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Why does washing-up liquid have so many Ж€@!# bubbles? Do they serve any purpose?
From what I remember from my schoolboy science classes, detergents and surfactants work by cutting surface tension to release fats and grime. Plus heat.

So why all these bubbles?

Why are washing-up liquids getting bubblier and bubblier?

And, if I squirt the liquid in the sink AFTER I have run the water, does the washing-up liquid any better or any worse because there are less bubbles?.

Serious stuff!

Strange what ambles through one's mind when idly washing up.
Supplement from 10/03/2008 07:23pm:
Great answers so far - but any ideas on my second part of the question...

"If I squirt the liquid in the sink AFTER I have run the water, does the washing-up liquid work any better or any worse because there are less bubbles?"

Running a tap into a sink (with detergent already in produces masses of lather. Is this lather really needed?

asked in chemistry, housework, washing up

Messerwisser answers:

Not quite right.
Many detergents contains molecules that are dipoles- one hydrophobic and one hydrophilic end so they can cling to both water and fat.
Those molecules also reduce the surface tension thereby promoting the possibility to create bubbles.
But there are other detergents that do not make bubbles, e.g. for dishwashers.

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funrunna answers:

Greek bubbles eh? That's a new on on me!

Supplement from 10/03/2008 07:32pm:

I think there is a correlation between water hard/softness. Also, The w/up liquid is a detergent ie; soap based cleaner, rather than a biological one.

Supplement from 10/03/2008 07:34pm:

Oops... Not sure being overwhelmed with bubbles is "necessary" but, it is an indicator of the effective action of the product itself.

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KentPDG answers:

Having spent some years working for a company which made, among other things, cleaning products of many sorts I can confidently affirm that the bubbles are unnecessary.

For example, the detergent you use in your automatic clothes washer produces virtually no froth. Same for the detergent you use in your automatic dishwasher. In both cases, froth would clog the drains and create residues on your clothes or dishes. Housewives happily buy and use those products, because they can't see them working.

Marketers long ago discovered that women (yes, folks, a very sex-linked attitude) believe that suds in their sink or their floor-cleaning bucket are necessary evidence of cleaning power. Same for shampoo, and for bath soap. People don't believe they, or their property, is being cleaned unless they see lots of foam.

Hence, foaming agents -- which are otherwise functionless -- are added to cleaning products, intentionally, by the manufacturers. If they didn't, they would quickly be out of business. Endlessly repeated studies show that women equate more sudsiness with more cleaning power.

Interestingly, that is much less true with men. Women of course buy most of the soap and cleaning products, but men use them too. And men, on the whole, don't really care whether the kitchen sink is full of bubbles or not. If the leftover food comes off of the dishes, the men are satisfied, bubbles or not. And men don't really care whether floods of foam cover their bodies while they are shampooing; but women find that both a luxury and a necessity in their shampoos. (No, folks, market researchers don't stand in shower stalls watching people bathe; they have less intrusive ways of collecting their information.)

Frothy foam in cleaning products is totally frivilous; but don't expect to see those products change in your lifetime.

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