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Cleansing Agent Detergent- Definition, Properties, Types, Difference Between Soap and Detergent, Practice Problems, FAQs

Cleansing Agent Detergent- Definition, Properties, Types, Difference Between Soap and Detergent, Practice Problems, FAQs

Have you seen your mom wash your dirty clothes?

While washing those dirty clothes, she usually adds some supplements along with water and then froth/lather formation takes place. 

Have you ever cleaned your floor? Cleaning floors is as frequent as washing your clothing. It is a daily task that we must complete as part of our daily routine. A decent detergent is essential for optimum health. Germs and other dangerous elements come into contact with your clothes when you touch various surfaces. Those contaminants are washed away with detergent. Of course, it also cleans your clothes! Some detergents give your clothes a pleasant smell. You can easily choose the right detergent for your needs from the many varieties available on the market. Different kinds of detergents are available. You're not alone in asking how a detergent powder might help your clothes in the wash.

Let’s study this in detail.


Table of content:

  • What is a detergent?
  • Properties of detergent
  • Types of detergent
  • How are detergent surfactants made?
  • Preparation of detergent
  • Action of detergent on hard water
  • Practice problems
  • Frequently asked questions-FAQs

What is a detergent?

  • Detergents are amphipathic compounds with charged hydrophilic or polar compounds at the ends of lengthy lipophilic hydrocarbon groups. The lengthy lipophilic hydrocarbon group is the tail, whereas the charged hydrophilic group is the head.
  • Detergents are commonly called surfactants and have the capacity to lower water's surface tension. Since it comprises one or more surfactants, a detergent is a powerful cleaning agent. Surfactants in detergents can be developed to operate well under a variety of situations due to their chemical composition. For example, surfactants which are less sensitive to the hardness minerals in water than soap are much less likely to produce a film.

Properties of Detergents

  • The cloud point is the temperature at which a detergent solution splits into two phases when it reaches or exceeds the critical micelle concentration.
  • Critical micelle concentration refers to the concentration where the micelles begin to form (CMC)
  • Micelle molecular weight represents relative micelle size.
  • The proportion of monomers in a micelle is known as the aggregation number.
  • Even with hard water, detergents are effective cleaners.

Types of detergents:

Synthetic detergents are generally divided into three groups:

Anionic detergents, cationic detergents, and non-ionic detergents are the three types of detergents.

  • Anionic Detergents: Sulphonated long-chain alcohols or hydrocarbons are sodium salts of anionic detergents. Anionic detergents are created by neutralising alkyl hydrogensulphates generated by treating long-chain alcohols with strong sulphuric acid. Alkyl benzene sulphonates are made by neutralising alkyl benzene sulphonic acids with alkali in the same way.

The cleansing activity of anionic detergents is mediated by the anionic portion of the molecule. An important type of anionic detergent is sodium salts of alkylbenzenesulphonates.

They are primarily utilised in the home. Toothpaste also contains anionic detergents.


  • Cationic Detergents: Quarternary ammonium salts of amines with acetates, chlorides, or bromides as anions are known as cationic detergents. A lengthy hydrocarbon chain and a positive charge on the nitrogen atom characterise the cationic component. As a result, these are known as cationic detergents. Hair conditioners contain cetyltrimethylammonium bromide, a popular 

cationic detergent.

  • Non-ionic Detergents: Non-ionic detergents don't have any ions in their formula. When stearic acid interacts with polyethyleneglycol, a detergent is created.

Non-ionic liquid dishwashing detergents are available. The cleansing mechanism of this type of detergent is similar to that of soaps. Micelle formation also removes grease and oil.


How are detergent surfactants made?

  • The chemical combines with hydrocarbons such as those found in petroleum and oils to form new acids that are equivalent to fatty acids.
  • A second process adds an alkali to the resultant acids to make one sort of anionic surfactant molecule.
  • Converting a hydrocarbon to alcohol but then processing the fatty alcohol with ethylene oxide produces non-ionic surfactant molecules.
  • An anionic surfactant will be produced by the reaction of non-ionic surfactants to Sulphur-containing acids.

Preparation of detergents:

By reacting dodecyl alcohol (dodecanol) with sulfuric acid, a sodium alkyl sulphate known as sodium dodecylsulfate will be created.


A reaction with sodium hydroxide converts the resultant dodecylsulfate to the sodium salt.


Action of detergent on hard water

  • Detergents rapidly dissolve in water, whether hot or cold, soft or hard.
  • In hard water, they do not produce scum. Some people can readily generate suds, while others can clean with little or no suds. Packaged detergents are available in liquid, powdered, and tablet form, and come in two types: light-duty (unbuilt) and heavy-duty (built). The workhorse products for the family wash are heavy-duty detergents. Because they do not react with minerals in hard water to generate scum, they have essentially surplused soap for this purpose. 
  • Detergents aid in the treatment of hard water. Detergents do not generate scum when applied in adequate amounts. Hard water, on the other hand, requires more detergent than soft water. It may be more cost-effective to soften the water and use less detergent if the water is really hard (above 20 grains per gallon).

Practice problems:

Q1. ‘Builder’ in detergent works _______

A. to improve surfactant washing efficiency
B. s an ion exchanger for calcium ions
C. as detergent additives that do not have the potential to improve the wash
D. to keep dirt from re-settling on the garments

Answer: A

Solution: Builder (former) works to improve the surfactant's washing efficiency in order to disable the minerals that cause water hardness. This material is added to the wash water to remove calcium and magnesium ions (hardness).

Q2. _____________is a steroid-based zwitter detergent

A. Sodium dodecyl sulfate
B. CHAPS [(3-((3-cholamidopropyl) dimethylammonio)-1-propanesulfonate) ]
C. cetyltrimethylammonium bromide
D. sulfobetaine 

Answer: B

Solution: Zwitterionic detergents have both ionic and non-ionic properties.CHAPS is an example of steroid-based zwitter detergent. Below is the structure of CHAPS.

Q3. To create micelles and solubilize proteins or lipids

A. detergent with a high CMC value is required.
B. detergent with a low CMC value is required.
C. detergent with higher micelle molecular weight
D. detergent with lower micelle molecular weight

Answer: B

Solution: To create micelles and solubilize proteins or lipids, detergents with low CMC values require less detergent.

Q4. Bile acid salts come under ______

A. Cationic detergents
B. Anionic detergents
C. Non-ionic detergents
D. Zwitter ionic detergents

Answer: B

Solution: Bile acid salts, such as sodium salts of cholic acid and deoxycholic acid, are anionic detergents having stiff steroidal groups in their backbones.

Frequently asked questions-FAQ

Question 1. What should I do if I accidentally get liquid detergent in my eyes?
Solution: If you accidentally get some liquid detergent cleanser in your eye and it hurts, rinse it out with cool, clean water right away. Allow running water to flow over your eyelid while holding it open.

Question 2. Is soap considered a detergent?
Solution: The components are the main distinction between soap and detergent. Biodegradable components such as oils, lye, and fats are used to make soaps. Surfactants, optical brighteners, and fragrances are among the synthetic compounds used in detergents.

Question 3. Is bleach considered a detergent?
Solution: Bleach and detergents are two different things. Your clothes will be clean if you use bleach and laundry detergent together. Although detergent can be used alone, bleach improves cleaning performance and is generally used for removing tough strains over white clothes.

Question 4.What do you mean by laundry detergent made from plants?
Solution: Because they use natural components produced from plants, plant-based detergents are referred to as green or eco detergents and thus considered as laundry detergents made from plants.

Related topics:

Chemicals in medicines

Chemicals in food

Heavy water


Hydrogen peroxide


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