Science | Nov 16
There’s a common belief - a myth if you will - that we need to address right now! Looking into a washing machine and seeing lots of suds can make you feel like your clothes are now super clean. Seeing suds in your hands when washing them in the sink sure makes you comfortable. Sudsing up your sponge before doing your dishes just makes everything feel more...clean. However, suds definitely do not equal cleaning power, even if a lot of people think they do! On a psychological level people like to see something happening, but really you’re just seeing soap molecules trapping air in spherical pockets. Does air trapped in pockets clean? (No, it doesn’t). The soap (or saponified) molecules in water are the ones doing the actual cleaning! But because we believe suds equal clean, many commercial manufacturers add chemicals in to specifically create bubbles, foam, and soap!
But why? Why do soap bubbles form at all if they don’t help cleaning? What is the meaning of all this? Well, let’s talk about how soap works first.
Soap molecules have two important sides, kind of like a magnet! One of these sides is attracted to water and the other is attracted to dirt (but repelled by water). Bubbles are formed when soap molecules surround the water molecules with the water-loving side pointed towards the water and the repellant sides pointed away. In other words, you are seeing a thin layer of water stuck between soap molecules. So really, it has nothing to do with how effective the soap is or how well it cleans. Soap bubbles just show how attracted the soap molecule is to water, and not how well it works to get rid of dirt.
Another important fact to note is that while seeing a lack of suds in the washer or the sink may make you think you are not using enough soap, just remember that different types of soap molecules make different types of bubbles. Some soaps and detergents make a lot of bubbles, others just a little, others are actually specially formulated to make very little suds while delivering great cleaning power. So you may be in fact just wasting away your soap!
Do your clothes still smell like laundry detergent after using them for 3 days straight? Are you itchy every time you put on freshly washed clothes? Do your hands feel oily after washing them? Then you may be using TOO MUCH detergent. This could mean that, if you’re using regular mainstream detergents and soaps, harmful chemicals may be lingering in your arms, back, hands and skin! Yikes! (No harm if you're using one of these awesome soaps, though!)
To be sure to not waste away your laundry detergent, be sure to read the label on the back of your bottle (if it’s a liquid laundry detergent or soap) or use a single pod or laundry tablet if it’s a detergent pac. Even though some detergent companies recommend using two (or even three) laundry pods, one pod or tablet will definitely do the trick for most loads of dirty clothes (use two for giant loads only!!).
Too many suds can sometimes even be harmful to appliances and clothes! HE (High Efficiency) laundry and dishwasher machines require low sudsing detergents (too many suds could actually flood the machine!). HE machines rely on agitation to clean (clothes tumbling against each other). If too many layers of bubbles form between clothes, then they will not be able to agitate properly! This is why owners of HE machines need to be careful to always buy the correct detergents for their machines!
Since HE machines were designed around the agitation of clothes, they also do not require as much water as other types of machines. If your detergent is labeled as an HE detergent then you are definitely not going to see the same level of suds as regular detergents. And that’s all good!
In short, nope! Suds does not equal clean! And yep! You’re probably wasting away your detergents and soap!