Surfactants 2018-07-30T10:04:06+00:00


Multiple effects for foaming, wetting, emulsifying and cleaning


PCC Exol SA is one of the most advanced producers of surface-active agents – surfactants – in Central and Eastern Europe, and the only manufacturer in Poland. The Group subsidiary offers over 200 products, both for domestic uses ­– the manufacture of household cleaners, laundry detergents and personal care products – and for industrial applications. Because surfactants are exceptionally multifunctional.

In Piedmont, in the US state of South Carolina, PCC Chemax, Inc. also develops specialty surfactants for industrial applications, which it markets on a global scale.

Surfactants are surface-active agents. They reduce the surface tension of a liquid or, for example, reduce the interfacial tension between a solid surface and a liquid. Generally, surfactants exhibit a molecular structure comprising a hydrophilic (“water-attracting”) component (the head) and a hydrophobic (“water-repelling”) hydrocarbon radical (the tail). It is this mix that provides the basis for their exceptional diversity of action, i.e. their capability to foam, wet, emulsify and clean.

One traditional surfactant known throughout the ages is soap. However, modern surfactants serve a far richer range of applications. They constitute indispensible components of a wide spectrum of consumer goods – from laundry care and dishwashing detergents to shampoos, toothpastes and cosmetic products. Surfactants are also used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The Surfactants segment of PCC comprises the business units Anionic Surfactants, Non-ionic Surfactants, and Amphoteric Surfactants (Betaines).

Foam (aka suds, lather) occurs where air is entrapped in a surfactant solution – for example as the result of shaking. The surfactant molecules arrange themselves at the liquid/air interface, thus creating the envelopes we know as soap bubbles. During cleaning processes, this formation of foam is often desirable because it ensures, for example, that water is able to penetrate the structure of a fabric more effectively. Heavy foaming can, however, also be disruptive – in which case defoamers are used, which are also based on surfactants.

Used as wetting agents, surfactants reduce the interfacial tension between a solid and a liquid. That enables water, for example, to become more evenly distributed over a hard surface rather than coagulating into droplets. The solid is then said to have been wetted.

Surfactants can make generally mutually repellent liquids, such as water and oil, miscible in the form of an emulsion. Because of the “amphiphilic” – that is to say simultaneously “water-attracting” and “water-repelling” – nature of surfactants, they are able to penetrate the oil with their fat-dissolving portion. The oil droplets caused e.g. by stirring, remain finely distributed through the action of the hydrophilic component of the molecule.

A further action mode of surfactants lies in their ability to promote the detachment of small solid particles from solid surfaces, as in the removal of dirt from textiles. Surfactants support the formation and retention of a suspension by becoming deposited around the solid particles, thus inhibiting their agglomeration and preventing them from sinking. Further deposition on solid surfaces which are covered by a surfactant layer is also avoided.

Cleaning detergents and personal care products
Anionic, non-ionic and amphoteric surfactants are basic components of laundry detergents, household cleaners and personal care products such as shampoos and shower gels. They promote skin compatibility, can produce a pearlescent effect and beneficially modify the flow properties of liquids.

Textile manufacturing
Surfactant-based foaming and wetting agents, emulsifiers, defoamers and dispersants are used in the following processes: cleaning, spinning, bleaching, scouring, dyeing and fibre maceration.

Construction industry
Surfactants are used here as foaming agents in fibreboard and plasterboard panel production, as additives in the manufacture of chipboard, and as superplasticisers for fresh concrete mixtures.

For more information on our products, please visit PCC’s extensive product portal on www.products.pcc.eu containing more than 800 products and chemical formulations for numerous industrial applications.