The Dirt On Lather: Why Bubbles Don’t Equal Clean

The Dirt On Lather: Why Bubbles Don’t Equal Clean

Those who grew up in the ‘90s can relate to the consumer product revolution of that decade. With so many new products hitting the markets, advertisers left no stones unturned to lure you into buying synthetic products. 

Remember this girl from that popular NIRMA washing detergent ad?

Just look how happy she is! The mother is foaming up a rich lather of detergent to wash her laundry and playfully smears some bubbles on the child’s nose. They look delighted at the prospect of clean, spotless garments, as a result of washing. The narrative has not changed even now, almost three decades later.

Not so Bubbly

Since liberalization in the ‘90s, our homes have seen a massive spurt of detergents in the form of shampoos, soaps, clothes washing powders, utensil wash soaps and liquids among others. Let’s face it – the lather gives you some satisfaction that the product is doing its cleaning job alright. But, take a look at this picture?

If lather meant “clean”, don’t you think this lake in Bengaluru is super pristine? Absolutely not.

Lather doesn’t indicate cleaning power, but a lot of people think it does. It plays on their psyche, but all that is happening is soap molecules are simply trapping air in spherical pockets. Trapped air doesn’t clean – the soap molecules do. Regardless, many advertisers and soap manufacturers add chemicals, specifically to create bubbles and lead you to believe in their cleaning power.

What Causes the Lather?

Soaps and detergents contain chemicals called foaming agents. The most common ones used in consumer products are ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium Laureth sulfate (SLS and SLES). Beyond acting as foaming agents, these ingredients also work as surfactants and reduce the surface tension of water. This allows the dirt to break up and be washed away. However, there are several concerns when it comes to sulfates.

Are sulfates good for you?

Sulfates derived from petroleum are a controversial issue due to their long-term side effects on the planet. Petroleum products are associated with climate change, pollution, and greenhouse gases. Apart from these, there are major concerns when it comes to sulfates:

  • Health Concerns
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    SLS and SLES can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, and lungs, especially with long-term use. When your skin comes in contact with household products which contain these sulfates, it can have negative implications on your health. SLES may also be contaminated with a substance (dioxane), which has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. This contamination has been found to occur during the manufacturing process. 

  • Environment Concerns
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    Products that contain sulfates are known to get washed down the drain and may also be toxic to aquatic animals. To save the environment, both users, as well as manufacturers, should opt for more planet-friendly, clean and green ingredients.

    In the past, many products with sulfates were tested on animals to measure the level of irritation to people’s skin, lungs, and eyes. Although this practice has reduced, there are still many manufacturers who opt for animal testing. For this reason, a lot of people oppose using consumer goods with sulfates.

    Now that you know how lather is created and how little it helps in the cleaning process, it might be a good idea to switch to pure living. At the end of the day, sulfates (which are responsible for creating lather) aren’t essential to your personal care or household cleaning. If you’re concerned about the environment, look for products that are certified fair trade or ethical trade, or try opting for sulfate-free products.

    What measures do you take to save the environment? Share your ideas with us.


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