How does soap work? © iStock

How does soap work?

The magic of soap scrubs down to its love-hate relationship with water.

Asked by: Richard Somerville, Northamptonshire


The structure of soap molecules enables them to remove dirt with ease. They consist of a hydrocarbon chain, with a sodium or potassium atom at the end. The hydrocarbon end is attracted to oil and repels water, whereas the other end attracts water. When you wash your hands, oily dirt particles are surrounded by soap molecules with their water-loving heads facing outwards. This breaks up the dirt and lets it wash away in the water.


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