What Is the Definition of Nonionic Surfactants?

Nonionic surfactants are a distinct type of surfactant with an uncharged polar head. In horticultural contexts, nonionic surfactants may be known as wetting agents because they help hydrophobic, or water repelling, soils to quickly and evenly absorb water by breaking the water’s surface tension, allowing water molecules to spread for greater and faster water penetration. According to the University of Georgia (UGA), nonionic surfactants are the most popularly used surfactants in the horticulture industry, and though these surfactants can cause damage to plants, they are safe if used in the proper quantity.

As a wetting agent, nonionic surfactants are often mixed in with potting media in order to ensure easy water absorption into plant soil. UGA has also indicated that research is being carried out into nonionic surfactants’ efficacy as antifungal treatment.

In addition to application in the horticultural sector, nonionic surfactants can be used, like other surfactants, to create cleaning projects such as detergents. The substance’s ability to break water’s surface tension is also useful in this application as it allows cleaning water to absorb grease, which is normally repelled from water. In this context, nonionic surfactants such as polyethylene ethoxylate, a nonionic detergent, are used alongside other types of surfactants, including anionic and cationic surfactants.