Are hydrotropes distinct from surfactants?

Langmuir. 2011 Oct 18;27(20):12346-53. doi: 10.1021/la2025846. Epub 2011 Sep 13.


The physicochemical properties of a homologous series of sodium p-n-alkylbenzoates have been investigated. The objective was to determine whether there is a clear transition point from hydrotropic to surfactant-like behavior with increasing alkyl chain length n, so as to shed clear light on the aggregation mechanism of so-called "hydrotropes". Electrical conductivity measurements were used for a first estimation of the critical aggregation concentrations (cac). As for classical surfactants, log(cac) depends on alkyl chain length n, but two branches of behavior were observed: one having a gradient typical of long chain fatty acid salts and the other with a more shallow dependence. Surface tension (γ) measurements of high purity aqueous solutions were used to generate limiting headgroup areas A(cac), which were in the range (40-50 Å(2)) being consistent with monolayer formation. Small-angle neutron scattering conclusively shows that the lower chain length homologues (classed as hydrotropes) exhibit sharp transitions in aggregation as a function of bulk concentration, typical of regular surfactants. As such, there is little to suggest from this study that hydrotropes differ in association behavior from regular surfactants.