The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Glossary of Cleaning Product Terminology

Understand the language of soaps and detergents.

ALCOHOL: A class of organic compounds containing one or more hydroxyl groups. The alcohols used in light duty and liquid laundry detergents are isopropanol or ethanol (ethyl alcohol). These alcohols are used at low levels in liquid detergent formulations to control viscosity, to act as a solvent for other ingredients, and to provide resistance to low and freezing temperatures encountered in shipping, warehousing, and use.  Isopropanol is used in liquid hard surface cleaners. Higher molecular weight alcohols are used as raw materials for alcohol ethoxylates, one type of nonionic surfactant.

ALCOHOL ETHOXYLATE: A nonionic surfactant created by adding ethylene oxide groups to a long chain (high molecular weight) alcohol. Alcohol ethoxylates are relatively low sudsing. They possess greater resistance to water hardness than many other surfactants, i.e., are less calcium sensitive, and are effective in removing oily soils from manmade fibers and hard surfaces.

ALKYLBENZENE SULFONATE (ABS): A major class of alkyl aryl sulfonate surfactants used in detergents; usually a sodium salt.  ABS is anionic and high sudsing.  Prior to the mid-1960s, the form of ABS most widely used in detergent formulations had branched hydrocarbon chains, which resisted biodegradation.  In 1965, detergent manufacturers voluntarily replaced ABS nationally in household laundry product with a more rapidly biodegradable variety of ABS called linear alkylate sulfonate, or LAS.

ALKYL SULFATE: An anionic surfactant, usually a sodium salt, derived from fatty alcohol. Alkyl sulfates are high sudsing surfactants. They have been an ingredient in built, all purpose granular detergents for many years; today they are more often found in cosmetic products, such as shampoos. Because they are sensitive to water hardness, they perform best in all purpose detergents that are fully built to inactivate the hardness.

ALUMINOSILICATE: An inorganic material belonging to the class of compounds called aluminosilicates.  It is now being used as a detergent builder. Crystalline sodium aluminosilicates or zeolites are water soluble. They soften water by an ion exchange and are effective primarily on the calcium in hard water. Thus a supplementary builder is required when they are used in detergent form to soften hardness due to magnesium and other ions.

AMINE OXIDE: Surfactants in which the hydrophilic, or water-loving, component is the highly polar amine oxide group.  They are well known foam stabilizers, widely used in light duty liquid detergents and to a lesser extent in heavy duty liquid cleaners.  In alkaline solutions they are nonionic, and in acidic solutions, cationic.

AMPHOTERIC (AMPHOLYTIC) SURFACTANT: A surfactant that, in water solution, may be either anionic or cationic, depending on the pH. The applications of amphoteric surfactants include shampoos and personal care products, where mildness is important; industrial cleaners, because of their wide compatibility with builders, acids, and alkalis; and to some extent, household detergents.

ANIONIC SURFACTANT: A surfactant usually (but not always) derived from an aliphatic hydrocarbon and most commonly in the form of a sodium salt, in which detergency and other properties depend in part on the negatively charged anion of the molecule; hence the name anionic.  The negative charge, which the hydrophilic portion of anionic surfactants carries when in water, can be partially deactivated by interaction with the positively charged water hardness (calcium and magnesium) ions. These surfactants are particularly effective at oily soil cleaning and clay soil suspension, but they need help from other ingredients to reduce the effects of water hardness ions. The surfactants most widely used in the detergent industry are anionic, and these are usually high sudsing. Linear alkylate sulfonate is the most commonly used anionic surfactant. Others include alkane sulfonate, alkyl ethoxylate sulfate, alkyl glyceryl sulfonate, alkyl sulfate, and alpha olefin sulfonate.

ANTIMICROBIAL: Any substance or product that inhibits the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, or protozoa. It may be used in soaps and detergents to produce bacteriostatic and bactericidal effects against both pathogens and non-pathogens (such as organisms causing body odor). Antimicrobial agents used in washing and cleaning products range from highly complex bacteriostats, such as triclocarban, to the relatively commonplace pine oil and chlorine bleaches. Antimicrobials are used in deodorant bar soaps, in hard surface cleaners, in some laundry additives such as fabric softeners, and to a small extent in laundry detergents. They are also available as special products for adding to the rinse during laundering when there is concern for infectious organisms.

ANTIREDEPOSITION AGENT: An ingredient used in laundry detergents to help prevent soil from resettling on fabrics after it has been removed during washing.  Sodium carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is the most widely used antiredeposition agent; the literature also mentions methylcellulose, polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), polyvinyl alcohol, and polyethylene glycol (PEG). Antiredeposition agents are adsorbed on both soil and fabrics, where they keep soil particles from resettling on fabrics being washed and act as a dispersing agent. Surfactants and complex phosphates also help prevent soil redeposition, although this is not their primary function.

AUTOMATIC DISHWASHER DETERGENT: A cleaning product designed specifically for use in automatic dishwashers. It can also be used to loosen baked and dried-on food soils by soaking or pretreating with it prior to automatic dishwashing. It must produce little or no suds or foam because too much foam can inhibit the washing action. Its important functions include the following:

  • Tie up water hardness minerals to permit the detergent to do its cleaning job.
  • Make water wetter (reduce surface tension) to penetrate and loosen soil.
  • Emulsify greasy or oily soil.
  • Remove proteinaceous and starchy soils.
  • Suppress foam caused by protein soils such as egg and milk.
  • Help water to sheet off surfaces, thus minimizing water spots.
  • Protect china patterns and metals from the corrosive effects of heat and water alone.

