any of a group of synthetic, organic, liquid or water-soluble cleaning agents that, unlike soap, are not prepared from fats and oils, are not inactivated by hard water, and have wetting-agent and emulsifying-agent properties.
a similar substance that is oil-soluble and capable of holding insoluble foreign matter in suspension, used in lubricating oils, dry-cleaning preparations, etc.
any cleansing agent, including soap. Compare anionic detergent, cationic detergent, synthetic detergent.
cleansing; purging.

1610–20; (< F) < Latin dētergent- (stem of dētergēns) wiping off (present participle of dētergēre). See deterge, -ent

nondetergent, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
detergent (dɪˈtɜːdʒənt)
1.  a cleansing agent, esp a surface-active chemical such as an alkyl sulphonate, widely used in industry, laundering, shampoos, etc
2.  having cleansing power
[C17: from Latin dētergēns wiping off; see deterge]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

1616, from L. detergentem, prp. of detergere "to wipe away," from de- "off, away" + tergere "to rub, polish, wipe." Originally a medical term, application to "chemical cleansing product" is from 1938.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

detergent de·ter·gent (dĭ-tûr'jənt)
A cleansing substance that acts similarly to soap but is made from chemical compounds rather than fats and lye. adj.
Having cleansing power.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
detergent   (dĭ-tûr'jənt)  Pronunciation Key 
A cleaning agent that increases the ability of water to penetrate fabric and break down greases and dirt. Detergents act like soap but, unlike soaps, they are derived from organic acids rather than fatty acids. Their molecules surround particles of grease and dirt, allowing them to be carried away. Compare soap.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
The research team then injected both sets of mice with a detergent that caused
  the demyelination of their nerve cells.
You're adding an anti-foaming additive, a dispersant and a detergent.
Basic chemistry will tell you this dispersant is simply a detergent that
  emulsifies the oil.
As the drums rotate, the water wets the clothes and the detergent gets to work
  loosening the dirt.
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