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The Science of Laundry Detergent

The average American family of four does almost 400 loads of laundry a year—that’s a lot of clean clothes. Detergents and laundry have come a long way from the time of the Romans to modern day.

Tide is credited as being the first laundry detergent to get your clothes clean whilst keeping them bright. This was as long ago as 1946 and the product has been improved substantially since then. It is still considered the top laundry detergent in the US.

Of course, there is thousands of fancy laundry detergents on the market to choose from today; the majority of which are excellent at cleaning your clothes.

Have you ever considered the science behind the laundry detergent? How do clothes get clean? How does detergent work?


Your detergent is made out of water and chemicals. In fact, the chemicals, also known as water conditioners, are the biggest part of any detergent.

Water conditions are essential as they attract calcium and a variety of other minerals and metals. This removes them from the water and prevents them from becoming an issue while washing your clothes. The harder your water, the more detergent you will need to deal with hard water contaminants.

As well as water conditioners, you’ll find chemicals called surfactants. These are designed to get the stains out of your clothes. They work because they form long chains of carbon and hydrogen.

Alongside this, you’ll find a benzene ring, all too small to be seen by the naked eye of course. The two parts of the chain behave differently towards water; the carbon and hydrogen are referred to as dodecane, which hates water. The other part of the chain is known as benzosulfate, which loves water.

How The Chain Works

As soon as water enters your machine the benzosulfates are happy, but the dodecane are not. They will head for something organic but not water; the dirt on your clothes.

However, it can be tough to hold onto this dirt when the machine is spinning and the benzosulfates are happy in the water.

As a compromise a bubble is formed around the dirt, allowing the dodecanes to float happily in the water, without being attached to it. In this process, the dirt is removed from your clothing!

The Finishing Touches

Of course, as the machine slows it will be tempting for these dodecanes to return to your clothing. However, while the machine is spinning the enzymes in the detergent will act on the dirt removed and break it down, effectively removing it from the equation and leaving the dodecanes in the water.

This will trigger the process to start again as they search for more dirt. It is important to note that these reactions happen thousands of ties in one wash cycle. There are many small groups of dodecanes and benzosulfates helping to clean your clothes.

The Modern Touch

Today, we are more concerned with the impact of our actions on the environment. This extends to the products we use when completing the laundry.

Because of this, there has been a huge growth in the number of eco-friendly detergents.

These types of detergents do not release chemicals which could affect your health and the environment. Instead they are formulated from natural ingredients. The result is the same and, although the price is usually slightly higher, there are several reasons why this option makes sense:

  • Reduce oil usage

Research suggests that if every household in the US replaced just one of their traditional bottles of detergent with an eco-friendly one then the US would use 149,000 less barrels of oil! That should be enough to provide heat for 8,500 homes a year.

  • Cold Water

Eco friendly detergents are natural and can be used effectively in cold water. This means that you no longer need to waste electricity heating the water in your machine. The result is a cost saving to you and less harmful carbon emissions into the environment.

  • Residue

You might not realize it but conventional detergents leave a residue on your clothes. This has been shown to cause skin complaints especially in those with sensitive skin.

  • Toxins

The chemicals in the standard detergents can mix together to make toxic substances, these are harmful to your health and to the environment. Eco friendly detergents use all natural ingredients and don’t have this side effect.

  • Ingredients

Currently, there are no requirements for firms to display the exact ingredients in their detergent. This means you don’t actually know what you are using or how it could affect you.

Eco friendly detergents use natural ingredients which are fully declared; leaving you confident and comfortable with the product you’re using.



About the Author

Amanda Acuña an influential Mom Blogger created MommyMandy as an online resource to the parenting community. She has four children and they currently reside in Texas.

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