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How Does Soap Function In The Lives Of Human Beings?

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Soap comes in many varieties and forms that vary to serve its different purposes such as disinfecting the hands through proper Handwashing with proper duration and friction as skin is always exposed to different foreign influences that allow diverse communities of microorganisms to inhabit and remain in contact to humans that can be very detrimental to health. It is also used in cleaning the hair, and faces to a variety of household chores, such as doing the laundry to remove stains and soil, and washing the dishes to remove oils and greases.

Chemical origin of all these different soaps are similar in a way that; they were all made by mixing fat or oil with a strongly basic solution, such as lye–sodium hydroxide in water. Soaps are emulsifying agent made from sodium or potassium fatty acids salts, synthesized from the hydrolysis of fats in a chemical reaction called saponification. Saponification is the alkaline hydrolysis of the fatty acid esters. Nucleophilic attack by the hydroxide, leaving group removal and deprotonation are the three mechanism of saponification that happens between any fat and sodium hydroxide with the given equation of: triglyceride + sodium hydroxide (or potassium hydroxide) → glycerol + 3 soap molecules. (Helmenstine, 2020) This exothermic reaction causes heat to be liberated during the process forming soap that would remain in suspension in the mixture, then, addition of common salt aids soap to be precipitated and transformed into solid form. The sodium or potassium ions float free in water leaving a negatively-charged head that are capable of dispersing into another immiscible liquid. Each soap molecule has a long hydrocarbon chain, composed of two different ends: hydrophilic and hydrophobic. Its hydrophilic carboxylate group interacts with water molecules via ion-dipole interactions and hydrogen bonding while the hydrophobic end of soap molecule with its long, nonpolar hydrocarbon chain does not interact with water molecules. Attachment of hydrocarbon chains by dispersion forces causes the formation of micelles that contain carboxylate groups which form a negatively-charged spherical surface with hydrocarbon chains inside the sphere causing repulsion making soap remain dispersed in water. (Helmenstine, 2019)

Microorganisms are inevitable in every circumstance as they can be found everywhere from the air, soil, water and any surface that it makes contact with such as the skin of a human being known as the largest surface and most susceptible area of the body that also serves as the largest defense to different microorganisms. Most microbes are beneficial for human health as humans also depend and can’t live without them. These good bacteria doesn’t cause diseases instead, are needed for replenishment of the human system. But there are several types of microbes and germs that cause illnesses and diseases that are not needed in the body. According to Hickok (2020), different types of dirt are non-polar compounds that are insoluble with water reason for using water alone won’t remove much of these on our skin as water is polar in nature. On the other hand, soap molecules are surfactant with its two different ends that go-between water and other non-polar compounds and bind both of them at the same time.

Hands are the main pathways of different transmissions of microorganism. Proper Hand hygiene is simple yet an effective measure to prevent the transmission of pathogens and infections. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend cleaning and disinfecting the hands with the aid of soap and water especially when they are visibly dirty or soiled. This action would serve as the first line of defense in preventing further complications as washing hands properly with the correct procedure and duration causes the present microorganisms on the skin lathered with soap molecules that position themselves into tiny clusters which make dirt and fragments of viruses and bacteria be suspended in floating cages. The hydrophobic parts, water-fearing, of the free-floating soap molecules attempt to evade water as they wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of certain microbes and viruses in the process, prying them apart where as the hydrophilic molecules of the soap, water-loving, then points out and are attracted to water taking soap molecules, removed grimes and all microorganisms that have been trapped, dispatched and impaired be eliminated away. (Corum and Jabr, 2020) There are two different types of soap that depends on the nature of alkali used in manufacturing and production of soap dependent on its purpose. Two types include: Hard soap that is made from sodium salt of long chain fatty acid that has long-life usually used on laundry. Second, the soft soap made from potassium salt of long chain fatty acid that creates more lather and dissolves easily. (OLABS, n.d.)

However, not all the time these agents are present to help in eliminating possible invaders that could harm a human being. Hand rub products are alternative options in performing hand hygiene especially when washing sink is not accessible and available; and also when it is more convenient. Alcohol-based disinfecting solutions should have at least 60-80% alcohol concentration to be utilized as an effective disinfectant and also safe to use for the skin. Its germicidal mechanism circulates in breaking up the outer coatings such as cell membranes of bacteria, fungi, and viruses; and denaturation of proteins. Sanitizers containing 60 % ethanol do act similarly with alcohol in combating several bacteria and viruses by destabilizing their membranes or outermost layer.

