How do detergents clean?

In any market today, you will find many shelves loaded with different varieties of detergents. There are detergents for cleaning cars, floors, clothes, etc. The word ‘detergent’ refers to any substance that is used for cleaning. But today, the word is usually used to include synthetic or man-made detergents such as washing powders. A German scientist, Fritz Gunther, developed the first detergent in 1916. Since then, their use has been constantly rising. A detergent is an organic substance comprising of carbon, oxygen, sulphur and hydrogen compounds. When combined with water, it helps to clean soiled materials. Ordinary soap is a type of detergent, but it has a different chemical composition. Household detergents, used mainly for cleaning clothes and utensils, come in powder, flake or liquid form. All detergents contain a basic cleaning agent called a ‘surfactant’ or ‘surface-active agent’. The surfactant molecules attach themselves to dirt particles in soiled materials like cloth, etc. They pry the dirt particles from the cloth and surround the particles with a layer of water that allows them to be carried away. The surfactants that are made by treating beef fat or tallow, along with various chemicals increase the wetting ability of water by lowering its surface tension.

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