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Surfactants are organic chemicals that reduce surface tension in water and other liquids. The most familiar surfactants are soaps, laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids, and shampoos. Other important uses of surfactants include industrial applications in lubrication, textile processing, petroleum recovery, wastewater treatment, and more.

Surfactants and are usually classified by their ionic behavior in solutions: anionic, cationic, nonionic, or amphoteric (zwitterionic). Each surfactant class has its own properties. Surfactants are not generally viewed as dangerous to the environment; however, their widespread use creates many opportunities for them to enter the environment, where they may be considered contaminants.