/di terr"jeuhnt/, n.
1. any of a group of synthetic, organic, liquid or water-soluble cleaning agents that, unlike soap, are not prepared from fats and oils, are not inactivated by hard water, and have wetting-agent and emulsifying-agent properties.
2. a similar substance that is oil-soluble and capable of holding insoluble foreign matter in suspension, used in lubricating oils, dry-cleaning preparations, etc.
3. any cleansing agent, including soap. Cf. anionic detergent, cationic detergent, synthetic detergent.
4. cleansing; purging.
[1610-20; ( < F) < L detergent- (s. of detergens) wiping off (prp. of detergere). See DETERGE, -ENT]

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Any of various surfactants (substances that reduce surface tension) used to dislodge dirt from soiled surfaces and retain it in suspension, allowing it to be rinsed away.

The term usually refers to synthetic substances and excludes soaps. The characteristic features of a molecule of any detergent are a hydrophilic (water-attracting) end and a hydrophobic (oil-attracting) end. In ionic detergents, the hydrophilic property is conferred by the ionized part of the molecule. In nonionic detergents, hydrophilicity is based on the presence of multiple hydroxyl groups or other hydrophilic groups. Besides those used in water to clean dishes and laundry, detergents that function in other solvents are used in lubricating oils, gasolines, and dry-cleaning solvents to prevent or remove unwanted deposits. They are also used as emulsifying agents (see emulsion).

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 any of various surface-active agents (surface-active agent) (surfactants) particularly effective in dislodging foreign matter from soiled surfaces and retaining it in suspension. The term usually denotes a synthetic substance that is not prepared by saponifying fats and oils (as is soap).

      A brief treatment of detergents follows. For full treatment, see soap and detergent.

      Dishwashing and laundering of clothing are the principal applications of detergents for which the liquid bath is water. Detergents also are used as emulsifiers in many applications. Detergents that function in nonaqueous media include dispersing agents added to lubricating oils used in automotive engines to prevent the accumulation of varnishlike deposits on the cylinder walls; to gasoline to prevent the buildup of gummy residues in the carburetor; and to dry-cleaning solvents to facilitate the removal of soil from garments. See also surface-active agent. Compare soap (soap and detergent).

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Universalium. 2010.

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