Soap or Detergent – Which is best?
Materials like soap and detergents are two of the major products used in commercial cleaning and office cleaning. They play a huge role in removing the dirt, stains, and easing the cleaning process.
But not many people understand the difference between soap and detergent. While they essentially do the same thing, they are very different products with different compositions, different environmental impacts and a range of pros and cons when it comes to cleaning. Also, to know about the importance of office cleaning – prefer only professional clean, click here.
So, let’s find out a little more about the differences between soaps and detergents.
Soaps are created by the chemical reaction of a fatty acid with an alkaline substance. This is generally achieved by processing fats and oils with a base substance in a process called saponification.
Soap is usually made of potassium or sodium salts of fatty acids having a long aliphatic carbon skeleton with or without branches with a carboxylic acid chain. A fatty acid is a natural component of animal or plant origin. The long hydrocarbon chain might be made of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated.
Soaps are usually made of naturally occurring substances, although commercially produced soap will include chemical agents, especially for colour and perfume.
Detergents are surfactant or a mixture of surfactants that are used to break up or clean grease and grime. They are made up of chemicals and have better and more varied cleaning properties than soaps.
Detergents are made from varieties of petrochemicals and oleochemicals derived from fats and oils. Other chemicals like sulphuric acid, sulphur trioxide and ethylene oxide are also used in making detergent.
How they work?
There are three types of energies that are required to clean effectively:
- Chemical energy – provided by the soap or detergent
- Mechanical energy– provided by hand or machine washing
- Thermal energy – provided by the water
These three energies work together to remove the dirt, stains and other contaminants.
Let’s have a look at how the cleaning process works. Imagine you’re trying to remove and oily soil stain. The oil or grease in the soil will repel the water molecules, so cleaning with plain water will not work.
Since soapsand detergentsare surfactants, they contain water-hating (hydrophobic)components that are repelled by water and attracted to the oils in the stain. The also contain water-loving (hydrophilic) components that are attracted to the water molecules.
These opposing forces help to loosen the stain from the surface, suspending it in the water.
Pros and cons of soaps and detergents
While soaps and detergents essentially do the same work, they have a range of pros and cons.
- While soaps are entirely biodegradable and made from naturally occurring products, detergents contain a branched hydrocarbon chain, which is non-biodegradable and can be dangerous for aquatic life
- Detergents are synthetic derivatives, while soaps are made from the natural products
- Soaps tend to form dirt when used with hard water while detergents don’t form the dirt
- Soaps are not effective in saline or hard water while detergents don’t lose their effectiveness in saline or hard water
- Soaps tend to require hot water to get the best results, while detergents are effective in cold water
- Detergents have stronger and more versatile cleaning properties compared with soap
- Detergents are cheaper to manufacture than soap
What is the environmental impact of both?
After the cleaning process, soaps and detergents are generally flushed into the drainage system. This can have adverse effects on the environment. Solvents which are used for commercial cleaning are made with natural resources like vegetable oil. These products need more water and energy to clean.
Since detergents are made from non-renewable resources, they are bad for the environment. However, you generally need less detergent compared to soap, which means less material is flushed into the drainage system. While both soap and detergents are made from different materials, they both have adverse effects on the environment. But since they are essential in day to day life, you should always make informed decisions and find the product best suited to your needs and least harmful to the environment.