Effect of drinking water salt content on the interaction between surfactants and bacteria

Nimrod Shteindel, Alon Silberbush, Yoram Gerchman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) is a common surfactant used in various hygienic products. Its interactions with bacteria were studied previously, but the three-way interaction between surfactants, bacteria, and dissolved salts in the context of bacterial adhesion has not been studied. Here, we examined the combined effects of SDS (at concentrations typical of everyday hygienic activities) and salts, sodium chloride, and calcium chloride (at concentrations typically found in tap water) on the adhesion behavior of the common opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We found that bacterial adhesion in the absence of SDS was dependent on the cation concentration rather than the total ionic strength and that combined treatment with several millimolar NaCl and SDS can increase bacterial adhesion. The addition of low concentrations of SDS (2 mM) to tens to hundreds millimolar concentrations of NaCl, typical of systems that suffer seawater incursion, reduced bacterial adhesion dramatically. Combined treatment with Ca +2 (in concentrations typical of those found in hard water) and SDS produced a small increase in total adhesion but a dramatic increase in the strength of adhesion. We conclude that the type and concentration of salts in water can have a considerable effect on the efficacy of soap in reducing bacterial adhesion and should be taken under consideration in critical applications. IMPORTANCE Surface-adhering bacteria are a reoccurring problem in many settings, including households, municipal water systems, food production facilities, and hospitals. Surfactants, and specifically sodium dodecyl sulfate (also known as SDS/SLS), are commonly used to remove bacterial contamination, but data regarding the interaction of SDS with bacteria and especially the effects of water-dissolved salts on this interaction are lacking. Here, we show that calcium and sodium ions can dramatically affect the efficacy of SDS on bacterial adhesion behavior and conclude that salt concentrations and ion species in the water supply should be considered in SDS applications.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Society for Microbiology. All rights reserved.


  • Bacteria
  • Drinking Water
  • Salts
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate/pharmacology
  • Surface-Active Agents/pharmacology


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