Water is a great cleaner. But just like you, sometimes it needs a little help…
H2O is an amazing liquid. It is useful for manufacturing, transportation, firefighting, energy production, cooking, agriculture, recreation and of course, drinking. Water also has some unique qualities that make it an excellent cleaner.
Water is a polar molecule, meaning it has both positively and negatively charged sides. Without going into too much chemistry here, this means that water can attract to and surround a great variety of substances. Think about everything that water can dissolve or dilute and you begin to understand why water is referred to as the “universal solvent.”
But water can’t dissolve everything. Dirt and grime usually adhere to skin, clothing, and other surfaces by combining with body oils, cooking fats, lubricating greases, and similar substances. Because these substances don’t mix with water, washing with water can’t remove them or the bonded soil. Sometimes it needs a little help. Here are some ways that we can help water clean better.
Emulsification – Detergent and soap molecules have a dual nature. One end of the molecule called the head, attracts to water; the other end, the tail, attracts to oily soils. The tails attach to the soil; the heads remain in the water. This action breaks the oil and soils into tiny soapenclosed droplets called micelles, which disperse throughout the solution.
The micelles repel each other because of their charged surfaces, so the oils can’t join together once separated. This process of separating and suspending oils in a waterbased solution is called emulsification. With the oil no longer bonding the dirt to the soiled surface, the soap-enclosed oils and soils can easily be rinsed away.
Water softeners – Hard water contains minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium dissolved from rock and soil as water passes through earth. Hard water is a problem because it reduces the effectiveness of soaps and detergents. Detergents react with calcium and magnesium so it takes more detergent to get the job done. The hard water reaction with soaps is what creates the sticky residue called soap scum. Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium, increasing the effectiveness of cleaners. Soft water cleans better, rinses better and allows you to use less soap or detergent.
Temperature – Heat reduces the surface tension of water, making it easier to penetrate and dissolve soils. Heat increases the effectiveness of soaps and detergents, so they work more efficiently. Hot water also helps melt and dissolve greases, oils and waxes. All of this means that using hot water makes cleaning easier and allows you to use less detergent.
pH – One way to help water clean better is by adjusting its pH. Pure water has a neutral pH, neither acidic nor alkaline. By adding cleaning agents, we can change the pH of water. Since most common soils are acidic, most detergents are alkaline. When an alkaline detergent contacts an acidic soil, the soil is neutralized. In most cases, this results in more efficient cleaning, easier rinsing and less scrubbing.
Saponification – Saponification is a process that changes natural fats and oils into soap. Many years ago, people made their own soap by combining animal or vegetable fats with lye, a strong alkali. Similarly, using an alkaline detergent has a similar effect on fats and food oils, basically turning them into soap, which can then be rinsed away with water.
Of course, there is more to cleaning than what we have discussed here. For best results, you need the right tools, techniques, training and experience. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a chemist or engineer to keep your house clean and healthy. Following manufacturer instructions on appliances and cleaning products generally yields good results.
When it comes to professional carpet and textile cleaning, you can be confident that your educated and experienced Bluegreen technicians will use the right cleaning agents, equipment and techniques to produce fantastic results with “plain old” water!