Surfactant Chemicals & How They Work?

There is no denying the fact that surfactants are the most versatile of all products in the chemical industry. They have a wide variety of uses and are used in almost every industrial area. These could range from drilling mud to household detergents. They are also commonly used in pharmaceutical industries, food industries and also in the crude oil refining and processing industries. Hence, it would be interesting to know more about the various aspects of surfactants. Apart from being knowledge enhancing, we believe that it will be useful for those who need to use surfactant chemicals in some applications.

What Does Surfactant Mean

The term surfactant most probably means that it is an agent that works on the surface. They are referred to as amphiphilic molecules. They are easily absorbed whenever there is water and air interfaces. When the interface takes place, they are capable of aligning themselves well so that they become hydrophobic in the air. The water element of surfactants becomes hydrophilic. This has quite a few benefits and could lead to a decrease in interfacial tension or surface tension.

Basics Of Surfactants

Surfactants, as mentioned above are amphiphilic molecules. It is therefore quite natural that they have a combination of hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts. The hydrophobic tail is referred to as hydrocarbon, siloxane or fluorocarbon. They are further classified depending upon their polar heads. This is because the hydrophobic tails are often the same. If you come across surfactants that have no charge, such surfactants are called as non-ionic. If the head comes with a positive or negative charge, it is called as cationic or anionic. In case it has both negative and positive groups, then such surfactants are referred to as zwitterionic.

They Have Wide Usage

Nonionic and anionic surfactants are the most commonly used surfactants in various types of industries. The anionic variants find use in various cleaning products such as shampoos and detergents. Nonionic surfactants are regularly used as wetting agents and are in demand in the food industry. Both the zwitterionic and cationic surfactants are reserved for special uses because they are complex to produce and therefore are also more expensive.

Because surfactants are amphiphilic, they are capable of absorbing impurities at the oil-water and air-water interface. Hence, when it comes to removing hydrogen from water and oil, surfactants are the most widely used chemicals. At the point of interface, non toxic surfactants are capable of aligning themselves perfectly. This ensures that the hydrophobic part remains in the air or oil while the hydrophilic part remains in the water. This ensures that gaseous substances like hydrogen are separated from water, oil, and other liquids.

How It Works

The main job of these surfactants is to decrease the interfacial and surface tension and then slowly stabilize the interface. Without the surfactants, it would be difficult to imagine how certain foods like ice-cream and mayonnaise would exist. Therefore it is important to optimize the use of surfactants for various applications. The importance of interfacial and surface tension measurements also has a key role to play in this.

The Final Word

To sum up, there is no denying the fact that surfactant chemicals are extremely important and they have a big role to play in various industries, both in the domestic and industrial segments.