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This series is about all the stuff we can't live without.
Whether it's products for personal hygiene, home cleaning or even DIY.
It's about those bottles, cans, sprays, jars and tubes
crammed into our cupboards, drawers, handbags, sheds and cars.
I want to know, what's in all this stuff?
'I'm Jane Moore and I've been handed the ultimate dream ticket -
'the chance to pull apart some of the most essential items on my everyday shopping list
'and zero on precisely what's in them that makes them work.'
We're just in a flush cycle now.
'It's a mission that's set to take me right out of my comfort zone.'
Oh, God! I can't bear it.
'One which demands that I get intimate with an army of boffins and some mind-blowing science.'
Well, that worked(!)
'I might've bunked off chemistry at school,
'but I know I can trust my nose when it comes to sniffing out the facts.'
I'm going to retch.
'Yes, I'm hunting for the wonderstuff
'that holds our lives together.'
'This time, I fling open the bathroom cabinet
'to find the wonderstuffs we all rely on to stay preened and cleaned.'
There are four things in what supermarkets call the "personal care aisle"
that I buy more than anything else.
That's soap, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste.
My challenge is to go behind the labels
and discover the magic ingredients that keep us clean.
Later on in the programme, I'll get my hands on the wonderstuffs at the heart of hair conditioner.
As peaks go, it's like a molehill up against Mount Everest.
It doesn't have much foaming action.
It has no foaming action.
It has gravel action is what it has.
But before all that, I want to get the low-down
on what has to be the ultimate bathroom essential - soap.
As a nation, we use over 100,000 metric tons of soap every year.
The story of what makes it so good at getting us clean
will take me back 5,000 years.
My new best friend, material scientist Dr Mark Miodownik,
reckons he can show me what makes soap so hard to beat when it comes to personal hygiene,
by creating some much as our ancestors knew it.
We'll have a go at cooking up some soap, made to the original recipe.
Hi, Mark. Just a hotdog for me, thanks.
We'll eat later.
I thought first we could try and make soap the old-fashioned way.
The way it's been made for thousands of years before the modern era.
Mark is going to conjure up soap from two ingredients
that would've been a basic part of life for our ancestors.
So we're going to take fat, which is just normal fat, lard,
and we're going to add an alkali to it, which we'll make from wood ash.
This is something that our ancestors really valued.
It was very important for their crops but also, it turns out, to make soap.
How do you think they discovered this?
It's been around for 5,000 years.
It was probably because people were roasting meat over the fire
and it was dripping down, the fat, from the meat
and mixing with the ashes and making soap.
-People must've picked it out of the fire the next day and thought...
-"I'll do this!"
In fact, the word alkali is the Arabic for "from ashes".
Let's see if Mark can recreate
this most fundamental of chemistry miracles.
The ashes Mark has collected from the fire are added to water
to create something called caustic hot ash,
a strong alkali at the other end of the pH scale to an acid...
he tells me.
What we're doing is getting the liquid, the water,
to dissolve out the active ingredient in here.
It'll dissolve into the water
and in a minute, we'll see it clearing
and there'll be this brownish, muckish water,
which is exactly perfect.
-There we are. Nicely plunged.
I'll show you something from your past,
which will probably make you fearful.
It's not one of my ex-boyfriends, is it?
It's worse! It's litmus paper!
From your chemistry lessons of old.
Do you remember how to tell if something is acidic or alkali?
It goes blue if it's an alkali, red if it's an acid.
If this is an alkali, this piece of paper should go blue.
That's properly blue.
That is victory for us and for our ancestors.
That means if we take that liquid and add it to some fat,
we're going to get soap.
Our pot ash solution is very dilute
so we need to boil it on the hob to make the alkali more concentrated.
'Next step is to melt down the fat.
'It's nothing more complicated than good, old lard.'
I feel like Delia Smith.
'Our pot ash soup is now a nice, dark brown gunk,
'ready to go into the melted fat.
'Personally, I'll be amazed if we can make soap from this.'
Enter the alkali!
'This is what's known in the trade as saponification,
'Something's definitely happening.'
It looks like an atomic cloud.
We've made a reaction between the fat and the alkali.
-Can you see what's happening?
That is soap.
Can you see the suds?
'This raw soap is caustic enough to strip paint.
'We should now leave it for a day to become solid and safe to handle.
'But we're in a hurry to see if it works.'