Basic ingredients in most automatic dishwasher detergents include:

  • Surfactant – lowers the surface tension of water so that it will more quickly wet out the surfaces and the soils, thus allowing water to sheet off dishes and not dry in spots. The surfactant also helps remove and emulsify fatty soils like butter and cooking fat. Surfactants having low sudsing characteristics are used.
  • Builder (complex phosphates) – combines with water hardness minerals (primarily calcium and magnesium) and holds them in solution so that the minerals cannot combine with food soils and so that neither the minerals themselves nor the mineral/food soil combination will leave insoluble spots or film on dishes.
  • Alkaline buffers and water softeners (sodium carbonate) – help break down and help remove proteinaceous and starchy soils.
  • Corrosion inhibitor (sodium silicate) – help protect dishwasher parts, prevent the removal of china patterns, and the corrosion of metals such as aluminum.
  • Fragrance (optional) – covers the chemical odor of the base product and stale food odors.
  • Oxidizing agent – helps break down protein soils like egg and milk, aids in removing such stains as coffee or tea, and lessens spotting of glassware.
  • Processing aids – generally inert materials, water, and thickeners that allow the active ingredients to be combined into a usable form.
  • Suds suppressor - controls foam from food soils, especially protein soils.

BACTERICIDE: A substance that kills bacteria. The most common bactericide used in home laundering is liquid chlorine bleach.  For situations where chlorine bleach cannot be used and disinfecting action beyond that supplied by the regular laundering process is needed (e.g., baby clothes, infectious illness), special disinfectants are available.  Among these are quaternary and phenolic compounds and pine oil.  Pine oil and phenolics can be added to either wash or rinse water. Quaternaries should be added only to the rinse to avoid interaction with detergent surfactants, which inactivate the quaternaries.

BACTERIOSTAT: A substance that prevents or inhibits the growth of bacteria but does not necessarily kill them.  Bacteriostats are found in some laundry additives.  They are also used as an ingredient in deodorant bar soaps.

BAKING SODA: The common name for sodium bicarbonate, a mild alkali, it can be helpful in removing acidic soils and can be used for both general and specific cleaning tasks. The scratchless abrasive action of dry baking soda, when used as a cleanser, helps in removing soil because the undissolved baking soda crystal is harder than soil but softer than sensitive surfaces such as fiberglass.  Baking soda can also act as a deodorizer inside refrigerators and freezers where it absorbs odors arising from food.

BIODEGRADABILITY: The capability of organic matter to be decomposed by biological processes.  Both the rate and the completeness of decomposition are factors in biodegradability.  In the context of detergents, biodegradation refers to decomposition of the organic ingredients in the formulation by bacteria present in waste treatment systems, surface waters, or in the soil.  Since surfactants constitute the largest quantity of organic materials in detergent products, their biodegradation is of greatest interest.  The surfactants in today's household detergents are readily biodegradable as is soap.

BLUING: Blue coloring materials that are added to wash or rinse water and are taken up by fabrics; bluing counteracts the yellowing that sometimes develops in white fabrics after repeated use and laundering.  Bluing produces a blue-white hue on fabrics, which is considered more pleasing to the eye than yellow-white.  As a separate laundry additive, bluing may be a blue dye or pigment. It is available in liquid or dry form for adding to the rinse, in a granular detergent base for adding to wash water along with soap or detergent, and as an ingredient in other laundry products, including detergent oxygen bleach, fabric softener, and starch.

BORAX: A white, crystalline, mildly alkaline, water soluble salt (sodium borate).  As a laundry additive, borax provides moderate alkalinity buffering, and aids in loosening soils and stains.  It is included in small amounts in some laundry detergent formulations and in most diaper presoak products where it inhibits development of ammoniacal odors.  Borax can also be used for some household cleaning jobs, and as a deodorizer.

BUILDER: A material that enhances or maintains the cleaning efficiency of the surfactant.  Several types of compounds, with different performance capabilities, are used.  Builders have a number of functions, principally inactivation of water hardness.  This is accomplished either by sequestration, i.e. holding hardness minerals in solution, by precipitation, or by ion exchange.  Complex phosphates are common sequestering builders.  Sodium carbonate is a precipitating builder.  Sodium aluminosilicate is an ion exchange builder.  Other functions of builders are to supply alkalinity to assist cleaning, especially of acid soils, to provide buffering so that alkalinity is maintained at an effective level, to aid in keeping removed soil from redepositing during washing, and to emulsify oily and greasy soils.

CARBOXYMETHYLCELLULOSE (CMC): A large molecule derived from degraded cellulose.  Carboxymethylcellulose is present in many built laundry detergents to minimize redeposition of soil that has been removed by washing.

CASTILE: Originally soap made from olive oil, and so named probably because such soap was produced extensively in ancient Castile, Spain. Today, Castile may mean any mild soap made from vegetable oils.

