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Oleochemicals

How palm oil keeps you clean


The World Health Organisation (WHO) reminds us that good personal hygiene is critical to keep the COVID-19 outbreak at bay. It urges the public to regularly and thoroughly clean one’s hands washing them with soap and water.

But what does good personal hygiene have to do with palm oil?

Palm oil is an important ingredient in soap, in both bar- and liquid-form. It is used to make oleochemicals, a key source material to produce surfactants (short for surface active agents). These surfactants are what make soap effective in cleaning.

A surfactant molecule contains one end that is attracted to water and the other end that is not. When a molecule comes near a virus, the end that does not like water is attracted to the virus. More and more molecules surround the virus forming a sphere, remove its grease membrane, and break the virus down into parts.

When exposed to water such as in a sink, the water-loving ends of the surfactant connect to the water. Since the virus is broken into parts, it gets washed away from the surface of your hand and into the water.

To help you better understand this, check out these short explanatory videos from the American Cleaning Institute and Vox.

You will find oleochemicals not just in soap, but also in other personal care products, like toothpaste, and house cleaning products such as washing detergent.

Around the world, people are heeding WHO’s call for hygiene. There has been a staggering increase in demand for hand wash, reports CNBC:

  • British shoppers were buying 7% more liquid hand soaps and spent 10% more on household cleaners compared to February 2019
  • In Italy sales of hand soap have increased 29%

The reports of shortages in personal hygiene products and rationing of purchases by retailers demonstrate the strain the virus has had on production.

Our oleochemical business units, Sinar Mas Oleochemical and Sinarmas Cepsa, are working hard to ensure a continuous supply of raw material in these difficult times. Our factories are operating around the clock to fulfill our customers’ extra needs, and maintaining multiple suppliers for each category of materials to guarantee enough supply. Essential plant workers continue to work daily (with the right precautions), to keep operations running without disruption. We want to make sure that our customers – the soap manufacturers – can continue to provide the public with personal care and house cleaning products.

We all have to work together to fight the COVID-19 outbreak. The next time you pick up that hand wash, think about these extraordinary everyday people hard at work behind-the-scenes, making sure you stay clean and safe from sickness!

Palm oil is used in many other products that people are stocking up such as instant noodles and cereal. Find out what else on your supermarket shelves contain palm oil here.

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