Understanding Detergents and Soaps

When it comes to cleaning up, you may believe that detergent and soap are the same thing. This may lead you to use them interchangeably in situations where one would actually be superior to the other. Detergent and soap are different compounds with different uses, and to clean properly, it’s important to understand the differences.


“Detergent” is a broader, catch-all term for a chemical substance that breaks up and gets rid of dirt and grime, with soap being a form of detergent. The main thing that makes a detergent stand out from soap is that it can be made of synthetic materials, such as surface-active agents, also known as surfactants.

Synthetic detergents can work in any water temperature and are generally considered a superior cleaning tool to natural soap. However, detergents are also considered to be worse for the environment, and many detergents are falsely labeled as “soap” when being advertised.


Soaps may be classified as a type of detergent, but they pre-date synthetic detergents by several centuries. This is because soaps are made of natural ingredients, often animal fat and alkali. Because of this, there are multiple types of soap that have different effects. For example, soft soaps dissolve faster in water than hard soaps do, which is how liquid soap came to be.

One downside to using soaps is that they only work in warm water. If the water is too hot, it’ll create soap scum that builds up over time. If the water is too cold or not present at all, the soap will leave a film and otherwise not do anything. Of course, soap remains useful for many situations.

Which to Use

Typically, commercial buildings use detergent over soap due to their superior cleaning abilities and fewer restrictions or complications. Because they’re made of synthetic chemicals, detergents are even more versatile than soap and can be made to fit specific cleaning tasks — such as laundry, floor cleaning, or de-greasing.

Contact Vista Building Services

You may be ready to break out the detergent, but there’s no need to clean your commercial building alone. Contact Vista Building Services today for a professional commercial cleaning job.

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