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Soap is an anionic surfactant used in conjunction with water for washing and cleaning, which historically comes either in solid bars or in the form of a viscous liquid.Soap consists of sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids and is obtained by reacting common oils or fats with a strong alkaline solution (the base, popularly referred to as lye) in a process known as saponification. The fats are hydrolyzed by the base, yielding alkali salts of fatty acids (crude soap) and glycerol.

Today, soap is often replaced by other cleaning agents, such as synthetic detergents.

Soaps are useful for cleaning because soap molecules have both a hydrophilic end, which dissolves in water, as well as a hydrophobic end, which is able to dissolve nonpolar grease molecules. Although grease will normally adhere to skin or clothing, the soap molecules can form micelles which surround the grease particles and allow them to be dissolved in water. Applied to a soiled surface, soapy water effectively holds particles in colloidal suspension so it can be rinsed off with clean water. The hydrophobic portion (made up of a long hydrocarbon chain) dissolves dirt and oils, while the ionic end dissolves in water. Therefore, it allows water to remove normally-insoluble matter by emulsification. In other words, while normally oil and water do not mix, the addition of soap allows oils to dissolve in water, allowing them to be rinsed away.


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