As crafters of laundry soap, one of the most common questions we get is what the difference is between soap and detergent. Often the words are used interchangeably, which they most certainly are not! Soaps are made by combining fats with sodium hydroxide, or lye. Simple enough, right?
Dating as far back as 2800 B.C. there is evidence that soaps were being made by combining rendered animal fats with ashes from fires. This evolved over time to include the use of vegetable fats, making soap an excellent vegan option.
Jumping ahead several centuries to 1916, World War 1 created a shortage in the availability of animal and vegetable fats, necessitating the manufacturing of alternatives to soap. Thus, detergents were born. Using a combination of phosphates, surfactants, foaming agents, and enzymes, detergents became a suitable replacement for soap at the time.
Throughout the past century, we’ve become much more aware of the products we are bringing into our homes. We’ve also come leaps and bounds in terms of research on the effects of detergents and chemicals in the home. Phosphates are now banned in many countries due to their environmental impact, and while there are replacements that are phosphate-free, this doesn’t mean that detergents are good for your clothes. Laden with bleaches, brighteners, fragrances and dyes, they can actually do more damage than good with extended use. There is strong evidence to suggest that detergents can also cause skin irritation, mucus membrane irritation, can aggravate asthma, and can even contain carcinogenic ingredients.
Detergents are also not as gentle on your clothes as you may think! The enzymes used in detergents to break down the dirt and grime actually break down the fibres in your clothing as well. Soap, on the other hand, is much gentler on clothing while still actively cleaning. Using fewer ingredients, it rinses away much easier from the fibres. Most people don’t realize that clothes that smell musty are actually that way due to overuse of detergent, leaving a film on the clothes that allows for bacteria to grow. Even if you use too much soap (we are all guilty of this I’m sure!) it will rinse away, leaving behind no residue for bacteria to grow. A lack of fragrance in soap also allows your clothes to smell genuinely clean, and not cloaked in artificial scents. Truly clean laundry is one of the BEST smells!
The same applies to your washing machine. Over time, detergents can build up in the drum, causing the same odour issue in the machine. Not only that, but it can impact the performance of your machine and cause premature wear and tear on the motor, shortening the life of your appliance. Making the switch from detergent to soap can actually help clean your machine at the same time as your clothes, and keeps your machine in better working condition.
We hope this little lesson helps in answering the question about what the difference is between detergent and soap. If you’re looking to make the switch to soap, head on over to the shop and get yourself started on a clean laundry journey!