A mild detergent is a requirement for many household cleaning tasks. Learn some of the characteristics of mild detergents so you can determine which one to use when the need arises.
Differences Between Soaps and Detergents
Soaps and detergents are similar in that they both contain substances called surfactants that make water "wetter." Surfactants, or surface active agents, reduce the surface tension of water so that dirt, grease and grime dissolve and wash away more easily. Soaps and detergents are made from a fat or oil combined with a caustic substance such as lye. The primary difference is that soaps are made from naturally occurring animal fats or vegetable oils, while detergents are surfactants derived from synthetic sources, such as petroleum. However, many products blend naturally derived and synthetic ingredients, so these are not rigid categories.
Examples of Mild Detergents and Soaps
Shampoos are detergents that are formulated to safely remove body oils and dirt from the hair and scalp. Although shampoos vary in their of mildness, baby shampoos are generally considered mild, and they can be used for hand-washing delicate items in addition to their basic purpose. Johnson & Johnson, Aveeno and Aquaphor all make gentle baby shampoos.
Hardwood floor cleaners that use mild detergents include Murphy Oil Soap, Citra-Solv and Pine-Sol. These products don't contain oil; instead, they are derived from vegetable oils. They are highly fragranced, so people who have difficulty with fragrances can use free-and-clear dish soaps to get the same same results. To clean a hardwood floor, add ¼ cup of cleaner to 1 gallon of water. Dip a clean mop in the solution and wring it out so it's barely damp. Mop the floor, being careful to not let water stand on the floor. For more shine, you can dry and buff the freshly mopped floor with a clean, dry cloth or towel.
Liquid dishwashing detergents and soaps are made for washing dishes by hand, and they are perhaps the most commonly used mild detergents. Well-known mild dish soaps include Joy, Ivory and Dawn, along with eco-friendly brands, such as Seventh Generation, Dishmate and Ecover. Besides getting your dishes clean, dishwashing detergents have a variety of other uses, such as cleaning jewelry, washing bathroom floors and removing grease stains from fabric.
Liquid laundry detergents are mild-to-somewhat mild cleaners. Delicate wash detergents are among the mildest; familiar brands include Ivory Snow and Woolite, and the eco-friendly brands Earth Friendly, Ecover and Planet. Another type of mild laundry detergent is labelled free and clear. These products have none of the dyes or fragrances that can cause skin rashes and other ailments in people with chemical sensitivities. Seventh Generation, Tide, All and Purex are some of the brands that make free-and-clear versions of laundry detergents.
Jan Burch has written about home, garden, wellness and other topics since 1992. Her articles have appeared in ByLine, Living Natural and New Mexico Woman. Based in Albuquerque, Burch is a Feng Shui consultant and Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner. A life-long crafting enthusiast, she holds a master's degree from the University of California.