sur·​fac·​tant | \ (ˌ)sər-ˈfak-tənt, ˈsər-ˌfak-\

Definition of surfactant

: a surface-active substance (such as a detergent)

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Other Words from surfactant

surfactant adjective

Examples of surfactant in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Traditional high-pH soap and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are stripping surfactants; milder ones include sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), decyl glucoside, coco-glucoside, and others. Allure, "The Skin-Care Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know," 17 Aug. 2018 To verify that surface tension did indeed play a role in the gecko's surface skimming ability, the researchers added a surfactant (dish soap) to the water. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Geckos’ new superpower is running on water; now we know how they do it," 6 Dec. 2018 District workers, who also treat other breeding locations in forest preserves and elsewhere, use surfactants to smother mosquitoes that make it to the pupa form. Kathy Routliffe,, "Heat, rain, mean earlier mosquito spray operations in Wilmette, Winnetka," 9 July 2018 The mussels also contained four kinds of synthetic surfactants -- the chemicals found in detergents and cleaning products -- seven kinds of antibiotics, five types of antidepressants, more than one antidiabetic drug and one chemotherapy agent. Susan Scutti, CNN, "Mussels in Washington's Puget Sound test positive for opioids, other drugs," 25 May 2018 Compounds that lower water’s surface tension are called surfactants, which work by separating the water molecules from one another. Science Buddies, Scientific American, "Surface Tension Science: Build a Raft Powered by Soap," 26 June 2014 The campaign will identify products that are made without ingredients like surfactants (chemicals used to help clean and create suds) SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, musks, or mineral oil. Shannon Barbour, The Cut, "Sephora Is Launching a ‘Clean’ Beauty Section," 11 May 2018 But surfactants lower surface tension, which means that a rising bubble doesn’t immediately burst. Mika Mckinnon, Smithsonian, "Sea Foam Delights Visitors of Lebanese Beach," 31 Jan. 2018 Steer clear of silicones and harsh chemical surfactants and reach for natural oils and ingredients. Lamar Dawson, GQ, "How to Grow a Long Beard That Never Gets Scraggly," 16 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'surfactant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of surfactant

1950, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for surfactant

surface-active + -ant

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Last Updated

22 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for surfactant

The first known use of surfactant was in 1950

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More Definitions for surfactant


sur·​fac·​tant | \ (ˌ)sər-ˈfak-tənt, ˈsər-ˌ \

Medical Definition of surfactant

: a surface-active substance specifically : a surface-active lipoprotein mixture which coats the alveoli and which prevents collapse of the lungs by reducing the surface tension of pulmonary fluids

Other Words from surfactant

surfactant adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on surfactant

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with surfactant Encyclopedia article about surfactant

Comments on surfactant

What made you want to look up surfactant? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to gather or build up little by little

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