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How does dishwashing liquid work?

Dishwashing liquid cleans the dishes, so we can use them again. But how does it work? The scientific background of this product will surprise you.

How washing up liquid works: molecules

There are two different types of molecules. Some are hydrophilic, which means they combine with water, and some are hydrophobic, which means they repel water molecules from each other. The oil consists of hydrophobic molecules.

The structure of the dishwashing liquid

When these two types of molecules are attached to each other, a detergent molecule is formed. The dishwashing liquid molecule has a hydrophilic and hydrophobic tip. The first one has a polar structure that combines with water when washing dishes. The latter, in turn, has a non-polar structure that binds to fat and oil.

How does dishwashing liquid work?

When you place an oily pan in a sink full of foamed water, the oil and grease will not automatically dissolve in the water. This is because the oil molecules are nonpolar, while the water molecules are polar. So how does dishwashing liquid work? Due to its polar and non-polar structure, it acts as a linker or emulsifier. 

Oil is naturally immiscible with water, but the washing-up liquid particles move when they come into contact with the oil. If we could look at the molecule at this point, it would turn out that the hydrophilic, polar end of the molecule (the one that loves water) is facing the water, and the hydrophobic side of the molecule that loves fat is facing the oil. It is this side that attaches to the fat, traps it inside the molecule and pulls it away from the vessel, and the foamed water can be easily drained away.

How washing up liquid works: cleaning the dishes

The molecules in the dishwashing liquid remove dirt, plaque, germs and grease from dishes so that they can be rinsed down the drain. After rinsing the liquid with water, the dishes are clean and reusable.

Water (which dissolves many food molecules by itself) and stirring or rubbing are essential for an optimal result.

Have you ever wondered how washing up liquid works? Thanks to the unique structure of the liquid molecules, the dishes are clean and fat-free after each wash.

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