Use of surfactants for the remediation of contaminated soils: a review

J Hazard Mater. 2015 Mar 21;285:419-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2014.12.009. Epub 2014 Dec 10.


Due to the great harm caused by soil contamination, there is an increasing interest to apply surfactants to the remediation of a variety of contaminated soils worldwide. This review article summarizes the findings of recent literatures regarding remediation of contaminated soils/sites using surfactants as an enhancing agent. For the surfactant-based remedial technologies, the adsorption behaviors of surfactants onto soil, the solubilizing capability of surfactants, and the toxicity and biocompatibility of surfactants are important considerations. Surfactants can enhance desorption of pollutants from soil, and promote bioremediation of organics by increasing bioavailability of pollutants. The removal of heavy metals and radionuclides from soils involves the mechanisms of dissolution, surfactant-associated complexation, and ionic exchange. In addition to the conventional ionic and nonionic surfactants, gemini surfactants and biosurfactants are also applied to soil remediation due to their benign features like lower critical micelle concentration (CMC) values and better biocompatibility. Mixed surfactant systems and combined use of surfactants with other additives are often adopted to improve the overall performance of soil washing solution for decontamination. Worldwide the field studies and full-scale remediation using surfactant-based technologies are yet limited, however, the already known cases reveal the good prospect of applying surfactant-based technologies to soil remediation.

Keywords: Biosurfactant; Combined use; Gemini; Mechanism; Surfactant; Surfactant-based remediation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation / methods*
  • Soil Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Soil Pollutants / metabolism
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*


  • Soil Pollutants
  • Surface-Active Agents