Cleaners Glossary of Terms

Detergent -a compound which may depend on one or more of individual reactions such as solvency, saponification, wetting, or emulsification to remove soil.

Saponification – the action of alkalis (such as sodium or potassium hydroxide) which convert animal or vegetable oils or greases into a soap which is soluble in water.

Soap – the sodium or potassium salt of a fat, oil, or fatty acid. Hard water soaps are constituted by calcium, iron or manganese salts of the same substances, and are insoluble in water.

Surfactant – an acronym for “surface active agent”, which can be described as an organic compound that changes the properties of the surface of the liquid (usually water) to which it is added. Simply put, they impart better wetting to water and allow the water and detergents to get beneath the soils and lift them from the part. Surfactants can impart polar charges to a liquid (such as cationic or anionic), be neutral (nonionic) or multi-functional (amphoteric) in nature. The structure and polar character of a surfactant determine how they interact with various soils in a cleaner formulation.

Emulsification -the suspension of oil particles in solution so they can be easily rinsed away.

Wetting -the reduction of surface tension of a liquid, permitting cleansing agents to get to the surface being cleaned.

Deflocculation – the attraction of and suspension of solid particles in solution so they can be easily rinsed away.

Sequestration – the action of certain groups of compounds by which metal ions are held in more or less stable complexes and are thus deprived of their normal chemical activity, i.e., the formation of insoluble soaps.

Chelation – a specific type of sequestering which refers to the “claw-like” system of links by which a heavy metal cation is bound securely in an amine – complex. Thus the metal ion is isolated from surrounding compounds not only by its interaction with the “chelator”, but also by a structural hindrance to the surrounding environment.

pH – is the symbol for the concentration of hydrogen ion (or acidic species) in solution. It is a scale from 0 to 14 with 0 being most acidic, 14 being most alkaline, 7 is neutral, where both hydrogen and hydroxide ions are in equilibrium.