Chemicals of the Day: Surfactants!

20130222_surfactantsSurfactants are your friends more often than you may know! You use them when you’re washing your weiner….. dog, cleaning your hands, doing your laundry, brushing your teeth, painting your walls, and SO MUCH MORE! Your lungs are even coated with the stuff! Surfactants are super useful because they have a head group that “likes” water and a tail group that “dislikes” water (or “likes” oils). The most well known surfactant is probably soap, specifically sodium stearate, which is shown in this picture. Surfactants are useful soaps because their oil and water friendly properties make chemicals (like grease!) dissolve in water! Surfactants have many other applications, for example they are used to prevent settling or clumping of paints and inks and they can make your toothpaste nice and foamy. Surfactants aren’t just added to our products for a variety of uses. Have you ever wondering why ocean waves are foamy when they break? It’s because the ocean surface is full of surfactants! This leads to another interesting point- they prefer to be at the surface of water, which is why they are called “surfactants”.

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