Information on the Surfactant Product

The surfactant product consists of a substance that can reduce the tension on the surface of a liquid to make it more receptive to absorbing another substance. Another way to explain it is it breaks down the liquid to an alternate form. It is a compound that affects the tension, either between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid. The question now remains of what types of surfactants there are and how each is used.


Most of the surfactants that are used with herbicides are referred to as nonionic. Another type is the silicone, cationic and anionic. The action of this chemical could be to stand in as an emulsifier, a dispersant, a detergent or a wetting agent. Of the world-wide production, almost half are referred to as some type of soap. The other percentage is made up of linear alkylbenzenesulfonates, alkylphenol ethoxylates, fatty alcohol ethoxylates and lignin sulfonates.

Structure of the Compound

The surfactants are compounds of a water soluble and a water insoluble compound. It has to have a structure that will disperse in water but also will absorb between water and oil. Detergents cut the grease when washing a skillet that was used to fry bacon.

The absorption of a surfactant is important because that controls the coating, the emulsifying and the foaming quality of the compound. The consumer often feels that if the soap does not foam, it is not accomplishing the duty of cleaning food, grease or other dirt in the home or place of business. That may not always be true, but the foaming aspect of a compound is important.

Breaking It Down

The various classifications of surfactants are amphoteric, anionic and nonionic.

The amphoteric compound is mild so it is appropriate for personal uses, such as facial cleanses, shampoos or hand washing solutions. It has a change of charge with pH and can actually have any of the three charges.

The anionic compound is used mostly for situations where plenty of suds are needed, such as laundry detergent, fabric softener and dishwashing liquids. It is negatively charged so a portion of the molecule is hydrophilic. They can be neutralized by metal cations, which are positively charged.

Nonionic compounds are primarily used in cleaners used for heavy grease removal. The nonionic surfactants are the most commonly and frequently used. They have no ions but instead derive a polarity from oxygen.

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