CATIONIC SURFACTANT: A surfactant with a positively charged ionic group.  The most commonly used cationic surfactants are known as quaternary ammonium compounds, such as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. Some are widely used in disinfecting/sanitizing household and bathroom cleaners.  Others are active ingredients in wash/rinse/dryer fabric softeners.  Alone they are not effective cleaners but may be part of a complex surfactant system.

CAUSTIC: A strong base; the term, when used alone, usually refers to caustic soda (sodium hydroxide).  It may also refer to caustic potash (potassium hydroxide).  Caustic soda is the alkali used in the manufacture of hard soap, and caustic potash is used in the manufacture of soft soap.  Caustic soda is also used as a neutralizing agent in detergent manufacture.

CHELATING AGENT: A special type of organic sequestering agent that inactivates water hardness and other metallic ions in water.  Chelating agents are used in detergent formulations because they inactivate the hardness minerals calcium and magnesium, and reduce ill effects of other dissolved metals such as iron and manganese. Currently, there is sparing use of chelating agents in U.S. detergent formulations.  Sodium citrate functions as a chelating agent when used as a builder.

CHLORINE BLEACH: A group of strong oxidizing agents, all of which have one or more chlorine atoms in their molecule. Liquid chlorine bleach is commonly sold as an approximately 50% solution of sodium hypochlorite.  As a laundry additive, liquid chlorine bleach removes stains, aids in soil removal, whitens, disinfects, and deodorizes.  Dry forms of chlorine bleach include chlorinated isocyanurates and chlorinated trisodium phosphate.  They are used as the bleaching ingredient in products marketed in dry form, such as cleansers and automatic dishwasher detergents.  Neither liquid nor dry chlorine bleach should be used on silks, woolens, dyes sensitive to hypochlorite, and certain stains, such as rust, which can be set by hypochlorite. Chlorine bleach deactivates enzymes found in laundry detergents or laundry aids.

COCONUT SOAP: The salt of coconut oil fatty acid.  Only the soluble forms of coconut oil soap are used, usually the sodium and potassium salts. These are characterized by rapid solubility and ready sudsing. They generally make up only a portion of the soap base of toilet bars, light duty soap flakes and granules, and all purpose soap granules. The remainder of the soap base is derived from tallow and similar fats.  There is very limited distribution of bar soap for use in hard water in which the base is 100% sodium coconut oil soap.

COLORANT OR COLOR ADDITIVE: Pigment or other coloring material, widely used in soaps and detergents for esthetic effect, to dramatize an ingredient, or, in the case of blue colorant, to provide bluing action on fabrics.  In the case of granules, the coloring may be uniform, or variegated to give a speckled appearance.  In toilet and beauty bars it may be solid color, or deliberately streaked to give a striated effect.

DETERGENCY: The ability to clean or remove soil. Generally detergency is associated with the action of a cleaning agent such as soap, detergent, alkaline salt, or a combination of these.  In the context of consumer cleaning products, especially those designed for washing clothes and dishes, detergency can be described as the removal of soil by employing one or more of the following mechanisms (generally in conjunction with mechanical action):

  • Lowering surface and interfacial tensions
  • Solubilization of soils
  • Emulsification of soils
  • Suspension/dispersion of removed soils
  • Saponification of fatty soils and enzymatic digestion of protein-based soils
  • Inactivation of water hardness
  • Neutralization of acid soils

DETERGENT: The term detergent is used to describe both the basic surface active agents and finished products. The finished products are synthesized chemically from a variety of raw materials derived from petroleum, fatty acids, and other sources. They may also contain ingredients such as builders, antiredeposition agents, corrosion inhibitors, suds control agents, enzymes, fabric softeners, fluorescent whitening agents, sodium sulfate, water, alcohols, hydrotropes, colorants, fragrances, and opacifiers.  Detergent ingredients vary with the types of products, which include light duty detergents, heavy duty detergents, hard surface cleaners, automatic dishwasher detergents, and cleansers. The finished product comes in a number of forms, such as granules, liquids, and crystals.

DISHWASHER AIDS: Products designed to supplement the performance of automatic dishwasher detergent or to correct problems resulting from unfavorable water conditions, which the detergent alone cannot handle adequately.  The most important dishwasher aids are rinse additives, composed of nonionic wetting agent(s) to be dispensed in the final rinse. They lower surface tension, thus increasing the sheeting off of rinse water with a resultant minimization of spotting.

DISHWASHER DETERGENT: In industry usage, the term dishwasher detergent applies only to products formulated for use in automatic dishwashers in contrast to light duty detergents designed for hand dishwashing.

DISINFECTANT:  Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA, 7 U.S.C. 136, et seq.), a disinfectant is a product labeled to destroy or irreversibly inactivate infectious or other undesirable bacteria, pathogenic fungi, or viruses on surfaces or inanimate objects and whose label is registered as a "disinfectant" under the Act.

DISPERSING AGENT: A material that increases the stability of particles in a liquid.  In laundry detergents, dispersing agents keep particles of soil that have been removed from fabric in a dispersed or suspended state so that they are more readily removed from the washing machine when the wash water is pumped out. Surfactants that were instrumental in removing the soil from the fabrics serve as dispersing agents, as do antiredeposition agents and complex phosphates.

ETHYL ALCOHOL: The most common variety of alcohol also called ethanol. Since ethyl alcohol has good solvent soluble at all concentrations of water, it is a useful ingredient in some liquid detergent formulas.

