a person washing their hands

Today in answers to questions you never asked: how does soap work?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how soap works to clean your skin? 

No? Well the science behind it is pretty fascinating so we're going to tell you anyway.

First, let's talk about what makes soap, soap. Soap is a type of surfactant, meaning it can break the surface tension between two substances. This is why soap is such an effective cleaner for grubby hands; because it breaks the surface tension between water and dirt or grease.

Now, let's focus specifically on liquid soap. When you use liquid soap, you typically mix it with water to create a lather. The lather is key because it helps to spread the soap evenly over your skin or whatever else you're trying to clean.

Once the soap is spread out, it gets to work breaking down the dirt and grime on the surface. The surfactants in the soap molecules attach to the dirt and oil on your skin, creating small clusters called micelles. These micelles then get washed away when you rinse with water, carrying the dirt and oil with them.

Still with me? Good. Let's delve a little deeper.

The reason surfactants work is because of their chemical structure. Soap molecules have a hydrophilic head (meaning they attract water) and a hydrophobic tail (meaning they repel water). When you mix soap with water, the hydrophilic heads are attracted to the water molecules, while the hydrophobic tails try to get away from the water.

This creates a situation where the soap molecules are suspended in the water, with the hydrophobic tails pointing inward and the hydrophilic heads pointing outward. When you apply the soap to your skin or another surface, the hydrophobic tails attach to the dirt and oil, while the hydrophilic heads remain in contact with the water. This creates micelles, which, as we mentioned earlier, are easily washed away by water.

So, there you have it. The next time you wash your hands, you can appreciate the science behind the cleaning power.

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