The Chemistry of Membrane Cleaning


Courtesy of International Products Corporation

International Products Corporation (IPC), incorporated in 1923, manufactures specialty chemicals. IPC has over 30 years experience making and selling membrane cleaners and formulated lubricants to industry.

IPC is the proud recipient of the 2013 Environmental Innovation award by the Suppliers Partnership for the Environment.

All products are manufactured in the New Jersey headquarters and are available worldwide.

International Products Corporation is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company

The Chemistry of Membrane Cleaners Agenda

  • The Mechanism of Fouling
  • Cleaners’ Mechanisms of Action
  • Functional Groups
  • Types of Surfactants
  • Micelles
  • Formulated Cleaners
    • Types
    • Purpose of each ingredient
  • Detergency factors
  • Match cleaner to soil
  • Green Initiative

Membrane Fouling

  • Mechanisms – Membranes are negatively charged
    • Hydrophobic Attraction
  • Van der Waal forces of high MW soils create a hydrophobic attraction to negative membrane surface
    • 12 to 1 rule
      • C12 or higher and maximum of one functional group
  • Proteins, Biofilm, Natural Organic Matter (NOM), polymers
  • Electrostatic repulsion overcome by hydrophobic attraction
    • Multivalent cations attraction
  • Ca2+, Fe2+, Fe3+, Al3+, Mg2+, Si2+ . . . .
    • Salt bridges – multivalent cations allow for a denser soil layer to coat the membrane
      • Carbonates, Silica, Oxides, Sulfates, Inorganics
  • Fouling begets fouling

Cleaning Mechanism

  • Introduce functional groups to the fouling layer
    • Creates an electrostatic repulsion from the membrane surface
  • Strong enough to displace hydrophobic attraction
    • Hydrophilic in nature
    • Polarity

Functional Groups

  • Polar, charges
  • Combination of different atoms
    • Esters
    • Ethers
    • Amides
    • Amines
    • Alcohols
    • Sulfone
    • Acids
  • Combination of functional groups

Surfactant Types

  • Anionic: “An appropriate choice”
  • Nonionic: “No Problem”
  • Cationic: “Catastrophe!”


  • No formal charge
  • EO vs PO
  • Hydrophilic – Lipophilic Balance


  • Orientation of surfactant around an oil droplet
  • Suspends oil in water
  • Different types
    • o/w
    • w/o
    • o/w/o
  • CMC threshold
    • Lowest surface tension

Typical Cleaner Formulation

  • Carrier / Fillers
    • Water, sodium carbonate / sodium bicarbonate
  • Builder
    • Keeps pH buffered
    • NaOH, KOH, EDTA, citric, etc.
  • Anionic Surfactants
  • Nonionic Surfactants
  • Rust inhibitor
    • Phosphates, silicates, amines, azoles, nitrites
  • Chelants, dispersants, anti-scalants
  • Enzymes
  • Hydrotropes

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