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Question: How Do Disposable Diapers Work? Why Do They Leak?

Answer: Disposable diapers contain the same chemical as astronaut

'maximum absorbency garments", fire-control gels, soil conditioners, those
toys that grow when you add water, and floral gel. The super-absorbent
chemical is sodium polyacrylate [monomer: -CH2-CH(CO2Na)- ], which was
invented by scientists at Dow Chemical Company and results from
polymerizing a mixture of sodium acrylate and acrylic acid.
How Sodium Polyacrylate Absorbs
Superabsorbent polymers are partially neutralized polyacrylate, with
incomplete cross-linking between units. Only 5070% of the COOH acid groups
have been converted to their sodium salts. The final chemical has very long
carbon chains bonded with sodium atoms in the center of the molecule. When
sodium polyacrylate is exposed to water, the higher concentration of water
outside the polymer than inside (lower sodium and polyacrylate solute
concentration) draws the water into the center of the molecule via osmosis.
Sodium polyacrylate will continue to absorb water until there is an equal
concentration of water inside and outside the polymer.


Question: How Do Detergents Clean?
Answer: Detergents and soaps are used for cleaning
because pure water can't remove oily, organic soiling.
Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier. Basically, soap
allows oil and water to mix so that oily grime can be
removed during rinsing. Detergents were developed in
response to the shortage of the animal and vegetable
fats used to make soap during World War I and World
War II. Detergents are primarily surfactants, which could
be produced easily from petrochemicals. Surfactants
lower the surface tension of water, essentially making it
'wetter' so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more
likely to interact with oil and grease.

Soaps are sodium or potassium fatty acids salts,

produced from the hydrolysis of fats in a chemical
reaction called saponification. Each soap molecule has
a long hydrocarbon chain, sometimes called its 'tail',
with a carboxylate 'head'. In water, the sodium or
potassium ions float free, leaving a negatively-charged
Soap is an excellent cleanser because of its ability to
act as an emulsifying agent. An emulsifier is capable of
dispersing one liquid into another immiscible liquid.
This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn't
naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in
such a way that it can be removed.

The organic part of a natural soap is a negatively-charged, polar

molecule. Its hydrophilic (water-loving) carboxylate group (-CO 2) interacts
with water molecules via ion-dipole interactions and hydrogen bonding.
The hydrophobic (water-fearing) part of a soap molecule, its long,
nonpolar hydrocarbon chain, does not interact with water molecules. The
hydrocarbon chains are attracted to each other by dispersion forces and
cluster together, forming structures called micelles. In these micelles, the
carboxylate groups form a negatively-charged spherical surface, with the
hydrocarbon chains inside the sphere. Because they are negatively
charged, soap micelles repel each other and remain dispersed in water.
Grease and oil are nonpolar and insoluble in water. When soap and soiling
oils are mixed, the nonpolar hydrocarbon portion of the micelles break up
the nonpolar oil molecules. A different type of micelle then forms, with
nonpolar soiling molecules in the center. Thus, grease and oil and the
'dirt' attached to them are caught inside the micelle and can be rinsed