We're going to have a go at some of these everyday muck stains
that we all know about - chocolate spread, lipstick and shoe polish.
So, here we go.
I'll use the home-made soap. Mark will just use water.
The gloves are just in case there's left-over alkali
which could burn our skin.
If we've managed to make proper soap, it should be able to break down stains,
disperse them in water and leave the glove clean.
Well, the lipstick is coming off far more easily
than yours appears to be doing.
I'm just spreading the lipstick all over me.
Oh, wow! You've done very well there.
Victory is mine.
Look, that is, that has come off pretty much completely
and that is a disaster area.
Our ancient soap recipe works a treat.
Made simply from fat and alkali, the chemical reaction between the two
produces a new substance that will clean away dirt.
And there's little difference between our home-made effort
and the more refined soaps we pick off the shelves.
Over ten million UK homes still use bars of soap
and most of it starts life as this stuff - soap noodles.
The basic recipe of fat plus alkali is the same,
except animal fat is usually swapped for vegetable fats like palm oil.
Add colour and perfume and you have modern soap.
Having stripped soap back to its basic components,
I definitely feel as though I've discovered the original cleaning wonderstuff.
The recipe might be thousands of years old, but you could argue
that this magical substance is still the bedrock of modern hygiene.
'Like a lot of people, I don't buy as many bars of soap as I used to,
'opting for liquid hand wash and shower gel instead,
'and I suddenly spot a recurring theme on the labels.'
Sodium laureth sulphate.
Sodium laureth sulphate.
Sodium laureth sulphate.
Seems like it's not soap itself I've been using but something called,
you've guessed it, sodium laureth sulphate.
Check this out - it's also in these shampoos, both basic and posh,
so it looks like I've been putting it on my hair all these years too.
But what on earth is this stuff? And where does it come from?
Is it doing something that good old soap can't?
Time to look inside one of the most crucial bottles of all
when it comes to our daily ablutions - shampoo.
'To find out, I've been invited onto the shop floor of a factory
'that makes shampoo for supermarket own brands.
'That must be why McBrides in Bradford seems to virtually run on sodium laureth sulphate,
'or SELS, as it's often called.'
Sodium laureth sulphate is the primary detergent we produce here.
It goes across shower gels, shampoos, baths.
They all use sodium laureth sulphate, really.
In terms of a week, we use about 100 tons.
Michael Anderton, a product developer here,
reckons I need the low-down of what goes into a typical shampoo
if I'm going to understand the significance this single chemical plays in the formulation.
So, here we've got the batches that Chris is halfway through making.
There's a preservative to stop the shampoo going mouldy in the bottle.
Fragrance and colouring for impressionable folks like me.
There's a water softener and something to adjust the pH
to a skin-friendly neutral state.
But it turns out that up to 50% of shampoo is...
yes, you've guessed it, sodium laureth sulphate.
This is a ten-ton vessel.
It'll produce between 10,000 and 20,000 bottles of shampoo.
-20,000 bottles - that would sort me out for a lifetime!
'So there it is - I've clearly been relying on sodium laureth sulphate
'and its close chemical cousin sodium lauryl sulphate
'to keep my hair clean.
'But how does it actually work?
'To answer that,
'I'm going to need a scientist.
'So, next stop Warwick University, where chemist Julie Ann Lock
'wants to show me why this cleaning agent is so good.
'She's making some sodium lauryl sulphate from scratch.
'But instead of adding alkali like Mark and I did when we made soap, she's mixing fat with acid -
'sulphuric acid, to be exact.
'Amazingly, though, the result is mild enough to use on our skin.'
If you leave this overnight to cool down,
you do get something that looks exactly like this.
This is our sodium lauryl sulphate.
It feels exactly like a liquid hand wash or a shampoo
or a conditioner.
It has that feel of something runny and clean.
'By changing soap's chemical recipe, you get a totally new kind of detergent.
'And here's the killer reveal -
'this synthetic detergent beats my home-made soap hands down in one crucial way.'
I can see there's a very distinct line of scum there.
With hard water,
which is present in lots of parts of the United Kingdom,
you have calcium and magnesium ions.
When they react with the molecules that are in your soap,
they form little scums that don't dissolve in the water.
'So when traditional soap mixes with hard water,
'it creates a nasty scum that will lie on the skin or mark skins, baths and clothing.
