The truth about suds and cleaning:
Many people are skeptical that something as low sudsing as saponin can be an effective cleaning agent – but it is. For generations we have been programmed/taught to equate the amount of suds to the degree of cleaning power. Today’s new, high-tech, HE washing machines prove this is not the case.
Suds do not equal cleaning power. But that’s how most think. Commercial soap and cleaning product manufacturers even developed specific synthetic chemicals that continue producing suds throughout an entire wash cycle or bath. Why? Because they keep telling us to equate those suds with cleaning action. We like to see something happening, so they provide us with a show. That’s all it is – one overly long show.
As we learn more about the harmful effects of long-term exposure to synthetic chemicals, we now know that many have their origin in the surfactants for cleaning and producing suds. (Yes, infamous SLS is one that’s at the top of the list.) In addition there’s a myriad of other chemicals produced for a variety of other purposes. These chemicals can be difficult to flush out of fabrics. A long list of commonplace ingredients are now linked to a host of skin irritations, ailments and many forms of cancer. Our skin absorbs them, and ultimately they enter our bloodstream.
Because there are toxic chemicals in so many things, our bodies become overloaded resulting in the development of sensitivities (some severe) to commercial detergents, soaps, cleaners and synthetic fragrances. Many now even suffer from MCS (Multiple Chemical Syndrome). Only in recent years was this determined to be a real physical problem. (I’m getting off track. Sorry. So, back to suds.)
Detergents work because of the presence of a surfactant. By definition: sur-fac-tant, n. An agent, for example, a detergent or a drug, that reduces the surface tension of liquids so that the liquid spreads out, rather than collecting in droplets. (Courtesy of Encarta World English Dictionary.)
Surfactant combines the words – surface active agent. Surfactant molecules have two distinct parts, one end attracts water, the other end repels water and attracts oil. Water molecules tend to stick together (hydrogen bonds form), hence water creates surface tension. Surfactants break down this tension which improves the water’s ability to “make things wet”, and spread evenly. Surfactants allow oil to be emulsified and dissolved in water so the oils and dirt in the fibers of clothes can be removed and washed away. If it helps, you can simply think of it this way, too: A surfactant allows oil and water to mix.
Getting to the heart of the issue here, to see suds persist throughout a wash cycle is unnecessary for thorough cleaning. Those added extra suds-producing chemicals are more of a function of marketing than out of need for effectiveness.
This phenomenon is a big part of why it is difficult to find a good HE detergent. The extra suds produced by chemical surfactants in many commercial detergents will gunk up that new HE washer. The hardware has certainly surpassed the software (so to speak), and the chemical detergent producers struggle with the problem.
A vast number of surfactants in commercial detergent products and even personal care products are chemically derived. Their production and use are major sources of the pollution in our water supplies today.
Soap nuts are hands down the best HE detergent on the market. They produce saponin – a highly effective organic surfactant that is low sudsing – by nature. They don’t pollute ground water. They’re biodegradable. They’re even excellent for septic systems. The chemical producers are a long way off from finding something non-polluting that works as well. This is why many people complain of moldy and musty odors in HE washers (and essentially all front loaders). The excessive suds from surfactants and other additives leave residues that become quite nasty over time. Saponin actually breaks up and disperses these chemical residues.
I hope I’ve not confused the issue too much!! Suds are not bad! Saponin will create suds – and a whole lot of them. I had an empty bottle of EXTREME 18X that I tried to fill with water. This bottle was bone dry empty. It took me four times filling and rinsing it out before I could fill it to the top without suds pouring out everywhere. I barely got an inch of water in it on the first attempt before the suds began overflowing.
Soap nuts release an amazing surfactant (saponin) with tremendous cleaning power. They do so with the presence of natural suds rather than a chemical soup of surfactants and other synthetics that create such a suds “side show”. Given their tenacity and persistence, it’s almost impossible to remove these chemical suds from the machine –and your clothes, hence the common irritations many suffer from.
It’s amusing to see how the detergent producers of today are now balancing themselves on the tight-wire of their own creation. The advent of today’s far-better HE washing machines threw a big wrench into all their teachings. Those suds from standard detergents can actually damage a new HE machine. The owner’s manual will warn you of this.
Change is so difficult. It took me a long time, and lots of personal experiences and experimentation to get all the falsehoods about suds out of my head. I highly doubt any big company is going to come out and ever admit the truth. Surely we’ll never hear, “Sorry, we were totally wrong about suds. (It did help us sell a lot of soap and detergent though.”)
There’s been little reduction over the years in use of the massive number of chemically derived surfactants in commercial detergent products and even personal care products. They remain the top ingredients even in most new “green washed” products. Supply follows demand, so we must change our thinking. We must change our paradigm regarding suds. Product changes begin with us – the consumer. Our demands will make a difference.
Again, the production and use of chemical surfactants are major sources of the pollution of our world’s water supplies. They are an ongoing health hazard, and a cause of widespread skin ailments and human suffering. That’s a tragedy when there is such a simple alternative – SAPONIN.