Lately, in the cloth diapering community there’s been a lot more questions about laundry detergent, soap, and why diapers aren’t getting clean. Hopefully, you will find this post useful in answering many of your questions.
What’s a Soap?
Soaps are derived from triglycerides (fats and oils.) Soaps that produced from natural oils are most often made from any of the following: palm oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. Soaps produced from olive oil are called castile soap.
How does a soap work?
In high school science class, we learned that everything is made from molecules. Soap works by creating a chemical reaction called saponification. During this reaction the fats are turned into free fatty acids which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap which
Soap’s effectiveness is greatly affected by the presence of certain minerals in hard water because it will react and create an insoluable film. The reside soap leaves behind can turn fabrics grayish and leave a whitish residue on shower stalls or washing machines. In our blog about Hard Water we mention some easy ways to tell if you have hard water.
For those with medium to soft water, you may be particularly interested in using The Laundry Tarts as it is soap based. Most of the products in your home are not actually soaps, but rather a detergent.
What’s a Detergent?
Most Detergents are produced from synthetic ingredients, and some natural ingredients. Detergents are usually not affected by minerals in hard water, but also aren’t usually biodegradable. Most detergents are specially formulated not to combine with the salts in hard water by using elements that are specially designed to attract the salts, and calciums in the water. Some detergents may be toxic to fish and other wildlife.
How did Detergent come about?
Sometime around 300 BC the ancient Germans and Gauls discovered soap. According to the The Soap and Detergent Association the manufacturing of soap went basically unchanged for hundreds of years.
During World War I, there was a significant shortage of fatty acids and oils for making soap in Germany. During World War II there was a shortage of fatty acids for creating soap in the USA. In response to this shortage many American companies started to invest heavily in research. As a result, so detergent was specially formulated to get around this shortage.
In the 1950s, sales of soaps decreased for home laundering and the sale of detergent increased.Today, most cleaning products no longer contain soap ingredients but rather contain water, fragrance, oils and some sudsing chemicals designed to give the impression of cleanliness.
How do detergents work?
Detergents work by loosening the soil and suspending it in the water without it the dirt or oil being allowed to be redeposited on the fabric. The most crucial ingredient in detergent is known as a surfactant or “surface-active agent.”
Surfactants are specially designed ingredients that interact with two different kinds of surfaces like grease and water. Surfactants are classified by their electrical charge (ionic) properties in water.
Anionic surfactants: have a negatively charged head and aren’t necessarily great in hard water. A very common type of Anionic surfactant is actually soap.
Nonionic surfactants: have a polar, but uncharged, head. Nonionic surfactants greatly reduce the surface tension of water when used in very low concentrations and aren’t normally found in laundry detergents.
Cationic surfactants: have a positively charged head.
Amphoteric or zwitterionic surfactants: Not generally used in laundry, and are instead used in hair and skin care related products.
Some types of surfactants are not well suited for hard water due to the excess positive ions present. Surfactants would be relatively useless without something to soften the water which improves the performance these softeners are called “builders.”
What’s a builder?
Builders help surfactants clean more efficiently by softening the water. Softening the water assists in the dissolving of soils and preventing them from being redposited.
What’s the difference between liquid and powder detergents?
Powdered detergents are generally better than liquid detergents at removing normal every day stains. In our experience, it’s mostly a preference regarding whether a liquid or powder detergent should be used.
Pros & Cons of Liquid Detergent.
|Liquid stuff doesn’t get clumpy.
||Some people find it difficult to get the last bit of liquid detergent out of the bottle.
|The detergent is already pre-dissolved.
||Packaging although recyclable isn’t very eco-friendly because it is made from plastic.
Pros & Cons of Powdered Detergent.
|Very easy to get all of the detergent out of the box.
||Can make a very hard to clean mess, if spilt.
|Most powder detergents are packaged in more eco-friendly cardboard.
||Granulated detergents have trouble dissolving in certain water types and colder water.
What’s better for washing cloth diapers?
In our blog article, How to Choose a Cloth Diaper Laundry Detergent we discuss the variables that should be involved with choosing a detergent, and some preventative measures for when diapers aren’t getting clean enough.
Do you have questions? Feel free to ask below.