Washing 101: Surfactants in Laundry Detergent

Surfactants in Laundry Detergents: Understanding their Role in Cleaning

As we mentioned in our other Washing 101 article regarding enzymes in laundry detergents, choosing the right detergent is important to help us to keep our reusable nappies, wipies, period pads, and nursing pads clean, fresh, and most importantly hygienic. While enzymes are often credited with removing stains and dirt, it is actually the surfactants in laundry detergents that do most of the heavy lifting. 

What are Surfactants?

Surfactants are substances that lower the surface tension of liquids, allowing them to mix with and remove dirt from surfaces. In laundry detergents, surfactants are responsible for breaking down the bonds between the dirt and the fibres in your clothes. This helps to remove the dirt and stains, resulting in cleaner clothes.

How do Surfactants in Laundry Detergents Work?

Surfactants in laundry detergents work by emulsifying grease and oil-based stains, making it easier to remove them. They do this by surrounding the dirt particles, breaking them down into smaller particles, and suspending them in the wash water. This allows the dirt to be easily rinsed away.

There are two types of surfactants in laundry detergents: anionic and nonionic surfactants. Anionic surfactants are negatively charged and are effective at removing dirt and grease from clothes. Nonionic surfactants, on the other hand, are neutral and are used to remove polar substances, such as sugar and proteins.

Benefits of Using Laundry Detergents with Surfactants

  1. Improved cleaning power: The ability of surfactants to break down grease and oil-based stains, combined with their ability to emulsify dirt and suspend it in the wash water, makes laundry detergents with surfactants much more effective at cleaning clothes.

  2. More efficient washing: By breaking down the bonds between dirt and fibres in your clothing, surfactants in laundry detergents reduce the need for repeated washing, saving you time and water and money.

  3. Gentle on clothes: Unlike harsh chemicals, surfactants in laundry detergents are gentle on clothes, making them ideal for washing delicate fabrics and clothes with special care instructions.

  4. Environmentally friendly: Most surfactants used in laundry detergents are biodegradable, meaning that they do not harm the environment when they are washed down the drain.

In conclusion, surfactants play a critical role in the effectiveness of laundry detergents. By breaking down grease and oil-based stains and emulsifying dirt, surfactants make it easier to remove these substances from your clothes, resulting in cleaner, fresher-looking clothes.