Q:

How does laundry detergent work?

A:

Quick Answer

Laundry detergents work by lowering the surface tension of water, improving its ability to dissolve stains from clothing. Detergents emulsify dirt so it drains with the wash water instead of redepositing on the clothes in the machine.

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Full Answer

Water is a polar solvent. However, many of the stains on laundry are nonpolar, fat-based stains. The body produces oily waste products and deposits them on the clothes. The surfactants in detergent create a non-polar end on the water molecule, allowing it to dissolve such oily stains. While the detergent allows the water to attach to the oil stain, the mechanical agitation of the washing machine lifts the stain from the cloth. While soaps and detergents work similarly, soaps react with minerals in the water to form soap scum that sometimes deposits back onto the clean clothes.

Detergent manufacturers add other chemicals to the product to enhance its stain removal properties. Oxidizers react chemically with stains to lighten them so they become less apparent. Enzymes are protein-based chemicals that speed up the chemical reactions required for cleaning, reducing the time required for the wash cycle. Laundry products also include sodium and potassium hydroxide. These hydroxides provide ions that help to facilitate chemical reactions for cleaning. Water softeners help to improve the ability of detergents to bind with fats that cause stains.

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Related Questions

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    Who makes laundry detergent tablets?

    A:

    Most brands of laundry detergent are available in packet, tablet or pod form, including Arm & Hammer, Seventh Generation (which is eco-friendly), Tide, Gain, Purex, Swift, Salvo and Dropps. Tablets are filled with enough soap for one load of laundry, and they disintegrate in either hot or cold water.

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  • Q:

    What is the best laundry detergent?

    A:

    The 2013 tests from Consumer Reports list Wisk Deep Clean as the best detergent, while Good Housekeeping's 2012 test names Ultra Tide as the best. The runner-ups in each test were Costco's Kirkland Signature and Gain Dazzle & Shine, respectively.

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    What is a liquid laundry detergent recipe?

    A:

    A homemade recipe for liquid laundry detergent calls for water, Borax, washing soda and a bar of soap. Grate the soap. Heat 2 quarts of water until it almost boils. Add the soap, and stir with a wooded spoon until it dissolves. In a 5-gallon bucket, add 1 cup Borax and 1 cup washing soda to 4 1/2 gallons of hot water. Stir, and then add the soapy mix.

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  • Q:

    What are the ingredients in Tide laundry detergent?

    A:

    Ingredients in Tide original liquid laundry detergent include the surfactants alcoholethoxy sulfate, linear alkylbenzene sulfonate, alcohol sulfate, sodium fatty acids, laureth-9 and alkyldimethylamine oxide, according to Procter and Gamble. Surfactants pull dirt out of fabric while preventing the gunk from reattaching.

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