time
You’ve heard the saying – oil and water do not mix. On a chemical level, that’s because the fatty molecules that make up oil, grease, and dirt are all non-polar molecules that don’t have a charge, while water molecules are polar.
That’s why you get separate layers when you mix cooking oil with water or vinegar. This is important to understand for handwashing, because when disease-causing germs in fecal matter or dirt get on your hands after using the toilet or touching a contaminated surface, they mix with the natural oils on your skin and stay there.
When you rinse your hands with water only, it’s ineffective against the germy oils that have lodged onto your skin. The water slips right off without mixing, just like it does with cooking oil
That’s where soap comes in, it has a unique chemical structure that looks like a balloon. The balloon head is the salt—a charged, polar molecule—and it’s connected to a string or tail of non-polar fatty acids. The soap molecule can therefore act like a double-agent: the salty end is attracted to water, while the fatty tail is attracted to the dirt or oil.
When you mix soap with dirt and water, the soap molecules break up the dirt and the bacteria it contains by forming circles around individual droplets—the fatty chains go in the middle facing the dirt, while the salt balloon tops form the outside of the circle facing the surrounding water. The wheel-like structure formed by the circle of soap molecules around the dirt or oil droplet is called a micelle.
Then, what is a detergent?
Most cleaning products today are detergents. One of the biggest reasons for this is the way soap reacts with water. While detergents are free-rinsing (meaning they don’t leave a residue), soap needs a clear water wash after application or it will leave a film.
Hard water is the enemy of soap. In hard water conditions soaps form scum. Soap scum affects more than just cleanliness; it can deteriorate fabrics and eventually ruin clothing or other surfaces. Conversely, detergents can work in any level of water hardness since they react less to the many minerals in hard water.
Finally, soaps need warm water to work at all. Detergents, on the other hand, can be built to perform well in any water temperature. This versatility enables detergents to be used in everything from shampoo to laundry liquid to hand cleansers and stain removers.
Detergents can be built to suit specific cleaning tasks – laundry, degreasing, carpet care, or floor cleaning, for example. They can be formulated as acidic, alkaline or pH neutral, and ingredients such as enzymes can be added to aid in these specific applications.
To be effective, Detergent needs Surfactants
Surfactant, also called surface-active agent, is a substance when added to liquid, reduces its surface tension, thereby increasing its spreading and wetting properties.
When cleaning, effective detergent would spread evenly over the surface to better clean it. You want something that can grab onto the grease and dirt on whatever surface you are trying to clean.
Which brings us to the next point, of harmful chemicals. Most detergents, shampoo, hand soaps, etc uses SLS or SLES surfactants which has been proven harmful to humans. Other "natural" brand products may also contain kernel or palm oil as ingredients which is unfortunately encouraging deforestation in our world due to demands for them.
At Soapnut Republic, our main ingredient is Soapnut Berries which are reusable and sustainable as the extract does not require a lot of them. This ancient, natural wonder soap is our main surfactant.
Our formulation includes additional plant surfactants which is among the top best natural surfactants available today, such as Coco Glucoside, Decyl Glucoside, Lauryl Glucosides to ensure proper wetting and spreading to be effective in removing all types of Ions in dirt molecules. That is why our products is very effective in cleaning and doesn't require a lot to clean.
The Importance of PH Neutral
You would notice immediately upon contact with a detergent are they PH neutral or Acidic or Basic (alkaline). If the product is acidic, your hands would feel raw, with redness after contact and if the product is alkaline your skin would feel slippery. This would cause long term damage to your skin and lead to unwanted conditions.
At Soapnut Republic all our products are formulated to be PH neutral ensuring that there is no need for gloves on top of being a natural formulation. This is especially prevalent for sensitive skin people.
Antibacterial and Fragrance
You must have head by now the natural wonder of antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils. Most products in the market include synthetic FRAGRANCE into their products in order to create aroma, but this has been proven to be harmful to our lungs and could potentially cause an allergic reaction. Which is why in our products, we DO NOT USE any type of synthetic fragrance. All our aromas come naturally from the extract of essential oil.
As with all manufacturing and controlled products, preservative is mandated by governments for storage purposes. Parabens are widely used which are extremely harmful to us and should be avoided.
So much Harmful Chemicals, How do I know?
In general, if you're trying to decide between products, we would recommend that you first check the ingredients list. Read what is used and search them on ewg.org if you're unsure.
Any caution sign, flammable, acidic, not safe for child etc would mean that there are harmful ingredients that you should definitely avoid. Talk to the manufacturer, and try to get answers which are specific and direct. Vague answers normally would not suffice.
Which is why we trust Soapnut Republic products completely as Bobby the founder with extensive experience in chemical engineering oversees and creates the formulation from scratch. The products are used daily within their household as they wanted a safe environment for their growing household.