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What is Soap? How does soap work?

Colorful Soaps - How does soap workYou might think that’s a dumb question. It’s that square block that gets bubbly with water and it makes you clean. duh. But what is it really? How does soap work? How does it clean you? What is it made of? That’s what I’m discussing today.

What is soap made of?

Chemically-speaking, soap is a salt of a fatty acid. In simpler terms, soap is created by combining fat (such as olive oil, tallow, coconut oil, etc.) with a strong alkaline solution (like lye). This leads to a chemical reaction called saponification. That’s the soap base; then additional ingredients are included for different scents, characteristics, and colors.

How does soap work?

Soap works by helping particles detach from your skin on a molecular level so they can be washed away. Soap has 2 characteristics that enable it to clean you. The first is that soap reduces water surface tension. That makes it easier for the soap to get into all the pores and crevices. The second is that soap bonds to dirt and oil. Each soap particle has 2 sides, the “water-loving” (hydrophilic) side and the “water-hating” (hydrophobic) side. The soap molecules’ hydrophobic ends cling to dirt/oil particles and together they encase those particles in a cluster also known as ‘micelles’ so they are suspended in water. The soap doesn’t dissolve oil or dirt, it just creates the micelle cluster bond so that it detaches from your body and then it goes down your drain!

So there you have it! Soap!

More info – How does soap work?

Here is a soap experiment so that you can easily visualize the way soap works.

Also watch this fantastic video by Brain Stuff about how soap works!


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