What is the difference between laundry detergent and stain remover? Could we just use stain remover as detergent?


What is the difference between laundry detergent and stain remover? Would stain remover work as detergent?

In: Chemistry

The biggest differences are along the lines of:

* Stain removers are typically suited to remove a particular type of stain, but don’t do well against anything else. The typical example of OxiClean, which as the name implies when mixed with water creates an oxidizer (hydrogen peroxide). Oxidizers are especially good at breaking down organic stains, which is why they work so well on blood. But on the other hand, it’s poor at breaking down grease/fats (when compared to detergent). Basically they’re good at removing the kinds of stains they’re designed to remove, and do poorly on anything else. Detergents are good general cleaners, and will do okay against many types of dirt and oils.
* Stain removers are typically only suitable for particular types of fabric, and will damage or destroy other fabrics (even in small concentrations). Detergents will usually work on all (or almost all) fabrics without *significant* damage. Chlorine bleach for example will destroy synthetic fibers like rayon or polyester in one wash, at concentrations that cotton would handle just fine for a many repeated washings.
* All fabric cleaning (and frankly cleaning in general) is a tradeoff between how effectively it cleans, and how much it damages the thing being cleaned. Using chlorine bleach again as an example, it’s an exceptionally good cleaner, but we use it only on (cotton) whites because it also destroys dyes, and even there we use it only in small quantities because it still does do some damage to cotton, making the fibers brittle over time. Generally what a detergent is aiming for is being as effective as possible at cleaning, while inflicting minimal damage on fabrics, but even detergents still do damage. The goal of detergent is to do little enough damage that the fabric will be discarded for other reasons like friction, wear and tear, elastic wearing out, and UV exposure, before the damage from repeated cleaning makes the fabric unusable.
* Detergents typically also have a mild colorant (dye) in them, usually resulting in a very faint blue cast. That’s because UV and body oils tend to cause fabric to yellow slightly over time, so the detergent offsets it with a slight blue color being added each time it’s washed to make it look more white. Stain removers, sometimes by their nature (see again bleach), don’t usually have dyes in them and so the fabric will gain a yellow tint over time if you just used stain remover.

my guess is that laundry detergent is to remove germs and light stains while stain remover is for just stains

Detergents use physical means to remove dirt and such. The detergent molecules are long and skinny; one end of the molecule dissolves in water, and the other end doesn’t. The ends that don’t stick to dirt particles and form a sort of shell around them, meaning the sides of the molecules that dissolve in water are all facing “out”, so the dirt particle essentially dissolves in the water by proxy and is carried away in the rinse.

Stain removers work by chemical means. They cause a chemical reaction with the stain molecules that either breaks them apart, or changes their colour.