A micelle is an aggregated unit composed of a number of molecules of a surface active material as shown in the drawing below. Micelles solubilize dirt and oils by lifting these soils off the surface and dispersing them into solution. Micelle formation enables emulsification, solubilization, and dispersion of otherwise non-compatible materials. Critical micelle concentration (CMC) is the surfactant concentration at which an appreciable number of micelles are formed and thus remove soils (see drawing below).
Critical micelle concentration (CMC) is a measure of surfactant efficiency. A lower CMC indicates less surfactant is needed to saturate interfaces and form micelles. Typical CMC values are less than 1% by weight (e.g., TRITON X-100 Surfactant has a CMC of 0.0130%). To obtain optimal cleaning performance, concentrations of 1-5% are common. This concentration is higher than that needed to achieve micelle formation; therefore, providing a reservoir of additional surfactant molecules to form micelles. These micelles solubilize and disperse soils leading to detergency. CMC values provide a valuable guideline for comparing surfactant detergency. Other formulation components and temperature may affect micelle formation.
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