You can run your hands under water, but they often just won't come clean until you use some soap. The properties of soap allow it to stick to dirt but easily wash away with water.
Dirt that is not easily brushed off or removed with water alone actually has some form of fat or grease in it. Since oil and water repel each other, water alone can't surround and remove oil. Soap has hydrophilic molecules that are attracted to water on one end and lipophilic molecules attracted to oil on the other end.
The soap molecule surrounds the grease and the lipophilic ends point inward and cling to the fats and oils. The hydropholic ends point out toward the water, and since those ends are attracted to water, this allows the soap to trap the dirt and wash it down the drain with the water.
Different soaps are made for different purposes. Beauty and bath soaps have ingredients in them that are gentle on the skin. Laundry detergent is made specifically to clean clothes. Some soaps are made to have low suds, such as those used in high-efficiency or HE washing machines.
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