What does each chemical ingredient really do?

Every chemical ingredient in a formula has a particular function. Certain ingredients give the product its active properties, others might help it dissolve better in water or give it a pleasant fragrance or colour. It all adds up to a product that is easier to use and gets great results.

In this section, you will find information about the main families of chemical ingredients and their role in a product.

NB: Some families of ingredients may or may not be composed of several "types", i.e. subsets in the family, as outlined below

For more information on fragrances please click here
Family Function Type Function
Abrasive Aids the removal of a variety of soils from various surfaces through mechanical action e.g. grime from kitchen/bathroom tiles, baked on foodstuffs from cooker tops etc.
Alkalinity sources Increases the alkalinity of the product to aid dissolution of dirt.
Binders Substances that are added to provide adhesive properties so that the solids stick together e.g tablets.
Bleach Precursors Reacts in the wash to form bleach. Bleach Catalysts Boosts the performance of the bleach component of a detergent making it effective at lower temperatures too.
Bleach Activators Boosts the performance of the bleach component of a detergent making it effective at lower temperatures too.
Builders Reduces the effect of water hardness by removing calcium and magnesium ions and increases the effectiveness of the detergent. Sodium carbonate Soda Ash (sodium carbonate or Na2CO3) improves cleaning performance by raising the pH of the wash solution. Soda ash also "builds" the wash solution by removing water hardness, which precipitate out in the form of insoluble calcium and magnesium salts.
Alkali silicates Sodium silicate may be used as a corrosion inhibitor in laundry and automatic dishwashing products. It protects the interior metallic and enamel surfaces of the machines against corrosion.
Citrates Sodium Citrate is used as a builder in phosphate-free, heavy duty laundry products, hard surface cleaners, hand dishwashing products and automatic dishwashing products.
Polycarboxylates Polycarboxylate (PAA) are water-soluble polymers that have a high capacity to adsorb divalent cations such as Ca2+ and Mg2+ from solid surfaces
Phosphates STPP is an inorganic builder of the sequestrating type. To 'sequestrate' means to form a stable complex with ions so that these are no longer available to react. STPP belongs to the chemical category of the phosphates. STPP removes hardness ions (calcium, magnesium) from the wash water by sequestration.
Bulking Agents Added to increase the volume of a product through dilution, so that it can be applied at the correct concentration.
Colourants Ingredients that can colour the product.
Corrosion Inhibitors Added to prevent corrosion.
Enzymes Enzymes are catalysts that increase the rate of chemical reactions such as digestion and growth processes. In the detergent industry, commercial enzymes are used to ensure a higher degree of stain removal, whiteness, fabric and color care, and overall cleaning performance. Mannanase Mannanases degrade mannan containing stains (barbecue sauce, chocolate, ice cream, toothpaste, and others), thus ensuring thorough stain removal and cleanliness.
Cellulase Cellulases improve overall cleanness by reducing redeposition of particulate soils such as soot, clay, and rust on cotton fabrics. In addition, cellulases also provide fabric and color care.
Lipase Lipases degrade fat containing stains (butter, oil, human sebum, and others), thus ensuring thorough stain removal and cleanliness.
Amylase Amylases degrade starch containing stains (pasta, potatoes, baby food and others), thus ensuring thorough stain removal and cleanliness.
Protease Proteases degrade protein containing stains (grass, blood, egg, minced meat, and others), thus ensuring thorough stain removal and cleanliness.
Fragrances Makes the product smell nice in the packaging and during use.
Hydrotropes Increases the solubility of the detergent in the product.
Oxidising Agents In detergents stains are removed by oxidation (bleaching). Chlorine-based bleaching agents Sodium hypochlorite is most commonly known as chlorine bleach. During use it decomposes to form water and sodium chloride; the latter is commonly known as kitchen salt.
Oxygen-based bleaching agents Oxygen-based bleching agent such as Sodium carbonate peroxide is used in laundry and cleaning products as a bleaching agent. During the wash, the peroxide is consumed and the carbonate remains.
Preservatives Protects products from microbial growth and spoilage. Preservatives are required to prevent product damage caused by micro-organisms and to protect the product from accidental contamination by the consumer during use.
Sequestrants Prevents free metal ions from causing any adverse effects on product performance, appearance, or stability by reacting with them. Phosphonates They are organic chelator of the sequestrating type. To 'chelate' means to form a stable complex with ions so that these are no longer available to react. They remove metal ions from the wash water by chelation, to keep them from interfering with other processes.
Solvents Used to dissolve other ingredients
Surfactants Used to change the surface tension of water to assist cleansing, wetting surfaces, foaming and emulsifying (the suspension of one liquid evenly within another). Soaps These salts of fatty acids are more commonly known as "soaps". They may be added to the product in the form of the fatty acids; in the product matrix the salts will be formed. The soaps are commonly used surfactants in laundry and cleaning products.
Amphoteric Surfactants These surfactants are very mild, making them particularly suited for use in personal care and household cleaning products. They can be anionic (negatively charged), cationic (positively charged) or non-ionic (no charge) in solution, depending on the acidity or pH of the water.
Cationic Surfactants In fabric softeners and in detergents with built-in fabric softener, cationic surfactants provide softness. Their main use in laundry products is in rinse added fabric softeners, such as esterquats, one of the most widely used cationic surfactants in rinse added fabric softeners.In household and bathroom cleaners, cationic surfactants contribute to the disinfecting/sanitizing properties.
Nonionic Surfactants These surfactants do not have an electrical charge, which makes them resistant to water hardness deactivation. They are excellent grease removers that are used in laundry products, household cleaners and hand dishwashing liquids
Anionic Surfactants These surfactants are particularly effective at oily soil cleaning and oil/clay soil suspension. They can react in the wash water with the positively charged water hardness ions (calcium and magnesium) , which can lead to partial deactivation.
Viscosity Controlling Agents Controls the thickness of the product.
Water Used to dissolve other ingredients
pH Adjusters Added to control the acidity/alkalinity of products. pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of a solution. Pure water has a pH around 7, or neutral pH. Acidic solutions have a pH below 7 (e.g. cola: pH = 2,5). Alkaline products have a pH that is higher than 7 (e.g., drain unblocker: pH = 14). Acidic cleaners are efficient in removing limescale and rust stains. Alkaline cleaners remove fatty stains.
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