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What are surfactants and why are they needed?

Surfactants are chemical compounds that are in the composition of any cleaning agent. Thanks to surfactants, the products perform their main function – they wash / launder dirt. The main difficulty arises in the fact that dirt, especially fat, is very difficult to wash off with water. Water molecules do not stick to fat molecules and do not wash them out. In order to solve this problem, in other words, to attach fat/dirt molecules to water molecules, surfactants are used in detergent formulations.

Surfactants are divided in 4 main types:

  1. Anionic surfactants – they have an excellent washing effect, contribute to the formation of abundant foam and reduce the surface tension well. This type of surfactant is used in almost all detergents as one of the main components. In addition, the biodegradability of anionic surfactants is quite high (80-95%), which makes it possible to use them also in Eco-friendly products.
  2. Nonionic surfactants – the least toxic surfactants have very high biodegradability (up to 100%), excellent washing properties, resistance to water hardness, however, unlike anionic surfactants, nonionic ones form little foam.
  3. Cationic surfactants – they have a low washing capacity, may have bactericidal properties and remove static electricity charges. They are usually used together with anionic surfactants for neutralization.
  4. Amphoteric surfactants – depending on the environment, they can exhibit the properties of both cationic surfactants and anionic surfactants, have high foaming and have a mild effect on the skin and mucous membranes, so they are usually used in shampoos "without tears" or added to delicate laundry products. In household and professional chemistry, this type of surfactant is appreciated for its excellent rinsing properties and the absence of streaks on the surface.