'But sodium lauryl sulphate, on the other hand...'
You're not getting that scummy layer that we found before.
It's much clearer.
With lots of lovely bubbles. Just right for my shampoo.
Because of their resistance to scumming,
the SLES family of substances
is much more versatile as a cleaner
than our humble bar of soap.
And they've got one more trick up their sleeve...
just add salt solution and this stuff magically thickens up
into a handy gel used in toothpaste, shaving foam and laundry liquids.
Now, if the adverts are to be believed,
then shampoo is only half of the hair care story.
For that extra radiance and silky shine,
we should all be taking another little bottle into the shower with us - conditioner.
But is there actually any proof that conditioner works?
'Back to the experts for some answers.
'The gloriously titled analytical hairdresser Beverley
'is going to put conditioner to the test for us.
'Hair model Sharon has her locks washed all over with a basic shampoo,
'like the one we saw mixed earlier. Then only one side is treated
'with a precision, four-millilitre dose of an average conditioner.'
Essentially, with a shampoo
you're looking to cleanse the hair, take the dirt away from the hair.
With a conditioner, you're trying to put something back on.
'The objective is to treat the hair with something
'that'll make it look and feel nicer, and make it easier and less painful to drag a comb through.
'First up, how's the hair with no conditioner?'
Here we go, Sharon. I'll have a quick go at combing your hair.
Don't scream out like my six-year-old!
Already, I'm hitting quite a bit of knotting here.
Yeah, that's what I recognise,
that big lump of tangle.
'Michael explains the tangle has a rather shocking cause - electricity.'
When you wash the hair, you leave a negative charge on there.
You get a repulsion between each hair strand.
Obviously, the more negative charge you've got there, the more repulsion you'll get.
'Hair, or rather the keratin it's made of, naturally gains
'the static electric charge which makes the hair fizzy
'and reluctant to lie flat.
'That makes it prone to tangles.'
'So, what about the conditioned side?
'Has that dealt with the electric frizz?'
Straightaway I can notice a big difference.
It's much, much smoother and silkier,
all the words that I associate with good conditioner.
'So it looks like the conditioner's having some kind of electrical effect on the hair,
'making it much less tangled.'
So this has been positively charged, in a way?
Neutralised is what you'd say, because the positive charge is counteracting the negative charge.
And the positive charge is coming from?
-Something called the quaternary ammonium compound.
-Commonly known as quats.
-Oh, that's better. I can understand that.
'So that's how conditioner works.
'These anti-static quats are our wonderstuff
'doing something pretty amazing -
'giving out a positive electrical charge,
'which counteracts the natural negative charge on hair.
'Here at McBride they've even got a crazy combing contraption
'that can tell them exactly how much difference the quats are making.
'This Frankenstein-esque gizmo combs
'samples of real hair - happily given by hair donors, I'm assured -
'from root to tip and measures the force needed to do it.'
This is the force of the comb moving through the hair here.
Then along the bottom is the length of the tress.
'The black line is for a tress of hair washed with the simple shampoo.
'The red line is for a more expensive shampoo with a few extra proteins and vitamins thrown in.
'Both are without quats.'
Actually, there's very little resistance as it moves through.
But towards the end of the tress, that's where the tangling starts to appear,
so you get split ends. That's where you're getting to here.
'So the hair washed with the more expensive shampoo
'wasn't dramatically easier to comb compared with the basic shampoo.
'But what happens when you treat the hair with quats,
'shown by a green line?'
-Wow, that's a marked difference, isn't it?
The much big bigger effect you get is from the conditioner.
There's an 85% reduction in the force required to comb through the hair.
-Visually, as peaks go it's like a molehill up against Mount Everest.
'Clearly the quats are having a noticeable detangling effect.
'They work on the individual hairs, allowing them to lie flatter,
'making the whole head of hair look smoother.
'Quats are clearly pretty clever stuff.
'If I'm starting to sound a bit like an advert,
'it's for once it seems I'm not being fobbed off by marketing claims.
'There really is a science bit involved in conditioners.'
So from now on,
rather than fork out 20 quid on a fancy celebrity-endorsed shampoo,
I might just opt for a more basic one
then buy a separate conditioner,
as long as it has a healthy dose of quats in it.
'By the way, you probably won't see the word quats on labels
'as it's a generic that encompasses many different chemicals.
'But you might see cationic surfactant.
'So that's my hair taken care of.
