Soaps and Detergents (Encyclopedia of Science)
A detergent is a cleaning agent. Detergents can be classified into one of two general categories: natural soaps (or just soaps) and synthetic detergents (or syndets). Both soaps and syndets have many similarities, particularly with regard to their molecular structures and the way they clean objects.
The structure of soaps and detergents
Both soaps and syndets consist of very long molecules. A model of such molecules is shown below:
The characteristic of all such molecules is that they have very different ends. The left end of the above molecule is said to be hydrophobic, meaning it "hates water." That end of the molecule is attracted by fats and oils, but not by water. The right end of the molecule above is said to be hydrophilic, meaning it "loves water." That end of the molecule is attracted by water but not by fats and oils.
Most of the dirt that collects on clothing, dishes, and our bodies is surrounded by a thin layer of oil. Simply washing an object with water is not a very effective way of getting the object clean because oil and water do not mix...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
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