How Does Soap Work?

| February 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Sometimes, I feel like all I do is wash dishes.

My grownup association of scrubbing and huffing is very different than my childhood associations; when I was little, dish soap’s only purpose was bubble-blowing. What’s not to love about a kiddie pool full of sudsy water on a hot July afternoon, and the mystical, magical orbs that rise out of it and float across the sky? (The answer is “nothing.”)

Conversely, grownup me has so many reasons to hate dish soap and the cleaning that goes along with it: there are always more dirty dishes, it chips your nail polish, your roommates never get the bowls quite as clean as you’d like them to, your garbage disposal is slow or non-existent, scrubbing takes forever, it dries your skin, it wastes water.

And yet, dish soap is still pretty magical—how, exactly, does pink goop rubbed all over pizza sauce or cookie dough somehow leave my pots and pans sparkly and squeaky clean?

I am not a science person, but I figured the best first step to answering that question was to Google “how does soap work?” Much to my chagrin, however, the first result was full of Big Scary Science Words like “saponification” and “carboxylate” and “immiscible,” so instead I kept searching and settled upon a YouTube video clearly meant for children. It still uses the same scary words, but it couples them with friendly animations and pleasant steel drum music!

From what I gather after a few times watching (that tune is so catchy!), soap is made of molecules that grab onto dirt and force it to hang out in water, instead of on dishes or clothes or your body. Now you know!


featured image credit: Stewf via photopin cc

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Category: featured, Science and Technology

Rhiannon Pabich

About the Author ()

Rhiannon was once asked to write a "bland, professional bio" and she failed miserably. She is, however, good at some things, which include yelling in hockey arenas, explaining the importance of comprehensive sex ed, and pursuing adventures. The journalism major hails from the deep south and, on a good day, enjoys scintillating conversation and copious amounts of caffeine. On a bad day, she enjoys sarcasm-laden conversation and obscene amounts of caffeine (but really, isn't every day a good one?). She likes playing with paint, crying happy tears, red balloons, and you.

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