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[dih-tur-juh nt] /dɪˈtɜr dʒənt/
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.
cleansing; purging.
Origin of detergent
1610-20; (< F) < Latin dētergent- (stem of dētergēns) wiping off (present participle of dētergēre). See deterge, -ent
Related forms
nondetergent, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for detergent
  • 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.
  • It doesn't sound too difficult--a detergent with a gold atom at one end would collect on the surface and form a mirror.
  • There was a whiff of garlic here, a breath of laundry detergent there.
  • The slowly drying water and sticky detergent can actually attract more dirt.
  • Both oil and dispersants, which chemically resemble dishwashing detergent, hamper the ability of corals to colonize and reproduce.
  • Wash all clothes and bed linens in hot water with detergent.
  • detergent drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may help remove the wax.
British Dictionary definitions for detergent


a cleansing agent, esp a surface-active chemical such as an alkyl sulphonate, widely used in industry, laundering, shampoos, etc
having cleansing power
Word Origin
C17: from Latin dētergēns wiping off; see deterge
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for detergent

1610s, from Latin detergentem (nominative detergens), present participle of detergere "to wipe away, cleanse," from de- "off, away" (see de-) + tergere "to rub, polish, wipe." Originally a medical term, application to "chemical cleansing product" is from 1938.


"detergent substance," 1670s, from detergent (adj.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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detergent in Medicine

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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detergent in Science
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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