Surfactants have a desired property: they dilute fats in water by dispersing them. Thus, they make it possible to modify the tension between two surfaces.
This property makes them essential in many industrial applications and also in everyday life. For example, mayonnaise is a stable emulsion of water and oil thanks to the surfactant contained in the egg yolk!
They therefore have an affinity for both oil and water. This unique, remarkable property enables them to solubilise two initially immiscible phases.
Dissolved in water, the surfactants gather at the interfaces, orienting themselves so that the hydrophilic part of their molecule is directed towards the water and the hydrophobic part towards the oily phase or the air.
Focus on the structure of surfactants
Some products have a natural affinity for aqueous phases: sugars, glycerol, glycols, etc. These products are referred to as hydrophilic.
Other products have a natural affinity for oily phases: vegetable oils, paraffins, etc. These are referred to as hydrophobic or lipophilic.
Products whose molecule includes a hydrophilic part and a hydrophobic part are amphiphiles. This is the case for surfactants represented by this symbol:
Four types of surfactants for
an endless scope of innovation!
There are four types of surfactants according to the nature of the hydrophilic part:
|Anionic surfactants||– Fatty alcohol sulphates
– Ethoxylated fatty alcohol sulphates (ether sulphates)
– Sulphonate alkylarenes, etc.
|Non-ionic surfactants||– Ethoxylates and propoxylates
– Alkanolamides, alkylpolyglucosides
– Sorbitan esters, glycerol esters, etc.
|Cationic surfactants||– Acyclic and heterocyclic fatty amine and polyamine salts
– Quaternary ammonium salts
– Amine oxides, etc.
|Amphoteric surfactants||– Betaines, etc.|
|Detergent properties||These properties facilitate the removal of dirt and grime and their dispersion in water.|
|Dispersant properties||These properties increase the suspension stability of small solid particles in a liquid.|
|Emulsifying properties||These properties facilitate the formation of an emulsion, in other words, a dispersion in the form of fine droplets from one liquid into another (for example, oil in water), and increase stability.|
|Wetting properties||These properties promote the spreading of a liquid on a solid surface or increase its penetration rate into porous bodies (cotton, leather, paper, etc.).|
|Foaming or anti-foaming properties||These properties cause or prevent foaming.|
|Solubilising properties||These properties increase the apparent water solubility of poorly soluble substances.|
These various properties make surfactants essential elements in a wide range of applications:
Detergent and cleaning products industry
Paints, pigments and varnishes industry
Fertiliser and plant protection industry
Livestock feed industry
Metallurgical and mechanical industry
Construction and public works industry