Difference Between Soap and Detergents

Soap vs Detergents

Though soap and detergents are common household items, people do not pay much attention to the difference between them. However, knowing the difference between soap and detergents is helpful to use them appropriately to clean or wash. Both, soaps and detergents, have become an integral part of our daily lives. Whereas soaps are a must for cleaning our skin while taking a shower, we cannot think of life without detergents as they help in cleaning of our dirty clothes. But, have you ever wondered what the difference between soaps and detergents is? This article is about that; it will highlight those differences to help you choose the products that are environment friendly.

Both soaps and detergents have similar chemical properties. Both are surfactants or, in other words, surface active agents. They help to reduce the surface tension of water. Generally, there is a great attraction between water molecules, which is decreased by these soaps and detergents. Soaps and detergents help clothes to soak in more water thus removing the stains.Their discovery has to do with the shortage of natural oils during World War I.

What are Soaps?

Soaps are made from natural products. To make soap, natural fats and oils obtained from animals and plants are reduced to fatty acids and glycerin. Then they are mixed with sodium or potassium salts to make soap and water. Soaps have a hydrophilic end that attracts water and a hydrophobic end that repels water. Thus, it makes a soap break down materials that dissolve in oil and water. Sodium salts being harder are used in soap bars whereas potassium salts are softer and thus used to make liquid soaps and shaving crèmes. Soaps are natural, less harmful to us and environment, and are biodegradable. As such they do not cause harmful pollution to our rivers and other water bodies. However, when the water has many minerals present (hard), these mineral cling to soap to create a residue that not only makes a film on the clothes, it also clogs drains.

Difference Between Soap and Detergents

What are Detergents?

Detergents are made from synthetic products. Detergents are also produced along similar lines, but they make use of propylene, which is a byproduct in petroleum industry and gets wasted otherwise. Propylene is made into a compound to react with H2SO4. The NaOH is added to get a sodium salt similar to what is used in making a soap. Since detergents are synthetically made, they are used to clean clothes and not used on skin.

Soap vs Detergents

What is the difference between Soap and Detergent?

Both soaps and detergents are used for cleaning. Both soaps and detergents carry pleasant smells. That way once we wash our skin with soap or wash our clothes with detergent, we are left with skin and clothes with pleasant smells. But, they have different compositions and properties.

• Soaps are made from natural fats and oils of plants and animals, whereas detergents are synthetically manufactured.

• Soaps are soft and are thus used on our skin whereas detergents are hard and used for washing clothes.

• Soaps do not cause harm to the environment as soap is biodegradable.

• Soap does not make lather as much as detergents. It builds up on clothes after several washes and leaves an odor.

• On the other hand, detergents make more bubbles that catch the dirt on the clothes and do not allow it to reattach to clothes.

• One disadvantage of detergents is that they are not so environmentally friendly. One disadvantage of soaps is that soaps have a way of clogging drains.

• Soaps can be used for both washing our skin as well as clothes without damaging either. However, if you use detergent to clean your skin, you may experience problems as detergent is not as soft as soap.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Soap by J.P.Lon (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Laundry Detergent by Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)
  • Laura Rose

    Simple and clear. Thank-you!