water quality and soap

This month’s column is a very boring subject of water quality and the adequate soap quantity. This applies to not only wet cleaning but to all laundry jobs in general.

One of the most frequent questions I get is “how much soap do I put in a 50 pound washer?” Unfortunately, there is no one correct answer. Soap quantity varies by a great deal depending on the quality of water and soil level. If a soap sales person tell you to put so much soap for so much clothes without testing the water quality first, he is only guessing.

Hard water requires a lot more soap than soft water. Eastern states like New York traditionally have soft water. Western states like California usually have hard water and requires twice or even thrice the amount of soap.

Hard water has more dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals tend to turn water alkaline with pH above 8. Most of the United States have hard water, some over pH 9.

Hard water usually tastes better thanks to dissolved minerals unless there’s too much lime. Water in western regions like Los Angeles or Las Vegas are infamous for their lime-rich hard water.

Soap does not work too well in hard water and thus requiring more. Hard water also is not to kind to our pipes and boilers. Most soaps have some form of water softeners but it is better to have a water softener installed if you are serious about wet cleaning.

Testing water quality

I used to run a commercial laundry and when you use more than 10,000 gallons a day, regular water test is mandatory. This requirement from the city made me more aware of the relationship between water quality and chemicals.

I always recommend water tests for would-be wet cleaners. When a cleaner calls me with a wet cleaning problem, the first question I ask for is the water test report. It is practically impossible to come up with a chemical formula without knowing the water quality first.

Is my water hard or soft?

There is a simple way of guessing. When you wash your hand with soap, the water is hard if soap washes off easy with your skin feeling squeaky. That’s because soap did not dissolve well in the water. If your hands feel slick with soapy feel, you water is soft. It is amusing to notice the difference in water quality when you travel.

Decide the soap quantity by the amount of foam

The amount of soap differs among soaps. Even though it is not very scientific, you can decide the soap quantity by the amount of foam.

Soap’s main ingredient is surfactant. It reduces the surface tension of water so that water can penetrate fabrics better. Surfactants make the soapy water slippery and create bubbles when agitated. If you have just enough surfactants to dissolve stains, there won’t be too much foam. In other words, foam is a byproduct of unused surfactants. That’s why you don’t want to see too much foam in your washer.

I think 3 inches of foam is the sweet spot. The amount of foam will go down as the washing cycle progress and surfactants work on stains. A little bit of foam is an insurance. When it comes to a soap, it’s better to have a little more than not enough.

Quality problems of using too much soap

 As someone who sell wet cleaning chemicals, I’m not happy to say that using too much soap does more harm than good. First of all, too much soap increases the risk of color loss. This problem gets worse with an alkaline soap.  Secondly, you end up with too much foam and this requires extra rinse time. Foams trap stain particles and other contaminants and when there’s too much of it, they will remain on the clothes. You can have an odor problem, too. Thirdly, it’s a waste of money. There is no reason to waste your hard-earned money with too much soap. Before you complain soaps are getting expensive, make sure you’re not using too much of it.

What to do about too much foam

Toom much foam is not conducive to clean clothes. Sometimes you discover your washer full of loam. This can happen when you are using an automatic injection system. A little bit of conditioner will solve this problem. When you add a little amount of conditioner, the foam goes down and the rinse become easier. You can use this little trick for shirts laundry, too.  

Picture of Yangsoo Kim

Yangsoo Kim

The author is the developer of Aqua Master wet cleaning chemicals and is currently operating Green Life Cleaners, a 100% wet cleaning service. You can contact him by phone (201) 699-7227 or email at yangkim50@gmail.com.

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