Laundry detergents are the most basic cleaning agent we can find in every household. It is always included in the grocery list. Laundry is one of the weekly routine chores we do. Well, obviously, nobody wants to wear dirty clothes. Neither is it practical to dispose clothes after wearing them.
What is a laundry detergent?
Laundry detergent is a kind of detergent (cleaning agent) that is specifically formulated to cleaning clothes. A detergent is basically the mixtures of chemical compounds, which includes alkylbenzensulfonates. In a way, detergents are similar to soaps but detergents are less affected by hard water. Most laundry detergents are in powdered form.
Modern laundry detergents formulas contain several chemical substances. The three main components of detergents are: Builders (50% depending on the weight), alkylbenzenesulfunate surfactant (15%), and bleaches (7%).
Builders are water softeners that can remove calcium ions by precipitation. Sodium carbonate, sodium triphosphate, complexation agents, soap and zeolites are the most common types of builders used in manufacturing laundry detergents. These elements sequester the problematic ions.
Bleach is a chemical that removes colors, whitens, or disinfects. Oxidizers (sodium perborate or sodium hypochloride) are the common bleaches found in detergents. These bleaches target stains that are vegetable origin such as chlorophyll, anthocyanin dyes, tannins, humic acids, and carotenoid pigments. In some cases, manufacturers add bleach activators to enhance the effectiveness of the bleaching agent.
Some detergents contain enzymes, which can break down stains composed of proteins, fats or carbohydrates. Other ingredients added are optical brighteners, fabric softeners, perfumes and colorants.
Environmental concerns regarding detergents
Recently, there are debates regarding the hazards of the chemical compositions of detergents. According to experts, the alarming concentration of the chemical cleaning agents in detergents can trigger serious allergies and skin diseases. The presence of certain chemical elements also raised concerns on detergents’ damaging effects on the environment.
The discharge of soluble phosphates into natural waters had serious effects on the aquatic life. With the increase of phosphates, there was a sudden growth of algal blooms on the excess phosphorus and consumed most of the oxygen in the waters. It killed fish and plants.
Experts have already proposed remedies that would eliminate the use of phosphates in detergents. Instead of sodium triphosphate, experts proposed the use of zeolites.
On the other hand, environmentalists insist the use of natural elements such as plant extracts and essential oils in manufacturing cleaning products. Numerous natural non-toxic laundry detergent products are now available in the market for a greener approach to household cleaning.