What are the main ingredients in laundry detergent?

Written by meredith burgio
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What are the main ingredients in laundry detergent?
You may be surprised to find out what is in your washing powder. (Laundry day image by MAXFX from Fotolia.com)

Laundry detergents contain fragrances and dyes to make them more appealing to consumers. There are other ingredients that help the detergent clean fabrics. Builders, fillers, surface active agents, and water are the main ingredients found in washing powder. Each ingredient plays a role to attack stains and remove dirt.

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Detergent builders work together to soften water. The builders extract and bind calcium and magnesium ions, which prevents them from reacting with the other ingredients. With softer water, the other ingredients can work better to clean fabrics.


Borax, anti-foaming agents, alcohols, sodium chloride and sodium sulphate are examples of fillers found in washing powder. The fillers' role is to change the detergent's physical properties. Powder detergents need borax to make it easier to pour. Anti-foaming agents reduce the foam visible during the wash cycle. Liquid detergents can have alcohols added to them to decrease the detergent's freezing point. Sodium chloride and sodium sulphate have some cleaning properties that make them useful in laundry detergents.

Surface Active Agents

Surface active agents, also called surfactants, dissolve in water. Once dissolved, it works to remove stains in clothing. The surfactants attach to the dirt and lift it from the fabric. Then, the surfactants keep the dirt and grime suspended in the water so that it does not return to the clothing.


The water found in washing powder works with the surfactants to dilute it. This makes it easier for the surfactants to attack dirt and stains on clothing.

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