EUTROPHICATION: A term derived from Greek words meaning "to nourish well" and referring to increased levels of nutrients in a lake or other body of water.  Lakes age naturally, becoming filled with plants and silt, forming marshes and finally, solid land.  This aging process (from a young or oligotrophic state to a mature or eutrophic state) normally takes thousands of years, but man's activities can speed up the process by increasing the supply of nutrients entering the lake.  These nutrients include phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, potassium, trace elements, and vitamins.  Sources include human, animal and industrial wastes, agricultural and urban runoff, soil erosion, and even a sizable amount transported by the air.  Increases in nutrients cause rising rates of productivity, chiefly in the form of explosive growths or "blooms" of algae.  Decay of the algae can result in decreased oxygen levels in the deeper, colder layers of large lakes, killing fish. Steps which can be taken to reverse the eutrophication process involve reducing the level of nutrients entering water bodies through treatment of wastewater and reduction of runoff.

FABRIC SOFTENER: A laundry additive that gives fabrics a soft feel and smooth surface, reduces static electricity and wrinkling, and makes ironing easier.  Most fabric softeners are designed for addition to the rinse or drying cycles, but a few are available for the wash- and rinse-added types are liquids; dryer-added fabric softeners come as sprays, impregnated tear-off sheets, and impregnated foam (porous) sheets, or as a slow dispensing solid bar that attaches to the fin of a dryer.  The softening agents most commonly used are cationic quaternary ammonium compounds.  Bluing is frequently included, as well as fragrance.  Infrequently, antimicrobial ingredients or fluorescent whitening agents are added.  Fabric softening ingredients also are incorporated in some laundry detergent products.

FATS AND OILS: A general term that refers to lipid (fatty) materials of animal, vegetable, or marine origin. Tallow, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, palm oil, and other fatty materials used to make soap are of the triglyceride class of lipids. Triglycerides consist primarily of glyceryl esters of fatty acids formed by the reaction of one molecule of glycerol and three molecules of fatty acids. Some other classes of fats and oils that are not triglycerides are also important commercially.  No real chemical distinction exists to support the concept that oil is a liquid and that fat is solidified oil because reversible changes in physical state can occur due to temperature variations.  According to accepted usage, triglycerides of animal origin are usually termed fats, and those from vegetable sources, oils.

FATTY ACIDS: The principal components in the molecular structure of natural fats, vegetable oils, fish oils, waxes, rosin, and essential oils, where they are bound chemically with glycerin; this combination is termed a glyceride.  Of primary interest in soap making are the fatty acids obtained from tallow and coconut oil, and to a lesser extent, palm, palm kernel, soybean, corn, and cottonseed oils.  Fats and oils can be made either directly into soap by boiling with an alkali, or by a two-step process in which the fat or oil is first split into fatty acids and glycerin, followed by neutralization of the fatty acid by an alkali to produce soap.  The soap thus made is usually a sodium or potassium salt of the fatty acid.  When a soap-based product contains uncombined fatty acids, it is termed "superfatted." Fatty acids can also be made synthetically from petroleum-derived chemicals and then used in making soap, which can perform as a builder in detergents.

FATTY ALCOHOL: Primary alcohols from C6 to C22, usually straight-chain, which is the type used by the detergent industry.  Modern detergents were initially based on surfactants made from fatty alcohol raw materials.  These include natural fats, oils, and waxes, and more recently high molecular weight alcohols have been produced synthetically from various hydrocarbon sources.  Detergent alcohols may be converted to various surfactants, such as sulfates, commonly used in hair and carpet shampoos; ethoxylates, used in laundry and other household detergents and in institutional and commercial cleaning and processing applications; ethoxysulfates, used in light duty liquid detergents; and alcohol-based phosphate esters, used in a variety of more specialized applications.

FLUORESCENT WHITENING AGENT (FWA): A chemical compound that creates a visual whitening or brightening effect when exposed to near ultraviolet radiation by virtue of fluorescence, i.e. the conversion of invisible ultraviolet light into visible blue light.  The fluorescent whitening agents used by the detergent industry share the further characteristic of adsorbing to fabrics during household laundering. The whiteness or brightness of the laundry is thus enhanced.  FWA is included in all purpose soap and detergent and some light duty and laundry aid products.  Its effectiveness varies with type of fabric and concentration in the wash water, which is always very low. Its effect is cumulative to a degree, so that new fabrics exhibit increased fluorescence over a period of washes.  Eventually, however, a leveling-off point is reached. In recent years an increasing number of fabrics have been pre-brightened in manufacture, i.e., have incorporated FWAs, especially the acrylic and polyester fabrics.

FORMULA STABILIZING AGENT: An ingredient used to provide product stability or desirable physical properties without necessarily adding to performance. A number of formula stabilizing ingredients are used in detergents.  The most common is sodium sulfate.  This is present in most detergent granules, partly because it is formed in processing, but also because it improves physical qualities and standardizes density.  Ethyl alcohol serves as a stabilizing agent in liquid detergent formulas by controlling viscosity, improving solubility of solid ingredients, and providing anti-freeze properties.  Phosphoric acid is used in small quantities for adjustment of finished product pH.  Sodium silicate gives granules crispness in addition to its other contributions as a detergent ingredient.

