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A tension is created as the water molecules at the surface are pulled into the body of the water.This tension causes water to bead up on surfaces (glass, fabric), which slows wetting of the surface and inhibits the cleaning process.In the body of the water, each molecule is surrounded and attracted by other water molecules.However, at the surface, those molecules are surrounded by other water molecules only on the water side.You can see surface tension at work by placing a drop of water onto a counter top. In the cleaning process, surface tension must be reduced so water can spread and wet surfaces.Chemicals that are able to do this effectively are called surface active agents, or surfactants.Surfactants are classified by their ionic (electrical charge) properties in water: anionic (negative charge), nonionic (no charge), cationic (positive charge) and amphoteric (either positive or negative charge). Other anionic as well as nonionic surfactants are the main ingredients in today's detergents.
The carboxylate end of the soap molecule is attracted to water. The hydrocarbon chain is attracted to oil and grease and repelled by water. Although soap is a good cleaning agent, its effectiveness is reduced when used in hard water.First let's examine the composition of fats, oils and alkalis; then we'll review the soapmaking process.The fats and oils used in soapmaking come from animal or plant sources.The fatty acids are then purified by distillation and neutralized with an alkali to produce soap and water (neat soap).When the alkali is sodium hydroxide, a sodium soap is formed. When the alkali is potassium hydroxide, a potassium soap is formed.
There are many types of triglycerides; each type consists of its own particular combination of fatty acids.