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How is SLES manufactured?

2 min read

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) widely utilized in the formulation of personal care products, detergents, and industrial cleaners, SLES stands as a testament to the intricate processes underlying modern chemical synthesis.

Raw Material for SLES

The primary raw materials for SLES production are fatty alcohols and ethylene oxide. Fatty alcohols are obtained from natural sources such as coconut oil or palm oil and are typically in the form of fatty alcohol ethoxylates. Ethylene oxide is produced from ethylene through a process called ethoxylation.

Ethoxylation of Fatty Alcohols

In this step, ethylene oxide is reacted with fatty alcohols in the presence of a catalyst to form ethoxylated fatty alcohols. Ethoxylation involves the addition of ethylene oxide molecules to the fatty alcohol chain, resulting in a product with a chain of ethylene oxide units attached to the alcohol molecule.

Sulphonation of Ethoxylated Fatty Alcohols

The ethoxylated fatty alcohols are then sulfated to produce SLES. Sulfation typically involves the reaction of ethoxylated fatty alcohols with sulfur trioxide (SO3) or chlorosulfonic acid (HSO3Cl) in the presence of a catalyst. This reaction introduces a sulfate group (-OSO3H) onto the molecule, converting it into SLES.

Neutralization to get SLES

The sulfated product is acidic due to the presence of sulfate groups. To make it suitable for use in personal care and cleaning products, the acidic product is neutralized with a base, usually sodium hydroxide (NaOH). This neutralization reaction converts the acidic sulfate groups into the sodium salt form, resulting in the formation of SLES.

By following these steps, manufacturers can produce high-quality SLES suitable for use in various personal care and cleaning products.

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