A surfactant or a surface-active agent is a blend of any surface and active chemical agent. Surfactants or Surfactant chemicals are compounds that bond instantly to each other. By doing so, they generate sealed bubbles. These molecules decrease the interfacial/surface tension between a liquid-solid or liquid-liquid or a gas-liquid. Surfactants can be an emulsifier, detergent, dispersant, a wetting agent, or a foaming agent.
How do they function?
Surfactants are very versatile compounds in the chemical industry. These are amphiphilic molecules that are absorbed in the water-air interfaces. They adhere to the hydrophobic part in the air component and water to the hydrophilic part. This results in the lowering of interfacing tensions on the surface. Since they are amphiphilic molecules, surfactants absorb at the interface. The forces are cohesive and strong. This is why the surfactants break the links and absorb. The water molecule and surfactant intermolecular forces are lower as compare to water molecules together. Hence, the surface tension is lower here. The interface is stabilized.
What chemicals come into surfactant chemicals?
- Sorbitan monolaurate
- Sorbitan tristearate
- Sorbital esters of fatty acid
- Sorbitan monostearate
- Cleaning by combining- Surfactants are blended with cleaning agents to permit the cleaning agent to combine with water. For instance, detergents help the elimination dirt off the cleaning surface with cleaning agents. Surfactants enable the chemical to mix with water, which otherwise wouldn’t combine with water. Soaps would roll off without blending in. This can make the process of cleaning a lot tougher.
- Lubrication- They are also used as lubricants like in shaving cream. This lubrication enables razors to conveniently eliminate stubbles off the jawline and limit the skin irritation.
- Emulsifying-Keeps the dirt locked in sealed bubbles that can be washed away with water.
- Proper operation of a car engine-They are also added in the lubricants meant for a car engine. This keeps the particles from adhering to engine parts. It allows the engine parts for a convenient movement and to sustain the car in proper operation.
- Reducing agents- In fire-fighting
- Foaming agent
- Anti-foaming agent
Applications of surfactant chemicals
Surfactant chemicals are used in a wide range of applications, from industrial, household products, personal care, food items to medicine.
Household and General products
- Fabric softeners
- Motor oils
- Ski and snowboard waxes
- Anti-fogging agent
- In flotation processes
- Recycled paper deinking
- Enzymatic processes
In Agrochemical mixes:
- Some herbicides
- Hair conditioners
- Shower gels
- In pipelines and firefighting as liquid drag agents.
- Alkali polymer surfactants for mobilizing oil within oil wells.
- Air displacement in cotton bandages and pads for the absorption of medicinal solutions when applying to different areas of your body.
- Debris and dirt displacement when detergents are used during the cleaning of wounds.
- Medical lotions
- Skin sprays of mucous membranes and surfaces.
Surfactants are crucial in the chemical industry owing to their properties. They clean, emulsify, reduce, disperse, wet, lubricate, and many more. They have a wide range of applications in household products, personal care products, motor oils, pipelines, and pharmaceuticals. Doing laundry, making ice cream, mayonnaise would have been difficult without surfactant chemicals. Different uses make of different interfacial tension which is the key role of a surfactant.
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