Every citizen in the EU uses approximately 3.1 grams of Linear Alkylbenzene Sulphonate or
LAS each day.
Although LAS is also employed in industrial processes, mostly as an emulsifier or a wetting
agent, its main use is as a surfactant or "surface active agent" in detergents.
A surfactant is a chemical substance that enables water to spread and wet surfaces by reducing the
water's surface tension- hence surfactants are said to make water "wetter".
As a surfactant, LAS is used in most detergents, dishwashing liquids and all-purpose cleaners
because its chemical composition is vital to the removal of dirt, oil and grease from clothes, surfaces
Take a soil stain on a shirt. Water alone cannot remove the stain, primarily because the oil in the
soil does not react with the water molecules.
The role of LAS as a surfactant is to eliminate this problem by suspending the oil in water, so that
with some mechanical energy in the form of the movement in a washing machine or rubbing by hand, the
soil can be pulled free from the shirt.
This is possible because the surfactant as a molecule has one end that will attach itself to the
oil in the soil and another end that will attach itself to the water molecules.
This chemical ability to loosen and remove dirt from most surfaces is the basis of most modern
cleaning in the world today and thus clearly surfactants are vitally important in our everyday lives.
Without surfactants, we would use more water, potentially more cleaning agents, and certainly more
energy etc. It gets fabrics, skin and surfaces ready for faster and more efficient cleaning.