In the previous entry, Surfactants & Preparation Chemicals were introduced and with their functions explained. This entry will be looking at Builders, Additives, Stabilisers and Fillers in synthetic detergents.
Builders & Additives
Builders in detergent are a group of chemicals that helps to soften hard water present. Hard water are simply water containing substantial amounts of magnesium, calcium and iron ions within them. These ions are commonly found in our day-to-day water. However, these charged ions react with soap and form an insoluble substance known as 'scum.' This grey scum builds up on clothes, sinks and baths over time, which becomes undesirable.
Before shows the glass with scum. After shows glass after cleaning
Thankfully, the invention of soap-less synthetic detergents provides the solution to this problem, especially useful in our daily laundry needs.
Synthetic detergents form soluble salts of the respective ions present, preventing the formation of scum. However, the cleaning effect of detergents decrease as it is being used to form soluble salts. Hence, many manufacturers may add builders in detergent to aid in the removal of ions. This solves the problem of hard water without compromising the cleaning effect of cleaning agents.
Some examples of builders are Soda Ash, Sodium Metasilicate, Etidronic Acid and Sodium Triphosphate.
Other additives include bleaching agents and auxiliary agents that provide other cleaning properties for the detergent. For example, Potassium Carbonate helps to increase solubility of the detergent at low temperature and Sodium Percarbonate / Perborate provides a convenient source of Hydrogen Peroxide when dissolved in water.
Stabilisers & Fillers
Stabilisers in detergent, as its name suggests, help to improve the stability of other compounds in the detergent. Enzyme Stabilisers retain the enzymatic reactions and functions in detergents, which are important as enzymes may degrade under the influence of several factors such as temperature and pH level.
Generally, enzyme-based detergents remove protein from clothes soiled with blood, milk, sweat, grass, etc. far more effectively than non-enzyme detergents. An example of enzyme stabiliser, polyethylene glycol (PEG), forms an inert layer around the enzymatic core which disperses later in water. The inert layer prevents the core from reacting with other chemicals found in the detergent.
Another stabiliser in detergent is foam stabilisers. Foam stabilisers are used to stabilise foams created when soap is lathered. These stabilisers are often added intentionally by detergent manufacturers to fuel consumers' purchasing behaviours - having the common misconception that the greater quantity of soap lathered, the stronger the cleaning power. While having a little foam or bubbles does help in removing dirt effectively, excessive soap does not remove the dirt faster. Unnecessary foam, on the contrary, requires more water to be removed, thereby reducing the efficiency of the cleaning process.
Fillers are used to increase the bulk of detergents, sometimes with additional properties such as the prevention of excessive clumping. Some popular fillers are Sodium Sulfate and Sodium Chloride. Generally, 5-45% of detergents are made up of fillers, depending on each manufacturer's formulation.
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