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Role And Types of Surfactants Role And Types of Surfactants

Surfactants are chemical substances that have a wide range of applications in different industries and are an important part of many of the products we use on a daily basis. They can be defined as substances that primarily reduce the surface tension of a liquid, which is a property of the surface of the liquid that resists external forces. For example, surface tension allows some insects to run on the surface of the water without sinking or paper clips floating in the water. In the same way, surfactants also reduce the interfacial tension between two liquids, such as water and oil. These very important properties are already present in different products, including detergents, wetting agents, foaming agents, emulsifiers etc.


Surfactants act as emulsifiers. Emulsifiers are substances that disperse a liquid into another unmixed solution, for example oil into water. When you try to mix oil and water they never mix. As an example of what happens when you wash the dishes; the oil can only be mixed with water after you have placed a product containing oil soluble surfactants such as dishwashing liquid to remove the oily product left on the dishes. This happens because the tail of the surfactant is hydrophobic and the oily substance is trapped in the micelle nucleus, and because the micelle is water soluble, the oily substance can be removed.


Based on their chemical structure, surfactants are classified as anionic, cationic and non-ionic surfactants.

  • Anionic surfactants consist of a head with a negative charge and an organic tail of small positive atoms or molecules such as ammonium. These are the most common types of surfactants.


  • Cationic surfactants have a positively charged head and an organic tail with small negative atoms or molecules such as chlorine. They are more expensive to produce and therefore have limited use.


  • Unlike anionic or cationic surfactants, non-ionic surfactants are not ionised in water because their hydrophilic part consists of non-degradable molecules such as alcohols, phenols, etc. It accounts for about 45% of the entire industrial production.


  • Amphoteric ions, which consist of a molecule with both anionic and cationic dissociation.

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