The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

How Cleaning Works

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No matter the type of product you are using (soap or detergent), good cleaning takes a lot of energy. Three different kinds to be exact:

  • Chemical energy, provided by the soap or detergent
  • Mechanical energy, provided by a machine or by hand
  • Thermal energy, provided by heating water Let’s look at how all these elements work together.
Types of cleaning

Assume we have a great, big, oily, greasy stain on one of our favorite shirts. Water alone is not enough to remove the stain and get our shirt clean. 

Now let’s add some laundry detergent.

The laundry detergent provides chemical energy. This energy is created by the composition of the soap or detergent and because of the way the ingredients in the detergent interact with the stain on our shirt. You cannot see it with your eyes, but the molecules in the detergent are attracted to the stain and help pull the dirt from the shirt to the wash water.

Next, let’s see what happens when we add mechanical energy.

Inside a washing machine, clothes move back and forth rubbing together with other items. This is mechanical energy. The rubbing actions helps to loosen the stain and free it from the surface of our shirt. When you look in your washing machine and see laundry moving, you are watching mechanical energy in action.

Mechanical energy can even be created by hand. 

The final type of energy is thermal energy.

Thermal energy means temperature. Warm or hot water can help the stain dissolve quicker. While warm water can help speed things along, most laundry detergents today can work just as well at colder temperatures.

All three types of energy need the right amount of time to work best. The more one type of energy is used, the less others are needed. 

For example, delicate clothes would be damaged by the mechanical energy of the washing machine and hotter water. So instead, we can use chemical energy—detergents—and increase time to get them clean. 

Learn More About the Science of Cleaning at ExplorationClean.org