Surfactants

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Surface active agents or surfactants, such as soaps and detergents, have the ability to orientate themselves between two interfaces to bring them into closer contact

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Figure 13.5 The structure of (a) phenol and (b) hexachlorophene ho ci ci oh

Figure 13.5 The structure of (a) phenol and (b) hexachlorophene

Figure 13.6 The action of surfactants. The long hydrophobic tails of the detergent are able to penetrate an insoluble grease particle. The negatively charged carboxyl group at the other end attracts the positive pole of water molecules, enhancing the water solubility of the grease. From Black, JG: Microbiology: Principles and Explorations, 4th edn, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1999. Reproduced by permission of the publishers

Figure 13.6 The action of surfactants. The long hydrophobic tails of the detergent are able to penetrate an insoluble grease particle. The negatively charged carboxyl group at the other end attracts the positive pole of water molecules, enhancing the water solubility of the grease. From Black, JG: Microbiology: Principles and Explorations, 4th edn, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1999. Reproduced by permission of the publishers

(Figure 13.6). The value of soap has less to do with its disinfectant properties than with ability to facilitate the mechanical removal of dirt and microorganisms. It does this by emulsifying oil secretions, allowing the debris to be rinsed away. Detergents may be anionic (negatively charged), cationic (positively charged) or non-ionic. Cationic detergents such as quaternary ammonium compounds (ammonium chloride with each hydrogen replaced by an organic group, Figure 13.7) act by combining with phospholipids to disrupt cell membranes and affect cellular permeability.

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