What is responsible for the cleaning effect in the detergent

Foam party and surfactants


In the case of surfactants (from lat. tensus, van tenderetension, tighten) are detergent substances. Surfactants form a thin layer on the water surface and thus lower the surface tension of the water. They ensure that two liquids that are actually immiscible with one another (e.g. oil and water) can be finely mixed.

Surfactants are found in all laundry detergents, shower gels, shampoos and soaps. They are responsible for cleaning skin, hair and laundry. Around the world, around 55% of surfactants are used for household and cleaning agents. In 2014 around 20 million tons of surfactants were produced worldwide.

But are all surfactants really good for us?

Surfactants are, so to speak, the central ingredients of all cleaning and household products. They loosen the dirt and prevent the dirt from being redeposited on the fiber. Detergents often even contain a combination of several surfactants. As so-called detergent substance They have become an indispensable part of laundry detergents, dish soap, shower gels and shampoos.

Surfactants have several properties. The most interesting properties for us is that they can form foam and loosen dirt. And this is exactly where it gets exciting for us!

Surfactants have a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic part. The hydrophobic part - a hydrocarbon residue - can attach itself to other hydrophobic substances (e.g. oil, fat). The hydrophilic part interacts with the water.

Depending on the electrical charge of the hydrophilic part of the molecule, surfactants are divided into four groups:

- Nonionic surfactants / uncharged
- Anionic surfactants / with a negative charge
- Cationic surfactants / with a positive charge
- Amphoteric surfactants / with a negative and a positive charge

There are two types of surfactants: natural and synthetic. Natural surfactants are made from renewable raw materials. Synthetic surfactants are made from petroleum. But this subdivision is not sufficient from a technical point of view, as some natural surfactants such as soap are obtained through a chemical process.