1. Cleansing. 2. A cleansing or purging agent, usually salts of long-chain aliphatic bases or acids ( e.g., quaternary ammonium or sulfonic acid compounds) which, through a surface action that depends on their possessing both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties, exert cleansing (oil-dissolving) and antibacterial effects; acridine derivatives ( e.g., acriflavine, proflavine) as well as other dyes ( e.g., brilliant green, crystal violet) have d. properties for the same reasons. SYN: detersive. [L. de-tergeo, pp. -tersus, to wipe off]
- anionic detergents detergents, such as soaps (alkali metal salts of long-chain fatty acid s), that carry a negative electric charge on a lipidlike molecule and exert a limited antibacterial effect.
- cationic detergents detergents, such as the amine salts or quaternary ammonium or pyridinium compounds of long-chain fatty acid s, that have positively charged groups attached to the larger hydrophobic portions.

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de·ter·gent di-'tər-jənt adj having a cleansing action
detergent n a cleansing agent: as
a) SOAP (1)
b) any of numerous synthetic water-soluble or liquid organic preparations that are chemically different from soaps but are able to emulsify oils, hold dirt in suspension, and act as wetting agents

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a synthetic cleansing agent that removes all impurities from a surface by reacting with grease and suspended particles, including bacteria and other microorganisms. Some detergents, e.g. cetrimide, are used solely for cleansing; others may be used as antiseptic and disinfectant.

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de·ter·gent (de-turґjənt) [L. detergere to cleanse] 1. purifying, cleansing. 2. an agent which purifies or cleanses. 3. in biochemistry, any of a class of agents structurally consisting of a nonpolar hydrocarbon chain attached to a polar head group, which reduce the surface tension of water, emulsify, and aid in the solubilization of soil.

Medical dictionary. 2011.