What is a Surfactant?

In agriculture, surfactants (short for “surface-acting agents”) help farmers use herbicides (aka “weed killers”) more efficiently. Surfactants help by reducing the surface tension of water, and since herbicide sprays are mostly water, this keeps the spray on the targeted weed rather than rolling off onto the soil.

Surfactants are also used in personal-care and household cleaning products. For example, surfactants found in shampoos reduce the surface tension of water to help it spread and move around our hair. Similar substances are often used in organic gardening to help penetrate the waxy layer of plants and cause the plant to dehydrate and die.

Most glyphosate-based herbicides, like Roundup brand products, primarily contain three components – the active ingredient, water and a surfactant blend. The safety of each labeled use of a pesticide formulation must be evaluated and approved by regulatory authorities, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), before it is authorized for sale.

Glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup-brand formulated products with surfactants, all have a long history of safe use and do not pose any unreasonable risk to human health when used according to label directions.

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