'What about my precious teeth?
'Time to look inside the tube that keeps my pearly whites white.'
Hm. Not bad.
When I'm buying a toothpaste, I tend to go for one that promises to make my teeth whiter.
But now I want to decode the label.
What's in there that's making it work?
And is there a magic ingredient
without which all of our smiles would be various shades of tea-stain brown?
'According to my materials expert, Mark,
'the best way to find out if a formula for toothpaste is user-friendly,
'is to make some and test it on yourself.'
'It looks like he's got another of his home brew experiments lined up,
'but I've no idea why he's summoned me to the beach. Still, at least it's sunny.'
Little bit of fresh air. Fresh, cold sea.
Hi, Mark, how are you?
Hi, Jane, how you doing?
Nice to see you again. I see the shock of working with me last time has made your beard drop off.
I'm on holiday on the beach. It's too hot for a beard.
Why are we on the beach, then?
It turns out the beach is the perfect place to talk about toothpaste and making toothpaste.
The beach is the perfect place for ice cream and sun-bathing! Toothpaste, I'm not too sure.
'Mark reckons teeth are unlike any other material
'found in our bodies and need a special kind of cleaning stuff.'
The enamel on your teeth is the hardest material in the body.
It has to be, right? You've got to grind things up and it's got to last you a lifetime.
Obviously, we use toothpastes to look after the enamel on our teeth.
But other than knowing it's some kind of paste - err, it's in the title -
and it's minty most of the time, I don't really know what else is in there.
Let's have a look.
To demonstrate what's so special about toothpaste, we're going to make some from scratch.
You don't see this on Ready Steady Cook. We're going to make toothpaste.
'First up, water.'
'Then stuff to make it taste nice...'
Sodium saccharine. That's the sweetener.
'..and stop it going off.'
Sodium benzoate. That's a preservative.
'A cleaning and foaming agent we're already familiar with...'
Sodium lauryl sulphate is now going in.
I'm making a mixture here for something I put in my mouth,
yet I've just tipped in
a sort of sister of what goes into shampoo.
This is weird!
'..and a tooth strengthener.'
-This is sodium fluoride. It hardens the enamel up.
-That's clever stuff, isn't it?
'There's a lot more in there than I thought,
'but I'm not sure I've got to my toothpaste wonderstuff yet.
'And I still don't know why we're on a beach.'
-So that comes from this. This is this seaweed.
You basically make it into this powder, which is a gelling agent.
I was expecting this to be a bit thicker at this stage.
Come on, get it in there.
I forget men can't multi-task. "Pouring and stirring - what are you asking me to do?"
'Hm. But if there's a wonderstuff in toothpaste,
'it has to be the one thing
'that's particular to the job of cleaning teeth and here it is,
'something called hydrated silica.'
The key ingredient is an abrasive. That's what all toothpastes share throughout the history of time.
-This is silica.
Yeah, hydrated silica. It's made from the sand we're standing on.
'I'm not sure I like the sound of sanding my teeth down,
'but this doesn't look like coarse grade.'
You'll get a real feeling for it in your mouth. That's in toothpaste.
It's very chalky.
It's that chalky texture... It's a fine grit.
You've got to get something that's hard but not too hard.
-It's that gentle but hard thing.
'Let's bung it in and see how it works with the rest of the ingredients.'
So this is going to really thicken it up.
-Come on, give it some welly.
-I'm feeling it now.
-It is turning into something.
-Thank God for that!
'As well as being an abrasive, the hydrated silica,
'or posh sand, has given our home-made toothpaste its recognisable consistency.'
I think that's about it, isn't it? Ta-da! We have made toothpaste.
Can I taste it?
Can I stop you for a minute because I think it'll be more exciting if we make stripy toothpaste.
-We can make that here?
-Well, we can try.
'Apparently all we have to do is add some food colouring
'to half the mixture, and if we keep the consistency the same,
'by a miracle of physics,
'it should come out of the tube in two stripes that don't mix together.'
Oh, no, malfunction, malfunction.
Houston, we have a problem.
-Come on, drum roll.
-Right, drum roll.
HE DRUMS ON TABLE
Oh, look at that!
It is, it is, it is!
'So, what's our home-made toothpaste like to use?'
'OK, it tastes like a mouthful of chalk dust, but Mark wants me to appreciate how far we've come
'in toothpaste technology.'
