You may be wondering what Laundry detergent should I be using to clean my clothes? Does one type have an advantage over the other? What types are there available on the market? What goes into laundry detergents? If your curious to know the answer to any of these questions then keep reading as I aim to clear things up for you.
How does laundry detergent work
Laundry detergents all start with one critical ingredient, Surfactants. The word surfactants is a compounded word that means Surface-active agents. These surfactants are molecules with quite interesting properties. One side of the molecule is highly drawn towards water and the other end of the same molecule is repelled away from water, this same side that is repelled by water is drawn towards greases and oils.
When the detergent enters the machine it is contacted by water and bonds to it, as the machine starts to turn in a back and forth motion the sufactants come into contact with the oils and grease contained in your clothing and bind to them. This same back and forth motion then pulls the surfactants back away from your clothes taking the oils and grease with them. The detergent is washed out during the rinse cycle and your clothes are clean.
Sounds simple enough, the catch is these surfactants come in a few different varieties that can affect how well they bond to the oils in your clothes. The key differences in these varieties is the charge of the molecules. Charged molecules can bond to ions found in your water supply such as chlorides, magnesium or even calcium. Heavy water contains higher amounts of magnesium and calcium. When this happens the surfactants cannot bond to anything else and can not clean your clothes.
To work with the surfactants manufacturers have learned that adding builders can catch these ions before they bond to the surfactants in you detergent. Builders also play a key part in breaking down some chemical bonds and counteracting acids. To help ensure the mixture is the correct consistency, manufacturers add fillers to sort of “water down” the mix. The most common filler used in powder detergents is sodium sulphate whilst liquid detergents generally use water, but are not limited to these fillers.
Another additive that helps to clean your clothes are enzymes. An enzyme is a medium that is made by a living organism that when paired with something like protein molecules will cause a biochemical reaction leading to the break down of those molecules. Enzymes are commonly used to break down proteins, fats and starch.
Different brands of laundry detergents may contain other ingredients such as fabric softeners, scents or perfumes to make your clothes smell nice and bleaching agents to enhance the colors. These are all dependent on the brand.
Now that you know what the key components of a laundry detergent are, lets look at a few different forms you can detergent in.
Liquid laundry detergent
Liquid laundry detergents commonly come packaged in a plastic bottle and have the option to buy “boosters” to refill these bottles resulting in less plastic being purchased by the consumer. As you would probably have figured out by now this detergent is in liquid form. The key filler used in these liquid detergents is water although it may contain other fillers such as alcohol, sodium silicate or anti-foaming agents.
Alcohol is added to liquid detergents to increase its solubility in water and can also help to keep your detergent from freezing in colder climates. Sodium silicate is added to protect your machine from internal corrosion. Anti-foaming agents would be commonly seen in front loader specific detergents to lower leaves of bubbles or suds.
Powder laundry detergent
Powder laundry detergents tend to be sold in cardboard boxes making them appeal to people who are environment conscious with their purchase. Powder laundry detergents are in a granulated sand like form. The main filler used in powder detergents is sodium sulphate due to its high solubility in water. Some manufactures use borax as a filler but is more commonly seen in home made detergent recipes.
Some other fillers that can be found in powder laundry detergents are anti-static or anti-caking agents to stop the mix turning to rock. Zeolites and sodium laurel sulphates to increase the bubbling and foaming effect (doesn’t increase cleaning power), and anti-foaming agents in your front loader varieties.
Laundry detergent pods
Laundry detergent pods generally come in a sealed plastic container with a dual latch like lock to prevent small children from opening them. The pods themselves are made up of a water soluble polyvinlyacohol casing with a pre-measured amount of detergent inside. These pods are a highly concentrated liquid detergent that contains significantly less filler then standard liquid detergents.
Pods type detergents are generally the most expensive option for laundry detergents due to the extra work that it takes to manufacture them. The majority of if not all pod detergents are considered HE due to there concentrated detergent.
HE laundry detergent
HE laundry detergents are becoming a popular alternative to the standard laundry detergents and are a requirement of HE type washing machines, although they can be used in a standard washing machine. For a detergent to be considered HE it must not create excess suds and needs to dissolve quickly as HE machines use significantly less water and will not rinse out high suds detergents completely.
When a detergent does not get completely washed away it can leave marks on your clothes, can make your washing machine smell or even cause mould to build up inside your machine. HE detergents require smaller doses as they are more concentrated, but cost a fraction more.
Which laundry detergent works best.
Now you know a bit about the types of laundry detergents available, which type works best? The answer to that is very much personal choice. When comparing standard detergents to the HE variety there is defiantly a quality difference between the two, with HE detergent coming out on top.
To help you decide which type of detergent your going to use I have listed a few pro’s and con’s about each type below:
Liquid laundry detergent:
- Already dissolved and ready to use
- Suitable for pre-treating stains and hand washing
- Generally uses less fillers
- Mostly HE
- Commonly found in a plastic container (although may have a refill option)
- More expensive then powder variety
Powder laundry detergent:
- Cheapest of the varieties
- Generally in a cardboard package
- Has HE varieties
- Can be dissolved to pre-treat stains or hand wash
- Has possibility to solidify if becomes exposed to moisture or high humididty
- Can leave white marks on clothes (less common with modern powders)
- May not completely dissolve (less common with modern powders)
Laundry detergent pods:
- Comes pre-measured
- Mostly HE
- Uses the least fillers of all varieties
- Most expensive variety
- Comes in a plastic container
- Cannot use to pre-treat stains or hand wash