GLYCERIN: A purified commercial product containing 95% or more glycerol.  A trihydric alcohol with a sweet taste and syrupy consistency.  The "glycerine" spelling while technically incorrect has come into wide spread general and commercial use.  Glycerol is present in all animal and vegetable fats and oils most usually as a triglyceride; a product of naturally occurring chemical reactions with fatty acids.  Glycerin may be produced from fats and oils by saponification, hydrolysis, or transesterification or it may be synthesized from propylene.  Glycerin is closely associated with soap making, being obtained as a by-product when the fatty acids in fats and oils used as a soap base react with an alkali to make soap.  Usually glycerin is separated from soap because it is an important material in its own right, finding application in many industries. It is a key ingredient in transparent bar soap and remains in bar soaps made by the "cold process" simply because the soap is made without removing glycerin.

HARD SURFACE CLEANER: A product formulated for cleaning painted surfaces, washable floor coverings, plastics, metals, porcelain, and other surfaces.  Hard surface cleaners come in a variety of physical forms and formulas.  There are powders that must be dissolved before use, liquids that can be diluted or used full strength, and liquids with mechanical pump dispensers or in aerosol containers.  The powders generally depend on builders to enhance cleaning and reduce filming and streaking. The liquid detergent formulations are highly individualized.  They all have a soap or detergent surfactant base, and, generally, water-softening ingredients and alkaline builders such as sodium carbonate. Petroleum distillates and pine oil may be included for grease and oil cutting.  Those products designed to deodorize/disinfect as well as clean normally contain pine oil, quaternary ammonia, or phenol disinfectants.

HEAVY DUTY DETERGENT OR SOAP: A term that describes products designed for doing the total family laundry, including heavily soiled items. They may usually be used for general household cleaning tasks as well.

HYDROPHILIC: Water loving; defined by the American society for Testing and Materials as "a descriptive term applied to the group or radical of a surfactant molecule that makes or tends to make it soluble in water".  Associated with the hydrophilic portion of a surfactant molecule is the opposite hydrophobic ("water-hating") portion.  The special capabilities of surfactants in loosening dirt are a direct consequence of these incompatible component parts, which have opposite attractions toward dirt and toward water.

HYDROTROPE: A substance that increases the solubility in water of another material, which is only partially soluble. The most common materials are ammonium, potassium or sodium salts of toluene, xylene, or cumene sulfonates.  They are used to solubilize the active ingredients in some liquid detergents.

HYPOCHLORITE: In its sodium salt form, the active bleaching ingredient in liquid chlorine bleach.

LIGHT DUTY DETERGENT: An un-built or infrequently low-level-built, detergent-based washing product designed for light cleaning tasks, especially hand dishwashing. While not made for general laundering, it does find use in hand washing lightly soiled, delicate garments, and in household cleaning tasks where ability to handle heavy soil is not required. Originally introduced as granules, today's light duty detergents are usually liquids. Emphasis in formulation is on hand dishwashing, which places a premium on a product's ability to handle all food soils, its mildness to hands, plentiful long-lasting suds, and rinsing that leaves surfaces free of film and spots.  Light duty detergents are based principally on anionic surfactants, which are generally high sudsing, but they may also contain some nonionic surfactants.  Other commonly used ingredients are ethyl alcohol, suds boosters and stabilizers such as acyl or fatty acid ethanolamides, opacifying and/or colorant agents, and fragrance.

LINEAR ALKYLBENZENE SULFONATE (LAS): Readily biodegradable form of alkylbenzene sulfonate surfactant.  This is the workhorse of the detergent industry, with sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate being the most important single type.  It is distinguished from an earlier form of alkylbenzene sulfonate, termed ABS, by its linear (straight chain) structure, which provides its good biodegradation properties.  All LAS surfactants are anionic and high sudsing, but their sudsing may be controlled by formulation.

LIQUID CHLORINE BLEACH: A solution of sodium hypochlorite, a highly active oxidizing agent.  Liquid chlorine bleach is also called household bleach or simply liquid bleach, and is commonly distributed as an approximately 5% solution of sodium hypochlorite.

LIQUID DETERGENT: Liquid detergents may be formulated as heavy duty laundry detergents, light duty detergents, or hard surface cleaners.  Heavy duty liquid laundry detergents are manufactured with or without a builder. Liquid detergents that do not contain a builder generally contain a high percentage of surfactant.  Some of these detergents contain nonionic surfactants, and some contain a combination of anionic and nonionic surfactants.  Currently the builders in liquid products are sodium citrate and soap (fatty acid salts).  Other ingredients include fluorescent whitening agents, possibly a corrosion inhibitor, an antiredeposition agent, enzymes, fabric softener, and fragrance.  Light duty liquid products are used for laundering lightly soiled items or for hand dishwashing. They are not suitable for machine washing because of their high sudsing characteristics.  The surfactant, which is the most important ingredient, is often a mixed anionic/nonionic system.  Most of the products do not contain a builder.  Liquid hard surface cleaners use a moderate amount of surfactant, generally both anionic and nonionic.  Solvent materials such as various alcohols, pine oil, or naphtha are used to handle oily or greasy soils.  Builders are used at a moderate or low level depending on the product. Some of the products may contain a disinfectant.

