Surfactant Market: Soap - The Best Defense Against COVID-19 - Silver Fern Chemical Inc.

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Soap - The Best Defense Against COVID-19

It’s no secret that demand for hand sanitizer has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 outbreak started in January. Everyday consumers have seen sanitizer bottles fly off supermarket shelves, and the online retailer Amazon placed hand sanitizer customers on a waitlist. People involved in the chemical markets have experienced price surges for all sanitizer materials, from alcohol to aloe vera. It is now common knowledge that generous application of hand sanitizer can help prevent spread of the SARS-Cov 2 virus (or coronavirus, as you may know it), so industrial-sized hand sanitizer dispensers have popped up in every newly reopened business.


However, the media gives less attention to hand sanitizer’s more effective counterpart: soap.


Yes, soap. Regular, tried-and-true soap. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cleaning your hands often with soap and water often, because soap is “more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs”. Sanitizer is encouraged only if soap and water are not available.


The main ingredient of soap is surfactant, a two-sided molecule with a water-loving (hydrophilic) and an oil-loving (hydrophobic) end. All viruses, including the coronavirus, are made of genetic material protected by a coating of proteins and fatty oils. When soap encounters a virus, the surfactant rips apart the fatty protective layer and destroys the germ.

soap and virus animation

Soap molecules vs Virus | Madeline Marshall/Nicole Finateri/Vox




As any cleaner manufacturer would know, not all soaps are created equal. A successful formula must have sufficient solubilizing power, foam height, odor, and safety profile (among other factors). In an industrial environment, it is a challenge to create a product that will effortlessly dissolve tough grease stains, oily fluids, or waxy residue. Until the mid-2000’s, the cleaning solvent of choice was ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, or glycol ether EB, which has the power to remove both water soluble dirt and greases untouchable by water alone. Unfortunately, glycol ether EB is a bit too good at breaking down fatty barriers – it also breaks down the fatty barriers of human blood cells, causing significant health concerns. For the last decade, formulators have worked to replace glycol ether EB with non-toxic solvents, without compromising cleaning capabilities.


Enter propylene-based glycol ethers, or “p-series” glycol ethers, widely considered to be great replacements candidates for glycol ether EB in industrial formulations. There is no direct drop-in, but blends of propylene glycol n-propyl ether (PNP), dipropylene glycol n-propyl ether (DPNP), propylene glycol monobutyl ether (PNB), and dipropylene glycol monobutyl ether (DPNB) have been successful. P-series glycol ethers are not associated with any human health concerns, and they are compliant with California VOC regulations due to their slow-evaporating nature. They’re the perfect compromise between efficacy and environmental responsibility.


Glycol ethers PNB and PNP in particular are excellent for solvating hydrophobic greases and oils. Both have a lower surface tension than glycol ether EB, so they are superior for use against organic oily residue. Glycol ether PNP can also be used for hydrophilic systems against soil. While neither solvent is exempt from VOC regulations entirely, vapor pressure for both is below 1.5 mmHG.  They are both reaction side products generated through the manufacture of their dipropylene glycol derivatives, DPNB and DPNP.


Until recently, the only suppliers for P-series glycol ethers were expensive North American manufacturers with a monopoly on the market. Silver Fern Chemical has worked to change that. With our diverse international supplier network, we have negotiated affordable prices for the complete range of propylene-based glycol ethers, including niche and small-volume solvents like PNB and PNP. We know that the right solvent for your system should be decided by performance first, and market availability second.


Soap manufacturers are seeing the same demand pressure as hand sanitizer establishments, without the added media hype. Whether you’re formulating an industrial degreaser or a multipurpose surface cleanser, P-series glycol ethers could help increase effectivity. Silver Fern Chemical is a key supplier for glycol ethers across North America, and we stock the entire range of niche P-series varieties. Talk to your account manager today for a quote to suit your needs.


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