Dishwashing liquid or dishwashing detergent as it is sometimes called is a staple in every kitchen. It is a liquid mixture that can be purchased at most grocery stores and online stores.
It comes in a wide range of brands and flavors, with various claims about its effectiveness. The main claim is always that it removes grease from dishes and pans.
Surprisingly, there is not one component of dishwashing liquid that effectively removes grease. It is the combination of components that work together to get your dishes clean!
The main components of dishwashing liquid are surfactants, water, solvents, and bulking agents. Surfactants are molecules that attach to dirt and grease on dishes and pans, lifting them off so they can be washed away.
This article will discuss the different types of surfactants and how they contribute to removing grease from dishes and pans.
A key ingredient in most dishwashing liquids is an oil-soluble compound called dishtowelser. It comes in several forms, most of which are a mixture of sodium and potassium salts of lauryl ether sulfate.
The lauryl ether portion of this chemical name refers to a type of alcohol, lauric acid. Ether refers to a kind of linkage between molecules.
This ingredient helps break down oily residues, like those left behind by cooking foods in oils. It also helps remove stuck-on food debris, like those caused by burned bits of garlic or onion.
The problem is that dishtowelser can be too effective at breaking down oils! To fix this problem, manufacturers add in other ingredients that either reduce the amount of dishtowelser in the liquid or that act as so-called water-soluble cleaners. These help clean up other messes left behind after cooking.
Oil dissolves in water
When you wash a frying pan with dishwashing liquid, the greased pan is first washed with water, then dried. The dry pan is then rubbed against a stack of paper towels to remove any remaining water.
The paper towel now contains the grease from the frying pan. To remove this grease, you need to separate it from the water it dissolves in.
That is where the dishwashing liquid comes in handy. It has a special property that helps to do this. Let’s learn more about what this property is and how it works!
The chemical structure of dishwashing liquid contains what are called “non-ionic surfactants.” These are molecules consisting of a hydrophilic (water-loving) head group attached to a lipophilic (fat-loving) tail group. When these non-ionic surfactants come into contact with oil, they bind to it and form a micelle (tiny ball) containing both oil and surfactant molecules.
A key property of dishwashing liquid is that it must be water-soluble. This means that it must dissolve in water.
Water-soluble ingredients are grease-cutting agents. These include soap and synthetic substances called surfactants. Soap is a combination of a fat or oil and lye, a substance that changes the chemical structure of the fat or oil.
Surfactants work by reducing the surface tension of water. This allows the dishwashing liquid to more easily penetrate and wash away grease on your dishes.
The molecules in surfactants have a negative electrical charge at one end, making them attracted to fats and oils, which have a positive electrical charge at one end. This pulls the grease out of dishes and washes it away in the water.
Dishwashing liquid contains both oil- and water-soluble ingredients
The name “dishwashing liquid” is a misnomer – it should be called “dishwashing solution”.
As we have seen, dishwashing liquid contains both oil- and water-soluble ingredients. The oily components of dishwashing liquid can be surfactants or triglycerides.
Surfactants are compounds that contain both an oil-compatible tail and a water-compatible head. Triglycerides are just fats (usually oils) that are soluble in water.
We know that oils and fats are not water-soluble, but how does dishwashing liquid remove grease from dishes? It does this by using the combination of these two components to wash grease from dishes.
First, it uses surfactants to bind to the grease on the dish.
Mix oil and water together with dishwashing liquid
When grease is stuck on a pan, it is important to get the grease off the pan, not just the surface of the pan.
To do this, you need to mix oil and water together. When you wash the pan, the dishwashing liquid will separate the two as it washes away dirt.
The dishwashing liquid also has a property that makes it particularly good at washing grease off of pans. It is called surfactant which means it reduces surface tension of liquids.
Surface tension is how much force it takes to convert a liquid into a vapour or another form of matter.
By reducing surface tension of liquids, dishwashing liquid makes it easier to wash away dirt and grime from pans.
Rinse with clean water
Rinse your dishes with clean water after washing them. This is a simple step many people forget, but it is important!
Dirty water can hold particles that have been washed off of the dishes. If you did not rinse the dishes thoroughly, these particles could get dried onto the dish.
Rinsing with clean water also helps to ensure that any grease on the dish is completely washed off. The water has to be clean, though- even a little bit of grease will keep it from being clean.
Putting your dishes in the dryer or leaving them out to dry overnight is another way that people forget to do this part. Doing this allows microorganisms and bugs on the dishes to dry and die, keeping your stack of freshly washed plates cleaner.
Dry your pan with a paper towel
A very important part of this process is to let your pan dry. Once you have washed and rinsed your pan, let it dry on a dry paper towel for at least an hour.
Dishwashing liquid contains a surfactant that helps grease dissolve in water. When the pan is washed in water, the surfactant works its magic and pulls the grease off of the pan.
If you put the pan away wet, then when it dries, the water will re-hydrate the grease on the pan and it will be almost impossible to get it off!
Surfactants are not ideal ingredients for household compost, so if you have a compost bin, let the soil microbes deal with the surfactant. It will take quite some time for it to break down, but it will.
Do not use salt or acid to clean your pan
Many people suggest using salt or acid to clean greasy pans. While this method works, it can be extremely harsh on your pan.
Acid can break down the pan material, while salt can build up in the crevices and make the pan harder to wash. Both of these can lead to a worse quality pan after cleaning.
Acid-free dishwashing liquid is a better option to wash your pans. The soaps in this can help remove grease from the pan while being gentle enough to use on your dishes.
Brine solution is another option to help remove grease from your pans. The water in the brine solution helps break down the grease so that you can easily wipe it off with a cloth or paper towel.
Both of these solutions are more cost-efficient than buying new pans every time you have a little bit of grease on yours.