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Proteins are used by bacteria for their structure to possess a unique shape, and transportation for them to properly function. These various proteins protect them from being eaten by white blood cells (WBC) and for faster rate of reproduction. Without these, bacteria would have a shorter life span. Alcohol and soaps are compounds that have both water-loving and water- fearing ends. Through denaturation, alcohol molecules are able to kill bacteria by weakening to breaking down their protective layers made up of proteins given that bacterial cell membranes have a fat and water based side. The core components enveloped on the membrane of the bacteria are exposed and disrupted, losing their unique structural integrity and terminating its function. (Flournoy, 2018) However, this is not always applicable on disrupting different microorganisms such as special kinds of viruses with hard outer shells. Additionally, there are number of viruses that do not rely on lipid membranes to infect cells, as well as bacteria that have good protection on their delicate membranes through sturdy shields of protein and sugar such bacteria causing diarrhea, meningitis, pneumonia and skin infections, as well as the hepatitis A virus, poliovirus, rhinoviruses; these means it functions finitely on microorganisms from the skin. (Corum and Jabr, 2020) Application of these products is not fully effective as viral particles remain on the skin as they are not being rinsed away causing several microorganisms to stay longer and with contact to the one applying it.

Generally, alcohol-based sanitizer (ABHS) serves as a good backup and a recommended option when soap and water are not possible to be utilized as its effectiveness is only limited. Proper scrubbing of hands with water and soap mostly eradicates microorganisms from the skin, which is partly why hand-washing is more effective and reliable than any other ABHS.

Surfactants or Surface active agents are type of molecules that have either positive or negative part on each side that makes surface tension low affecting it with increased ability of water to evenly spread and eradicate any impurities easily. Aside from soap, dishwashing and laundry detergent are examples of these molecules that are widely used in cleaning. Dishwashing detergent contains additives that are mild enough to be tolerated by the human skin amidst long exposure; it also contains an anti-bacterial agent that helps in eradicating bacteria from getting rid of them by lifting them off the surface to be washed away by water. This aids dishwashing to break down oil and grease into particles that are smaller and easier for suspension subsequently be mixed with water and, therefore, can be removed from the surface of the cooking utensils. The hydrophobic, water-fearing, end of the soap molecule attracts the grease or oil present while the hydrophilic, water-loving, end of the molecule attaches to the water. (Mcgee, 2019) On the other hand, bleaches, builders and softeners that are particularly contained on laundry detergents makes it more chemically reactive than dishwashing detergents to digest stains and soils present on clothes that holds stronger concentration that is harmful to the skin.

Aside from surfactants, stabilizers are present on both detergents that aid in providing a long shelf life of the product as to provide its high sudging function. Also, added colorant make the product to be appealing; fragrances to produce a distinctive scent; and preservatives or encapsulates that aids in preventing separation and even deterioration of the ingredients. Given their similarities, these two types of cleaning detergents could not be used interchangeably. Mild additives are present on dishwashing agents to prevent any harsh effect onto the skin, thus it is designed with frequent contact with human while providing its beneficial effects in removing dirt. It is also too weak as a cleaning agent to washing fabrics as it is not designed for it. While, laundry detergents contain bleaches that causes severe damage after prolonged contact. Builders are also present on this agent to intensify and enhance cleaning efficacy by inactivating water hardness minerals that aids in capturing the dyes and soils, sending them down the drain to prevent any re-depositing on washed clothes; oxygen bleach maintains the whiteness or original color of the fabric and lastly, softeners are also used for reduction to friction from fabric. (Seubert, n.d.)

Soap had become one of the essential things that many people depended on especially at this time of pandemic. Chemistry has been one the backbone and foundation to understand the health issue and how to combat it. Covid-19 barge the whole world as at this point in time there are still no vaccines available. One characteristic of this virus is that their genetic material is wrapped in a fatty coating that soap can disrupt through its properties (hydrophobic and hydrophilic). That being said, through application of physical action it helps in dislodging viral particles that gave emphasis on how soap and washing matters.

Health is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted as cleanliness is one of the factors that comprise overall health and well-being. Utilization of this agent had been remarkably useful with good hand hygiene practices which would surely eradicate microorganisms eventually leading to prevention of diseases. This good practice comes with technique and thoroughness that may seem obvious but is not commonly and properly conducted. In this present time, it is important to give more thought and stress out the importance of soaps and try not to take it for granted. Other options were laid but it is not totally good to completely rely on some agents that don’t guarantee a hundred percent of protection as these agents also possesses different characteristic sand properties depending on their sole purpose where they should only be used as to fully maximize their beneficial effects. As much as it is possible, it is a must to frequently be reminded and aware of what is around and what are the things that can be done.

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How Does Soap Function In The Lives Of Human Beings? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
“How Does Soap Function In The Lives Of Human Beings?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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