Soaps and detergents: understanding their composition and effect.

R. S. Kirsner, C. W. Froelich

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Soaps have been used for thousands of years as part of religious ceremonies and daily life. Derived from fatty acids or triglycerides (fats or oils) into their alkali derivatives through a process called saponification, soaps are important for healthcare professionals in preventing the spread of disease. Partly due to their alkaline nature, soaps are limited by their irritancy to the skin and their tendency to form insoluble and inactive salts when combined with either hard water or sea water. Therefore, soap alternatives or synthetic detergents have been developed. Detergents are classified into four groups: anionic, cationic, amphoteric, and non-ionic. These four groups are based on the hydrophilic qualities and surfactants they possess. Each group has characteristics that pertain to its main uses, irritancy, and toxicity. Understanding soaps and detergents may assist clinicians in making intelligent choices when using these agents on their patients as either skin cleansers or wound cleansers. Understanding the characteristics of soaps and detergents is especially important when dealing with at-risk patients such as the elderly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62S-69S; discussion 70S
JournalOstomy/wound management
Issue number3 A Suppl
StatePublished - Mar 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Nursing(all)
  • Gastroenterology


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