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Surfactant – Properties, Types and Common Uses

Surfactant is a chemical substance which is used to lower the surface tension in a liquid. It is also known as surface active agent, when dissolved in water, can remove the dirt from the surfaces. Surfactants also work as wetting agents and foamers. As surfactants are used for lowering the surface tension in the liquid it is dissolved, it can play a major role in removing dirt and stains.

Properties of Surfactant

Surfactants are organic compounds which contain both, hydrophobic group and hydrophilic group. Hydrophobic group is repelled by water which means it does not like water and hydrophilic group are attracted towards water and tend to dissolve in water. So when surfactant is dissolved in water, hydrophobic group and hydrophilic group enable to form different structures as they are having different reactions towards the water. Surfactants act as an emulsifier also. Everybody knows, that it is very much difficult to mix oil and water as they have different properties. But, surfactants have those properties due to which oil and water can be mixed together and thus oily substances can be removed with the help of surfactants.

Types of Surfactant

Based on chemical structure, surfactants are classified into different types like anionic, cationic and nonionic surfactants. Anionic surfactant is the most common type of surfactant, whereas it is expensive to produce cationic surfactant due to which it is not used as commonly as anionic surfactant. Unlike, anionic and cationic, nonionic surfactant constitute about 45% of total industrial production.

Applications of Surfactant

  • Surfactants are used in many cleaning and hygienic products like floor cleaner, detergents, dish washer etc., as it is an effective substance which can remove dirt and stains from the fabric or surface.
  • Surfactant is found in engine degreasers, floor cleaners, car wash soaps, toothpastes, shampoos, shaving foams and bubble bath formulations.
  • Surfactant also works as a foaming agent which can form foam in any substance easily. So, it is used in many cosmetic products where cleansing is required like soaps, shampoos etc.
  • Surfactant is also used as an antiseptic in many personal sanitary products.
  • It is also used in paints, adhesives, inks, emulsions etc.

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