Difference Between Soap and Detergents

Soap vs Detergents

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? Not many people are aware of these differences. This article will highlight these differences to help you choose 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 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.

Whereas soaps are made from natural products, detergents are made from synthetic products. Their discovery has to do with the shortage of natural oils during World War I. 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 attract water and a hydrophobic end that repels water thus making 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.

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.

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. Also, 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.

In brief:

Soap vs detergent

• Both soaps and detergents are used for cleaning

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

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

• Soaps do not cause to environment being biodegradable