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Name: Holly
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: NM
Country: N/A
Date: April 2007

Question:
Why are cleaning products basic?



Replies:
While more common, not all cleaning are basic (alkaline). You have to be careful in defining what you mean by "cleaning product". They can range from aggressive floor strippers to mild facial soaps. Often, "dirt" has a surface layer of carboxylic acid groups: --C=0\\OH (sorry about the attempt to write a chemical structure). In the presence of basic (alkaline), these groups are neutralized to --C=0\\O(-1). These carboxylic acid groups are soluble in basic (alkaline) solutions. So the "dirt" is suspended in the water and removed from whatever substrate is being cleaned-- whether it is a floor or your face.

Some other cleaning products are non-ionic (electrically neutral) or even cationic (positively charged).

The technology of "cleaning products" has become very sophisticated, and the selection of a particular cleaning product can become very complicated.

Some other cleaning products are non-ionic (electrically neutral) or even cationic (positively charged). The technology of "cleaning products" has become very sophisticated, and the selection of a particular cleaning product can become very complicated.

Vince Calder


They are not always basic. Products such as toilet bowl cleaner and lime remover are usually acids, for instance.

Basic cleaners are often formulated to remove greasy materials such as fingerprints and food residues. These stains are readily broken down by bases.

In addition, many detergents are slightly or fairly basic because that's how they have an affinity for water. Detergent molecules contain one end that is attracted to water and another that is attracted to stuff like grease more than to water. They gather greasy ends around greasy dirt and allow it to be suspended in water. The water-loving end can be positively charged, negatively charged, or neutral but polar. It is especially easy to make negatively charged ends by making the conjugate base of a strong or weak acid, which results in a weak or strong base.

Richard Barrans
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Wyoming



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