The rise of sustainable surfactants chemicals in detergents-what should you know

Vinodhini Harish

25 Apr 2024
What do we think when we see soap frothing? Soap molecules have two distinct ends in it. One end is attracted to water and the other end repels from water molecules, called hydrophobic. When soap is added to water, these hydrophobic ends repel water molecules and move towards the air. Soon the movement causes an arrangement in soap molecules leaving the hydrophobic ends facing upward and hydrophilic ends facing downwards, towards the water. It all happens in a moment. Do you know what eases the surface tension of the water molecules? Surfactants. These unsung heroes play a crucial role in joining the water and soap molecules. But what if manufacturing them releases carcinogenic by-products like 1,4 dioxane? Scary right? In this article, we have talked about how carcinogenic by-products of surfactant manufacturing affect the environment and human health and more on the new range in the market that produces low ecological toxicity. Let’s get going!

Is 1,4 dioxane so problematic?

Do you know that about 50 million U.S. people get their drinking water that contains detectable levels of 1,4 dioxane compound? What is it?

1,4 dioxane is a chemical compound that is clear, colourless and generally used as a solvent for varied applications such as the manufacturing of chemicals and for some consumer goods such as paint strippers, dyes and varnishes.

Hence, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified 1,4 dioxane as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by all ways of exposure. Studies in some animal species included rats and mice and have shown the development of varied types of cancer such as liver, nasal cavity and peritoneal cancers. Moreover, it is observed that the compound exerts carcinogenic effects through a genotoxic mechanism which damages DNA that furthers the development of tumours.

Therefore even other regulatory agencies such as EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified the compound as “Likely to be carcinogenic to humans” based on available evidence. The limits range from 1 to 10 ppm

Manufacturers working against the harsh effects of 1,4dioxane:

Manufacturing surfactants without 1,4dioxane is not possible, but the manufacturers are trying out different methods to get 1,4 dioxane out of every household. Some of the methods are mentioned below:
  • Optimizing production processes of ethoxylated surfactants
  • Favouring base-catalyst processes over acid catalysis
  • Vacuum stripping to remove volatile impurities
  • Derivatizing the surfactants

Some manufacturers are trying to reformulate their products so that they can either reduce or eliminate the need for 1,4 dioxane-containing ingredients. Some are selecting raw materials that have a lesser 1,4 dioxane compound. While rest of them are involved in research and development to develop new surfactants and technologies that contain less 1,4 dioxane or form less of the compound.

Image Generated by Adobe Firefly.

Image Generated by Adobe Firefly.

Image Generated by Adobe Firefly.

Galaxy Surfactants launches “GalEcoSafe Range”

GalEcoSafe Range surfactants possess ultra-low 1,4 Dioxane levels, yet there is no hassle of reformulations or compromise on the functionality of the surfactants. The surfactants range has covered multiple consumer goods such as shampoos, hand wash, body wash, liquid laundry detergent and liquid dish wash detergents.

Galaxy surfactants have brought in the range that both complies with the NYS4389B law and optimizes various formulations without compromising on their key features such as solubility, foaming power or detergency properties. Since Galaxy surfactants offer their range of surfactants featuring lower levels of 1,4 dioxane and abide by future regulatory changes, they are considered safer than the competitive surfactants and considered more environmentally friendly and safe too.

What are the benefits manufacturers get out of these surfactants?
  • These surfactants contain lower levels of 1,4 dioxane content, hence they abide by the future regulations NYS4389B
  • This range is considered safer due to lower levels of 1,4 dioxane compound
  • They have a lower level of ecological toxicity
  • Avoids the cost of reformulations


The specialty chemical industry is striving to bring in surfactants that contain lower levels of 1,4 dioxane compounds to achieve the broader goal. Overall, the goal is to reduce the impact of the chemicals on our ecosystem, and human health and promote sustainability. Also, it is a good thing that the manufacturers are driving towards their goal either by incorporating sustainable practices or by investing in research and development.


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