What Are Surfactants?

What Are Surfactants?

Do you ever do household cleaning and think to yourself, “how does this syrupy liquid clean?” Well, the answer to that is surfactants. Surfactants are a big reason why many of the products you use today work as well as they do. Not only do they help with cleaning, but they’re also used in wetting, emulsifying, and dispersing liquids.

The Basics of Surfactants

Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension between two different liquids, a liquid, and gas, or a liquid and a solid. Surfactants are primarily made from an alcohol-water mixture, giving the surfactant an aqueous appearance.

Surfactants come in many varieties for different applications in cleaning, manufacturing, pill-stabilizing, etc. The many types of surfactants can be split into 4 main groups: nonionic, anionic, cationic, and amphoteric.

Four Main Groups of Surfactants:

  • Anionic surfactants are the most common, and they interact with most carpet fibers and soils, creating a bubble-like effect seen in all soaps.
  • Cationic surfactants are positively charged and are found in chemicals like chlorine. They don’t mix with anionic surfactants, which is why some cleaners are very restrictive.
  • Nonionic surfactants are known for making a lot of foam and being thicker than other variations, giving them a syrup-like texture, just like that of the famous dish soap pour!
  • Lastly, amphoteric surfactants are the least known but are used to heighten the effects of the other three surfactant groups.

Other Good Uses of Surfactants

Surfactants are renowned for their cleaning capability. This is because it reduces the surface tension of water, helping it expand more thoroughly and evenly. Essentially, surfactants make water “wetter.” Not only that, but they also help to penetrate, loosen, and trap dirt to remove bacteria and other harmful substances. If it weren’t for this function of surfactants, the capabilities of many cleaning products would peak at merely moving dirt and grime from one place to another. Next time you see that shiny sparkle, thank surfactants!

Surfactants can also help to make objects and materials less likely to stick to each other and themselves, making for a smoother product. Because of this, surfactants can cause certain items to react with oils and greases seamlessly, making them good at keeping non-porous materials (metals, plastics, ceramics, etc.) as strong as when they were originally manufactured.

Surfactants are incredibly helpful and you would be doing yourself a disservice by not trying them out and utilizing their full potential for whichever function you choose, whether it be washing, degreasing, emulsifying, stabilizing, etc. All of these surfactant types are very easy to find at our website here, for more information on the surfactants we offer.