Alkalis, a major component in most laundry detergents, are soluble salts. They are effective in removing dirt and stains from fabric without excessive rubbing. Soluble salts of an alkali metal like potassium or sodium are good grease removers. They form an emulsion of the oily or solid particles that are held in suspension. The particles do not separate from the liquid and do not redeposit on the fabric.
The first soap and detergent makers used ashes of plants to produce alkalis - a base which reacts with an acid to neutralize it. Today they are chemically produced by running electricity through salt water to produce sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or caustic soda and potassium hydroxide (KOH) or caustic potash. These are the most commonly used alkalis in soaps and detergents.
Alkaline substances vary in their strength with the strongest causing burns and internal injuries if swallowed. A mild alkali is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), moderate alkalis include household ammonia, borax and trisodium phosphate (TSP). Strong alkalis include washing soda (sodium carbonate) and lye (caustic soda).
Also Known As: baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, ammonia, borax, lye