Surface Tension and The Difference Between Surfactant and Surfactin

Understanding surface tension is key to understanding surfactants. Welcome to the basics of chemistry!

surface tension and the science behind surfactants



What is surface tension?

Imagine it’s a hot day and you are sitting on the front porch with a glass of water—if you’re here in Georgia, maybe a glass of sweet tea! The longer you sit outside, the more you start to notice round beads of water forming on the outside of your glass. Those beads are being held together and in shape by something called surface tension.

Surface tension can be generally defined as tension on the surface of a liquid caused by the attraction of the particles in the surface layer. Basically, molecules of a fluid that are in contact with air pull on each other harder than those only in contact with other fluid molecules.

But why does that matter? Understanding surface tension is the first step in understanding the role of surfactants in our everyday lives!

What is a surfactant?

production of surfactin

Surfactant is short for surface active agents. These are amphiphilic molecules, which means they have a hydrophobic or “water-hating” tail and a hydrophilic or “water-loving” tail.

Because of this unique chemistry, these amphiphilic molecules exist at the interface between oil and water. They make it possible for the two to mix by reducing surface tension. This is why you will hear surfactants referred to as “wetter than wet.” They can reach places water would not be able to!

Surfactants in our Everyday Lives

These complex little molecules make our lives easier every day! The last time you washed your clothes or your hair, you used a surfactant. Have you used drain cleaner or makeup recently? Those both contain surfactants. As a matter of fact, your body even makes surfactants of its own. Every time you breathe, pulmonary surfactants are the reason your lungs are able to expand and exchange air without causing damage!

Surfactants in Our Products

Several products manufactured here at Southland Organics contain surfactants of some type. Fulvic acid is a naturally occurring surfactant found in many of our poultry, lawn and garden products.

Surfactants for Soil Health

Fulvic acid is able to work its way through hardened soil and thatch to soften the ground and aerate the soil. This allows the plants—whether row crops, gardens or front lawns—to grow stronger, more efficient root systems!

We manufacture products for both lawn and garden soil health, including Omega Soil Activator, Revival Liquid Lawn Aerator and Jump Start Soil Conditioner.

Surfactants for Bird Health

In birds, surfactants work to improve gut function by breaking down biofilms built by harmful bacteria. This makes it easier for the bird to absorb nutrients and perform to the best of their ability.

products with surfactants

One of our most popular products for backyard chicken flocks is Hen Helper, powered by surfactant and probiotics. Hen Helper strengthens bird immunity, egg production and egg quality.

Surfactants for Waste Breakdown

Surfactants' ability to break surface tension make them a great tool for eliminating biofilm and waste buildup. Our product PORT is used in septic tanks, RV holding tanks and outdoor toilets to quickly break down waste and eliminate odors.

What is a surfactin?

One exceptionally unique type of surfactant we use here is referred to as a surfactin. Surfactins are extremely powerful surfactants produced by strains of B. subtilis bacteria. In nature, Bacillus produce this chemical as a form of chemical warfare to occupy a space and kill competing species.

surfactant and surfactin difference

For this reason, surfactins are most commonly used as an antibiotic against species other than Bacillus! Similar substances have been shown to have antiviral as well as antifungal effects.

However, here at Southland Organics, we use this surfactin as a component in soaps as well as a powerful agent against biofilm formations.

What's the difference between surfactants and surfactins?

So to sum up the difference between surfactant and surfactin: Surfactants include molecules that allow them to be “wetter than water” and reach places water can’t. A surfactin is a super strong surfactant powered by bacteria. Both surfactants and surfactins can be found in our products, making them naturally effective methods for improving poultry, grass, crops and waste breakdown!

Ta-da! You use basic chemical principles every day and didn’t even know it.

Want more fun facts?

Read some of our other articles to learn more about the science behind our products as well as advice on gardening, lawn care and raising chickens. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to our YouTube channel for updates.

If you have any questions, you can email us at or call us at 800-608-3755

About The Author

Izy Dobbins

Isabella (Izy) Dobbins

This was written by Isabella (Izy) Dobbins, Southland Organics' Marketing Manager. Izy has devoted her education and career to communicating science-related topics. With an enthusiasm for sharing accurate and honest content relating to science and agriculture, she ensures Southland Organics' publications are as informative as they are interesting. Izy graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in advertising, minors in both Spanish and environmental health science and a Certificate in Sustainability. She has been working at Southland Organics since 2021.

Learn more about Izy Dobbins

Alyssa Rauton

Avian Specialist/Research and Development

This was edited by Alyssa Rauton. With a bachelor’s degree in avian biology and two years of vet school from the University of Georgia under her belt, Alyssa has a wealth of knowledge on chicken health, nutrition and biology as well as a keen understanding of the animal agriculture industry. Alyssa has been writing content and executing research and development for Southland Organics since 2020.

Learn more about Alyssa Rauton

Alyssa Rauton
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