LYE: Potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide

NON-CHLORINE BLEACH: A laundry product containing peroxygen compounds, which release active oxygen in wash water.  This type of product produces gentler bleaching (oxidizing) action than chlorine bleach.  The most frequently used non-chlorine bleach ingredient is sodium perborate (usually referred to simply as perborate). Potassium monopersulfate, sodium percarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, and organic peracids are used less frequently.  Non-chlorine bleach can be used safely on most fabrics, colors, and fabric finishes. Perborate is available in dry laundry bleach, and is also an ingredient in laundry detergent, presoak products, and cleanser.  A solution of hydrogen peroxide is marketed as a liquid non-chlorine bleach.  Powdered non-chlorine bleaches also contain a builder, usually sodium carbonate, which provides additional alkalinity and allows the peroxygen compound to function more effectively as a bleach.  Other ingredients such as surfactants, enzymes, brighteners, bluing agents, and fragrance may be incorporated in non-chlorine bleaches, depending on the formulation. Water temperature affects the bleaching rate of non-chlorine bleach.  Hot water accelerates the bleaching action. As water temperature decreases, bleaching time must be increased.

NONIONIC SURFACTANT: A surface active agent that contains neither positively nor negatively charged (ionic) functional groups; such surfactants have been found to be particularly effective in removing oily soil.  In contrast to anionic and cationic surfactants, nonionic surfactants do not ionize in solution. Some nonionics are low sudsing and are found in low sudsing laundry detergents, prewash stain removers, hard surface cleaners, and machine dishwashing detergents.  Commonly used types include ethoxylated alcohols.

OPACIFIER: A constituent or additive that renders the system of which it is a part impervious to light rays.  Opacifiers are sometimes used in liquid detergents to produce an esthetic or special effect.  Such opacifying compounds are of large molecular structure and are water insoluble, but lend themselves to forming a stable colloidal dispersion. Titanium dioxide, a pigment, is widely used in milled soaps for opacification, or to reduce translucence, and may be used alone to make the bar white or, when dyes are added to produce a desired color.

OPTICAL BRIGHTENER: An alternate name for fluorescent whitening agent (FWA).

PHOSPHATES: Salts of the various phosphoric acids.  The complex phosphates are a group of sequestering agents once widely used in detergent formulations because of their superiority in water softening, sequestering, and other builder functions. Complex phosphates soften water by sequestration.  Orthophosphates, another form of phosphate, soften water by precipitation.

PINE OIL: The oil obtained by steam distillation and subsequent processing of gum taken from pine trees, or recovered as a by-product of paper pulp-making by the sulfate process. Pine oil’s principal application in household cleaning is in liquid hard surface cleaners, where it is a popular ingredient because of its characteristic aroma and its sanitizing/disinfecting properties.

PRECIPITATING BUILDER: A chemical that softens water by converting hardness minerals to an insoluble form in contrast to softening by sequestration, i.e., without precipitation.  A common precipitating water softener is sodium carbonate; trisodium phosphate is used less frequently.  These chemicals soften or inactivate hardness salts by removing mainly calcium as insoluble compounds.

PRESERVATIVE: A substance that protects against the natural effects of aging, such as decay, discoloration, oxidation, and bacterial degradation.  In soap products, preservatives are used to forestall and slow down the natural tendency to develop rancidity upon aging.  In doing this, preservatives also project color and fragrance.  

PROTEASE: A group of enzymes that is effective in breaking down proteins into smaller, less complex molecules. Protease is used in powdered and liquid laundry detergents and laundry boosters/presoak products.  It may also be used with amylase (effective on carbohydrates) in laundry products to either remove or reduce to smaller units a broad spectrum of stains and soils for later removal in the wash.

PUMICE: Porous volcanic rock.  Pumice in a finely ground form is used soap, and sometimes in paste and powder.

QUATERNARY AMMONIUM COMPOUNDS: Substances derived from the ammonium cation (NH4+) with one or more hydrogen atoms being replaced by organic groups, and for most purposes prepared as a salt (chloride, bromide, sulfate).  The nature of the organic groups determines the character and properties of any given quaternary ammonium compound.  Some possess disinfecting and deodorizing capabilities and are used in hard surface cleaners.  If more than one of the organic groups is fatty in nature, the quaternary ammonium compound is usually water insoluble.  Some of these compounds (such as ditallow dimethyl ammonium chloride) are used as the fabric softening and static control agent in rinse-added fabric softeners and detergent-containing fabric softener.  If at least one of the organic groups is fatty in nature, the quaternary ammonium compound is a cationic surfactant.

RINSE AGENT: A nonionic surfactant or wetting agent, which, when injected into the last rinse of a dishwasher cycle, lowers surface tension, thus improving draining of the water from the dishes and utensils.  Dishwasher rinse agents come in both a solid bar and liquid form.  The liquid for use in dishwashers equipped with a rinse aid dispenser, the bar for machines without a dispenser.  By improving draining of the last rinse, spotting and filming, caused by water solids that remain after drying are minimized.

SANITIZER: A product that reduces, but does not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms in the air, on surfaces or on inanimate objects, and whose label is registered as a "sanitizer" under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA; 7 U.S.C. section 136 et seq.).a

SAPONIFICATION: The process of converting a fat into soap by treating it with an alkali.  This may be done by boiling fat and alkali in a kettle under controlled conditions.  They react to form soap and glycerin.  Modern methods make soap in continuous processes, either by treating fat with alkali or by first splitting the fat into fatty acids and glycerin by a process called hydrolysis.  The fatty acids are purified by distillation and then mixed with the correct amount of alkali to convert them into soap.

