“Chemical Conundrum: What’s Hiding in Your Detergent?”

Detergent could potentially become a thing of the past as researchers at Malmö University investigate the possibility of using purified water instead of detergent solution to wash and clean. While the research is still in its early stages, the team is working to develop a model that explains the chemical and physical processes that occur when dirt is removed with purified water.

According to Andriani Tsompou, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, “When you have salt in the system, the dirt you want to remove will clump together more and make it harder for the water to remove the particles from the material.” However, in purified water, which has had impurities and ions removed, the repulsive forces between charged objects become stronger. This allows dirt particles to more easily detach from surfaces and form a colloidal system in the water.

In previous trials, the team used tap water, water with added salt, and two grades of purified water, and were able to achieve a 90% purification of Vaseline on a glass slide using purified water at 25 degrees Celsius. In later trials, they experimented with different temperatures and washing cycles and achieved a 100% purification of the Vaseline in purified water at 40 degrees Celsius in two washing cycles.

While these trials have used surfaces and dirt that form weak bonds, the team plans to gradually increase bond strength and test on different materials to approach real-life conditions. The ultimate goal is to test on real fabric.

“In the long run, our research can solve environmental problems with water pollution caused by detergents.” To succeed in this, we need to better understand the intermolecular forces that act in purified water,” says Professor Vitaly Kocherbitov.

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