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Stuff You Should Know: How Soap Works


Have you ever wondered about how soap works? Interesting question, right?

Here are some bulleted highlights from this episode courtesy of Josh & Chuck at the Stuff You Should Know podcast.

  • Soap was invented somewhere between 4800 - 5000 years ago.
  • Soap cleans your hands better than Hand Sanitizer
  • A Soap is the combination of a Fat/Oil & an Alkali. An Alkali is the opposite of an Acid and has a High Ph. The alkali comes in the form of Lye. Lye is what does the cleaning.
  • The Soap molecule has polar opposite ends. One side of the molecule is attracted to water and the other end is attracted to Oil. Oil and Water generally do not mix... but SOAP has the ability to bring the two together and get them to party!!
  • The end that is attracted to Oils and hates water is Oleophilic. It does everything possible to get away from water including breaking through its molecules and loosening the surface tension water has. And this is where the magic happens.
  • When soap breaks up the water molecule, it makes water more permeable allowing the water to get into even smaller cracks and crevices on your body. The soap can then pick up more dirt! Then it gets washed away down the drain.
  • So that is the major difference between Soap & Hand Sanitizer. Soap will actually remove 100% of the dirt and bacteria on your body. Hand Sanitizer is a great alternative when you cannot wash your hands... It will KILL 99% of the bacteria, but the dirt and bacteria remains on your hands.
  • The same thing Soap can do with water (break it down) happens with Bacteria & Viruses. Viruses have double layer lipid membranes. The hydrophobic end of the soap is very sharp and can wedge itself between the membranes of the virus. From there, it rips apart the virus ultimately destroying it and sending it on its way down the drain with the water.
  • Real Soap should be THIN like water and NOT thick. If a soap is thick it has unnecessary additives to make it that way.
  • "Antibacterial Soap" is NOT more effective than regular Soap. It's just a marketing buzz term! And the FDA recently banned 2 ingredients in Antibacterial soap (triclosan & tricocarban) and suggested using regular soap instead.
  • Most "soaps" are technically not actually soap. They are chemically contrived soaps which actually make them detergents. They get you clean and kill bacteria, but they are NOT good for your skin and definitely not good for people with sensitive skin, eczema, etc...
  • Soap is high in Ph, however it's much lower than detergent.

Listen to the full podcast here to learn even more about soap!


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