Although the start of the synthetic detergent industry is not shrouded in the
veils of history as were the beginnings of the soap industry, it is nevertheless not easy
to pinpoint exactly when the detergent industry, as such, came into being. The primary
problem is to decide exactly what is being referred to as a synthetic detergent. The term
itself leads to confusion. In the USA the words surfactant or syndet are being used,
whilst in Europe the term 'tenside' (for tensio-active material) is coming into fashion.
Many definitions of synthetic detergent have been proposed, all of which are
very wide. The Comiti International de Dirivis Tensio Actifs has after several
years of deliberation agreed on the following definitions:
- Detergent: Product the formulation of which is specially devised to promote the
development of detergency. Note: A detergent is a formulation comprising essential
constituents (surface active agents) and subsidiary constituents (builders, boosters,
fillers and auxiliaries).
- Surface Active Agent: Chemical compound which, when dissolved or dispersed in a
liquid is preferentially absorbed at an interface, giving rise to a number of
physico-chemical or chemical properties of practical interest. The molecule of the
compound includes at least one group with an affinity for markedly polar surfaces,
ensuring in most cases solubilization in water, and a group which has little affinity for
water. Note: Compositions in general are usually mixtures of such compounds.
- Amphiphilic Product: Product comprising in its molecule, at the same time one or
more hydrophilic groups and one or more hydrophobic groups. Note: surface active
agents are amphiphilic products.