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5. How Do Dispersants Work?

Dispersants work much like the detergent soap that you use to clean grease from your dishes (but dispersants are less toxic). They contain molecules with a water-compatible ("hydrophilic") end and an oil-compatible ("lipophilic") end. These molecules attach to the oil, reducing the interfacial tension between oil and water, breaking up the oil slick, as shown below.

Diagram: Oil droplets are surrounded by dispersant modecules.
Last updated Tuesday, May 29, 2012 10:41am PDT