SEQUESTERING AGENT: "Any compound that in aqueous solution combines with a metallic ion to form a water-soluble combination in which the ion is substantially inactive" (American Society for Testing and Materials definition).  Complex phosphates are sequestrants, since they have the ability to inactivate the water hardness metals (calcium and magnesium) and iron and manganese without precipitation. Water softening without precipitation, i.e., by sequestration, distinguishes the complex phosphates from compounds such as sodium carbonate and sodium orthophosphate, which soften by precipitation of the hardness metals.

SILICA: Silicon dioxide. Occurring naturally as quartz, flint, sand, and in many other forms. Finely ground silica is used as an abrasive ingredient in cleansers and soaps.

SILICATE: A salt or ester derived from silicic acid. The sodium silicate salts, which are available over a wide range of alkalinity and thus can be tailored to specific needs find wide use in both soap and detergent formulations.  They serve as builders at higher quantity levels in some detergent formulations, provide a source of buffered alkalinity, aid in keeping soil suspended in laundry wash water, and add crispness to detergent granules.  Sodium silicate is used as a corrosion inhibitor in granular laundry detergent, automatic dishwasher detergent, and built soap, as well as in some liquid laundry detergents, to provide protection of washer and dishwasher metal parts. An additional function of silicate in dishwasher detergents is to provide protection for china patterns and metal utensils.  In soap and detergent nomenclature, "sodium silicate" is ordinarily referred to as "silicate."

SIZING: A product that supplies a coating, stiffening, or glaze.  Sizing is not normally a word that occurs in home laundry terminology, but when it does, it is synonymous with starch.

SOAP: "The product formed by the saponification or neutralization of fats, oils, waxes, rosins, or their acids with organic or inorganic bases" (American Society for Testing and Materials definition).  This definition of soap covers a wide range of compositions, but in the area of consumer products, soap usually means the sodium or potassium salt of animal fat or a combination of vegetable oil and animal fat.  The principal fats and oils used are tallow and coconut oil.  In common usage, the word soap is also employed generically to describe any washing product that is preponderantly soap or depends on soap for its primary function. Thus toilet and laundry bars, light duty flakes and granules, and all purpose built products are all termed soap, if soap is their base ingredient.  Soap performs its principal task, cleaning, by various mechanisms, including reducing surface tension (it is an anionic surfactant), loosening, dispersing and suspending particulate soil, emulsifying fatty and oily matter, and providing alkalinity. Soaps are mildly alkaline.  The major drawback to soap, particularly in laundering, is that it forms insoluble lime soap (soap curd) with water hardness minerals, which is deposited on fabrics and in washing machines.  It was this problem that spurred the development of detergents, which are relatively unaffected by hard water and as a result have largely replaced soap for laundry purposes.

SODA ASH: A common name for a commercial form of anhydrous (without water) sodium carbonate.

SODIUM BICARBONATE: A mild alkali, commonly called baking soda.  Sodium bicarbonate is used in powdered hard surface cleaners and some presoak formulations to provide alkaline cleaning at a controlled level.

SODIUM CARBONATE: A fairly strong alkaline salt occurring naturally as soda ash.  Sodium carbonate finds wide use as a builder in laundry detergents and as a source of alkalinity in powdered hard surface cleaners and presoak products.  Sodium carbonate supplies alkaline cleaning power and also softens water by precipitating the hardness minerals out of solution.  It is also called soda ash and is available on the retail market in a hydrated crystalline form under the name "washing soda."

SODIUM CITRATE: The sodium salt of citric acid.  Sodium citrate sequesters hardness minerals and is used as a builder in some no-phosphate products.  Its principal application is in liquid laundry detergents.  It also is used in some presoak products.

SUDSING: The act of forming or making suds.  Soaps are generally effective sudsing agents in warm and soft water only, although the volume and stability of the suds vary somewhat among products, depending on whether the soap is built or un-built and on the kind of fatty acids used in making the base soap.  Detergents are designed to have a wide range of sudsing characteristics.  Hand dishwashing detergents generally produce a high stable suds to mask the soiled dishwater and to serve as an indicator of residual cleaning potential. Automatic dishwasher detergents are low sudsing, as too many suds would cushion the washing action and interfere with cleaning.  Laundry detergents range all the way from high sudsing through a moderate or intermediate range to low, or controlled, sudsing, as judged by their appearance in the washing machine.  Low sudsing products are especially recommended for front-loading, tumbler-type washers and washer-dryer combinations, because too much suds in these washers cushions the clothes as they drop into the water after being lifted up in tumbler washing action, thus reducing the washing action and cleaning.

SUDS STABILIZER: An ingredient included in a detergent to boost suds and keep them from decomposing.  Use of suds stabilizers is limited to detergents in which stable, lasting, voluminous suds are desirable, primarily in high sudsing laundry formulations and in light duty liquids designed for hand dishwashing.  The most widely used suds stabilizers are alkanolamides.

