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What Is a Laundry Emulsifier?

Updated April 17, 2017

There's no need to panic the next time you get greasy stains on your shirt after your backyard barbecue. Laundry emulsifiers are chemicals added to clothes detergent that help break down and remove oil, grease and other stains from your favourite blouse.

What Is It?

Emulsifiers are surfactants, chemicals that help two types of liquids to spread and mix. In the case of laundry emulsifiers, the two liquids involved are the laundry water and the stains on your clothes. Surfactants can be made from natural materials like coconut and cottonseed oil or from petroleum or synthetic oils.

How Does it Work?

Each emulsifier molecule in your washing powder is made of a water-loving "head" that is attracted to your wash water and an oil-loving "tail" that is attracted to stains on your clothing. The molecules end up surrounding oil and grease on your clothing and breaking the stains into extremely small particles that can then dissolve in the wash.

How Do I Use It?

Follow the directions on your washing powder to add the proper ratio of detergent to water. Without the proper ratio, the emulsifiers will not be able to break down stains.

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About the Author

Angela Grant has written articles and produced video stories for major Texas newspapers and international news wire services since 2005. Her work has appeared in the "San Antonio Express-News" and the "Fort Worth Star-Telegram." She has a Bachelor of Arts in government and a Bachelor of Journalism with a multimedia concentration, both from the University of Texas at Austin.