Try this. This is Victorian toothpaste.
-It looks like...sludge.
-These are Victorian toothbrushes.
-Oh, gosh, cinnamon.
-Is that your favourite? No.
I like cinnamon but not...
I like it in a latte or a bun.
I just want to make it clear - that isn't left over from the Victorians.
We made that to a recipe.
This is what the Victorians brushed their teeth with?
Yeah, and the Victorians used this thing called diatomaceous earth.
That's really the fossilised remains
of little algae that lived millions of years ago
and it falls down to the bottom of the ocean and makes this sediment.
We've been digging it out of the ground ever since.
'The Victorians spotted that this diatomaceous earth,
'which also contains silica, by the way, was a useful abrasive.'
It actually just looks like clay.
Doesn't have much of a foaming action.
Has no foaming action.
'That's because the Victorians didn't have sodium lauryl sulphate.'
It has gravel action, is what it has!
'So, even though our modern toothpaste containing hydrated silica is easier on the tongue,
'how does its effectiveness compare with the Victorian formulation?
'I want to pit the two toothpastes against each other
'to see if there's any difference in how they work.
'And to do that, I'm going to need some special dental devices
'just like they have at the Bristol Dental School.
'Dr Emma MacDonald is going to measure the effectiveness of the diatomaceous earth
'in the Victorian formulation
'against the hydrated silica in our homemade modern toothpaste.
'But first we need some teeth to test them on.'
Yes, cow's teeth!
-Look at the size of this.
Look at that.
The beauty of using cow's teeth is that we can have a plentiful supply of them.
Obviously, it's not the same as human enamel but it's very close.
Is this the common size or have you found the Ken Dodd of the cow world here?
No, they are actually that size.
'A cow's pearly white is first cut to size using this delightful tooth saw.
'Slices are then mounted in this rather unique contraption.'
What's the little red bit there?
That's actually covering an area of the enamel.
-So it doesn't get brushed?
-That bit doesn't get brushed.
It's just the centre little piece that gets brushed.
'The two different samples of paste are used to brush the teeth 5,000 times
'before they're put into another fancy device, which gives us the results.'
'First up, Emma's colleague, Sian, can reveal
'how much the Victorian toothpaste ground down the tooth.'
To me, that looks really dramatic.
This is quite heavily magnified on this system.
The amount of loss we got from this one was 0.6 of a micron,
which is less than 1,000th of a millimetre.
'Ah. So even though it felt like grit in my mouth,
'I'm assured the Victorian formulation is effective
'in toothpaste science terms.
'Now, you might think that the much smoother, modern formulation
'with hydrated silica would have less effect,
'but, amazingly, the results are very similar.'
What we're seeing is 0.81 of a micron.
'So, modern hydrated silica gives you abrasive power,
'but without the gritty texture.'
'What's more, the size of the hydrated silica crystals can be manipulated
'to make different kinds of toothpaste.'
You can think of the particles within them a bit like clouds, really.
For example, in a whitening toothpaste,
you'll have the particles that will be quite dense, like a dense cloud.
Then you could have light, fluffy clouds
with less tightly-packed particles,
which you might find in a children's toothpaste.
'And hydrated silica earns its spurs as a wonderstuff in other ways too.
'It's odourless, tasteless and chemically inert,
'and turns up in the production of cosmetics,
'paints and even beer. Clever stuff!'
'When I first started this journey
'delving into the science hiding in our bathroom cabinets,
'I had no idea where it was going to take me.
'But discovering the wonderstuffs at the heart of things
'as mundane as shampoo and toothpaste has genuinely surprised me.'
-Made from the sand we're standing on.
I love the fact that the basic soap recipe hasn't really changed
since they were using it to spruce themselves up for a night out in ancient Babylon
about 2,000 years ago.
But for me, the stand-out fact has to be
that there's this amazing little chemical
that can actually change the electrical charge on my hair
and make it more manageable.
'Next time, I get back to nature,
'on the hunt for some of the wonderstuffs that secretly keep our homes clean.
'I get far too intimate with a serial dirt killer...'
Oh, my God!
'..that can disappear without a trace.'
Oh, that's revived me.
'I track down the natural source of a wonderstuff that's revolutionised wash day.'
They knew what hard work was in those days.
'And Mark whisks up a recipe for a home-made grease buster.'
I knew when you called me here you were taking the piss.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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