Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil Surfactant: Is it Actually That Good?

Have you ever wondered how can any kind of cleaning product be able to remove dirt from a surface or out of your skin, or clean your oily scalp? It is because of surfactant. Surfactant helps separate oil and dirt from clothes, skin, hair, or others. As the result, those oil and dirt will be rinseable with water.

Surfactants can be made from petroleum or plant-based oil like coconut oil, avocado oil, palm oil, and almond oil. We can see that people nowadays are adopting plant-based chemical due to recent eco-awareness. That is why coconut oil, as well as other plant-based oils, is ready to replace petrochemical materials to make surfactant.


In 2022, the global market size of coconut oil-based surfactants was US$ 1.8 billion. However, with the recent demand for surfactants made out of natural ingredients, that number is predicted to be increased up to US$ 3.3 billion in 2032. That number is so low compared to the overall global surfactant market, which is almost US$ 40 billion.

Coconut oil in soap making has been known to give many benefits including making this important substance which further proves its beneficial status. Afterall, coconut oil derivatives are widely used in the personal care industry as surfactant. First of all, however, let us learn about surfactants.

What are the 4 types of surfactant?

Four soaps

Based on the chemical structure, specifically the polarity of the head, a surfactant is divided into four types.



The most common type of surfactant, anionic is the one having a negative polar charge on the head. Anionic surfactants can be found anywhere in everyday products such as soap, detergent, shampoo, and toothpaste. Thanks to its ability to clean better than other types, anionic is the most common type despite its harsh characteristics.


household cleaner

Unlike the previous type, nonionic surfactants can clean without causing harm as there is not any polar charge on their heads. Surfactants made of coconut oil is included in this category. Household cleaners are those using nonionic surfactants.



One clear feature of cationic surfactants is that there is little to no foam produced during the cleaning process. This type of surfactant has a positive polar charge and can be found in a hair care product like a conditioner as well as fabric softeners.


Eye cornea

The last type of surfactant contains anionic and cationic parts, so the polar charge of amphoteric surfactants’ heads can be positive or negative. Because of the flexibility, amphoteric can be combined with the other types of surfactants. Contact lens solution is an example of a product using amphoteric surfactants.

Can oil be a surfactant?

Yes, oil can be a surfactant as all surfactant is made of fat or oil. To produce surfactants, the most commonly used raw materials are petroleum and plant-based oil. Petroleum-based surfactants cost less than their counterparts, but plant-based surfactants are better for the environment and for their users.

Nowadays, the use of plant derived cleaning products is increasing due to the eco-awareness growth. Those eco-friendly products are the results of processed plant-based surfactants. The surfactants themselves are made from plant-based oil like palm oil, avocado oil, almond oil, castor oil, and coconut oil.

Coconut oil, good for homemade coconut oil soap, contains fat, which is the thing being processed into surfactant. That means surfactant is basically made out of fat. Because of that, there are also animal-based surfactants which are processed from animal fat.

Coconut Oil Based Surfactants

Several surfactants are derived from coconut oil, and they are commonly referred to as “cocamidopropyl” compounds. These surfactants are widely used in the cosmetic, personal care, and household cleaning product industries. Some common surfactants derived from coconut oil include:

  1. Cocamidopropyl Betaine: It is a widely used amphoteric surfactant that provides good foaming and cleaning properties. It is often used in shampoos, body washes, and liquid soap.
  2. Cocamide MEA (Cocamide Monoethanolamine): This surfactant is used as a thickening agent and foam booster in various personal care products.
  3. Cocamide DEA (Cocamide Diethanolamine): It is a foam stabilizer and viscosity builder used in shampoos, body washes, and other cosmetic products.
  4. Coco Glucoside: It is a gentle, non-ionic surfactant derived from coconut oil and glucose. It is often used in baby care products and other mild formulations.
  5. Decyl Glucoside: Another non-ionic surfactant derived from coconut oil and glucose, commonly used in natural and sulfate-free formulations.
  6. Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI): It is a mild anionic surfactant used in solid and syndet bars, shampoos, and facial cleansers.
  7. Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate: An anionic surfactant derived from coconut oil that provides mild cleansing and foaming properties.

These are just a few examples of coconut oil-based surfactants.

Is sodium coco sulfate the same as SLS?

No, but both are surfactants derived from coconut oil. The difference is their fatty acid raw material.

Coconut oil contains several fatty acids namely caprylic acid, capric acid, lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid. Lauric acid is the most abundant fatty acid in coconut oil, at about 44%-51% of the oil.

SLS is made from only lauric acid, after it has been isolated from the rest of coconut oil’s fatty acids through the fractionation process. On the other hand, sodium coco sulfate is made from the whole coconut oil, all fatty acids blended together.

Is coconut oil safe for clothes?


Any kind of detergent needs surfactants, and coconut oil is one of the raw materials that can be used as their base. It is clear that coconut oil has a great cleaning ability. The oil also contains antifungal and antibacterial properties, so it is great to be used as a detergent’s surfactant.

Surfactants made of coconut oil can be used to replace conventional surfactant made by petrochemical substance. Detergent with coconut oil surfactant will not cause any harm to all kinds of materials and fabrics. This kind of detergent is good for both natural and synthetic fibers, and it also will not damage the colors of the clothes.

Is coconut oil good in laundry detergent?


Yes, coconut oil is a good raw material for quality laundry detergent that has minimized impact to the environment. Then, here are the advantages of coconut oil for laundry detergent:

Naturally remove stains

Stains on fabric

Surfactants made of the plant derived oil including coconut oil are able to naturally lift up stains on fabric with ease. Despite its natural characteristic, coconut oil based detergent is not weaker or less clean than the conventional petrochemical or mineral oil based detergent.

No harsh chemicals needed

Obviously, coconut oil is not the only material used to make a detergent. However, any harsh chemicals are not needed for such detergent. As the result, coconut oil detergents are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. They are also felt good on human skin without irritating it.

Not only natural and good for the environment but coconut is also a relatively more renewable resource than petrochemical or mineral oil. As surfactant always ends up in ocean where marine animals will consume it, the growing mass realization of the importance of plant derived surfactants causes the high demand for coconut oil.

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