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All about Nonionic Surfactants – Ethoxylates

Nonionic surfactant can be defined as a surface active agent that does not dissociate into charged ions in solution. This contrasts with anionic and cationic surfactants which have negative and positive charges in solution. They are the most preferred detergents as compared to ionic surfactants due to their insolubility in many hard water and cationic surfactants due to poor cleaning characteristics. Moreover, in terms of detergency, nonionic surfactants exhibit low foam properties, outstanding solvency and absolute chemical stability. Nonionic surfactant products are friendly on the dermis even at greater loadings and exposure. They include fatty acid ethoxylates, fatty amine ethoxylates, fatty alcohol ethoxylates, nonylphenol ethoxylates, alkyl phenol ethoxylate, amide ethoxylates, and glyceride ethoxylates (castor oil or hydrogenated castor oil ethoxylates).

Fatty alcohol ethoxylates, range from very clear - yellowish liquid - waxy solids. This depends on the length of alkyl chain and the apparent number of ethoxy groups. Non ionic surfactants contain both hydrophobic tail portion and hydrophilic polar head groups. Thus tend to dissolve in both aqueous and oil phase reducing the surface tension of liquids. Ethylene oxide is a simple cyclic epoxide or ether (C2H4O); the addition of reactive material to the base of alcohols forms ethoxylated surfactants. Using more hydrophilic groups brings about better solubility in water since more hydrogen bonding exists. They do not dissociate in solution i.e. non-ionic in solution thus do not form charged particles with electrical charge. This means that the surfactant will work well in hard water and at low temperatures.  Moreover, they exhibit more stability in acidic and alkali solution plus miscibility with other surfactants. Fatty alcohol ethoxylates surfactants find application in Industries as detergents, dispersants, stabilizers, anti-foaming agents e.t.c.

Ethoxylated fatty amines are also non-ionic surfactants which are mostly used as emulsifiers and emulsifier blend formations. Their application includes; the making of wetting agents, sanitizers, dispersants, stabilizers, and anti-foaming agents. Fatty amine ethoxylates are considered as a useful an intermediate for the synthesis of anionic surfactants. They have a wide application. However, their cationic characteristics have extended their use of these compounds and have brought out novel and valuable means for handling a lot of industrial problems. The properties they display are very important in petroleum refinery processes. For instance, a continuous injection of minor amounts of polyoxyethylated amine into the refinery processes protects metal surfaces from reacting with water, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulfide. In addition, metallic and mineral surface may absorb the cationic surfactant. Fatty amine ethoxylates find their useful application in dye leveling and as wetting agents in textile industries and industrial detergents.

Fatty Acid Ethoxylates are their primary use as non-ionic surfactants in a number of processes in the industrial and domestic boundaries. With reference to their low ability foam and low comparative cost, polyoxyethylene (fatty acid ester) have been the most attractive non-ionic detergent product in the market. When combined with different types of builders, these surface active agents are ingredients for a majority of domestic and industrial cleaning applications. Fatty acid ethoxylates are also applied as cleansing agents, dispersants (emulsifiers), wetting agents water softeners and spin dying agents in textile Industries.  However, they are used as dispersants and solubilizes in cosmetics and health care industrial applications. Fatty acid ethoxylates includes; stearic acid ethoxylates, lauric acid ethoxylates and coco fatty acid ethoxylates. These products are used in textile and in the manufacture of spin finishes.

 In conclusion, ethoxylates are the essential building molecules for a lot of the highly valued detergents and surfactants accessible to consumers globally. The easiness of ethoxylation and sulphation by conventional procedures makes the products appropriate for a broad spectrum of surface active agent’s applications. There are also natural oil ethoxylates and alkyl phenol ethoxylates. Natural oil type is related to hydrogenated castor oil soya and groundnut oil, which are mostly used as emulsifiers in agricultural and textile industrial processes. Alkyl phenols are known for the quality consistency, less odor and color.

This article has been written by Govindbhai Mathurdas Patel.