SUDS SUPPRESSOR: A detergent ingredient that suppresses or inhibits sudsing or controls it at a low level.  Suds suppression is critical in dishwasher detergents, not only to ensure that the detergent itself produces a minimum of suds, but also to keep foodstuffs from creating suds.  Proprietary compounds are used for this purpose.  Suds suppressors are sometimes used in low sudsing laundry detergents to control suds at a low level but not entirely eliminate them. Special long-chain soaps are one class of compound used for this purpose.

SUPERFATTED: A term used to describe bar soaps made with extra fat or oil, or fatty acid in the free state, i.e., unconverted to soap.  Superfatting provides emollient properties in toilet soaps.  Commonly used for the purpose are coconut oil and tallow fatty acids, cocoa butter, cold cream, lanolin, stearic acid, and fatty esters or alcohols.  In the process of superfatting, all the fat or fatty acid present is not used to make soap. Most of the time the extra fatty material is incorporated in the soap base just before it is dried to a proper moisture level for milling.

SURFACTANT (SURFACE ACTIVE AGENT): An organic chemical that, when added to a liquid, changes the properties of that liquid at a surface.  This is a basic function for products serving as detergents and as wetting, foaming, dispersing, emulsifying, and penetrating agents.  Surface active agent is commonly shortened to surfactant.  Surfactants are classified by whether or not they ionize in solution and by the nature of their ionic or electrical charges.  Categories of charges are called anionic, nonionic, cationic, or amphoteric.  The anionic and nonionic surfactant types (for example, LAS, ethoxylated alcohol, alkyl sulfate, alpha olefin sulfonate, and soap) possess good cleaning properties and are important ingredients in household soaps and detergents.  In most detergent products designed for washing clothes and dishes, the surfactant is a basic ingredient. Soap is basic to most body-washing products.  All surfactants and soaps perform the important function of lowering waters surface tension, commonly known as making water "wetter."  This enables the cleaning solution more quickly to wet out the surface being cleaned so that soil can be readily loosened and removed (usually with the aid of mechanical action).  Surfactants are also instrumental in removing soils, both fatty and particulate, and in keeping them emulsified, suspended, and dispersed so that settling back on the surface is minimized.  In addition to their leading role in laundry and light duty formulations, surfactants are used to some degree in most other household cleaning and washing products.  They are the base of most liquid hard surface cleaners.  Relatively small amounts of surfactant are usually included in powdered hard surface cleaners, cleansers, and automatic dishwasher detergents.  Specialized surfactant applications include the use of cationic (quaternary ammonium compounds) to provide deodorizing and disinfecting action, while nonionic wetting agents are available for adding to the last rinse in automatic dishwashing to provide better draining of rinse water.

SYNTHETIC DETERGENT: A term describing washing and cleaning products based on synthetic surfactants rather than traditional soaps. Over a period of years the adjective "synthetic" (which in this context means put together chemically or synthesized from a variety of raw materials) has been gradually dropped so that today non-soap washing and cleaning products are simply called detergents.

TALLOW: A fat obtained from sources such as cattle and sheep, as opposed to lard, which is the fat of hogs.  The principal production method applied for the recovery of beef tallow is steam rendering.  Tallow is the fat most widely used in making soap.

TALLOW SOAP: The salt of tallow fatty acids.  In household soaps, the salts are usually sodium salts or frequently a mixture of sodium and potassium tallow fatty acid salts.  Tallow soap has good cleaning properties but is somewhat slow to dissolve and make suds.  As a result, it is common practice to use a mixture of tallow and coconut soaps to combine the good detergent properties of tallow with the improved solubility and quicker sudsing characteristics of coconut soap.  Solubility and speed of sudsing are also aided by using some potassium soap instead of all sodium.  Tallow soap is the backbone of the soap industry, with coconut second in importance.

TOILET SOAP: Soap manufactured as a cleansing agent for the body.  With few exceptions, toilet soap in bar form is produced by a milling or refining, extrusion, and stamping operation as a firm quick lathering bar.  The soap base is most commonly composed of the sodium or sometimes mixed sodium/potassium salts of tallow and coconut oil fatty acids.  An exception to the milling operation is provided by floating soap, which is made by a whipping or beating process that disperses air through the soap. The bar so produced is lighter than water.  Framed soap is made by pouring hot, molten soap into a frame with the resultant large soap block later being cut into bar-sized pieces, which are stamped into appropriate shapes.  Toilet bars are usually made with fragrance and colorant or whitener.  Use of a preservative is common. By use of optional ingredients special effects may be obtained.  Some special types of soap are: deodorant, medicated, superfatted and transparent.

TRISODIUM PHOSPHATE: The trisodium salt of phosphoric acid, also called orthophosphate.

WETTING AGENT: A compound that increases the ability and speed with which a liquid displaces air from a solid surface, thus improving the process of wetting that surface. Wetting agents are all surfactants. They function by lowering surface and interfacial tension.  Soap and detergent surfactants serve as wetting agents in washing products, in addition to their other functions.  In automatic dishwashing, nonionic surfactants are sometimes introduced into the last rinse for the purpose of maximizing drainage of water from dishes and utensils.

ZEOLITE: An inorganic material belonging to the class of compounds called aluminosilicates used as a detergent builder. Crystalline sodium aluminosilicates (zeolites) are water soluble.  They soften water by an ion exchange and are effective primarily on the calcium in hard water.  Thus a supplementary builder is required when they are used in detergent form to soften hardness due to magnesium and other ions.