Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid, the interfacial tension between two liquids, or that between a liquid? and a solid?. Surfactants may act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants. Surfactants are usually organic compounds that are amphiphilic, meaning they contain both hydrophobic groups (their tails) and hydrophilic groups (their heads). Therefore, a surfactant contains both a water insoluble (or oil soluble) component and a water soluble component. Surfactants will diffuse in water and adsorb at interfaces between air and water or at the interface between oil and water, in the case where water is mixed with oil. The insoluble hydrophobic group may extend out of the bulk water phase, into the air or into the oil phase, while the water soluble head group remains in the water phase. This alignment of surfactants at the surface modifies the surface properties of water at the water/air or water/oil interface. Wkipedia, Surfactants (external link)

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