Importance of micellar relaxation time on detergent properties

Research paper by A. Patist, B. K. Jha, S. -G. Oh, D. O. Shah

Indexed on: 01 Jul '99Published on: 01 Jul '99Published in: Journal of Surfactants and Detergents


As we enter the new millennium, manufacturers of laundry detergents would like to provide new products for the twenty-first century. With the goal of achieving new and better performance characteristics, design strategies for research and development should be defined. This paper highlights the importance of micellar relaxation kinetics in processes involved in detergency. Earlier Shah and coworkers showed that the stability of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) micelles plays an important role in various technological processes. The slow relaxation time (τ2) of SDS micelles, as measured by the pressure-jump technique, was in the range of 10−4 to 101 s, depending on the surfactant concentration. A maximal relaxation time and thus a maximal micellar stability was found at 200 mM SDS (5 s), corresponding to the least-foaming, largest bubble size, longest wetting time of textile, largest emulsion droplet size, and the most rapid solubilization of oil. These results are explained in terms of the flux of surfactant monomers from the bulk to the interface, which determines the dynamic surface tension. More stable micelles lead to less monomer flux and hence to a higher dynamic surface tension. The relaxation time for nonionic surfactants (as measured by the stopped-flow technique) was much longer than for ionic surfactants because of the absence of ionic repulsion between the head groups. The τ2 was related to dynamic surface-tension experiments. Stability of SDS micelles can be greatly enhanced by the addition of long-chain alcohols or cationic surfactants. In summary, relaxation time data of surfactant solutions enable us to predict the performance of a given surfactant solution. Moreover, results suggest that one can design appropriate micelles with specific stability, or τ2, by controlling surfactant structure, concentration, and physicochemical conditions, as well as by mixing anionic/cationic or ionic/nonionic surfactants for a desired technological application, e.g., detergency.