The adsorption behavior of quaternary ammonium cationic surfactants with different hydrocarbon chain lengths, i.e. HDTMA (hexadecyltrimethylammonium), TDTMA (tetradecyltrimethylammonium) and DDTMA (dodecyltrimethylammonium), onto clinoptilolite has been investigated. The adsorption isotherms of these surfactants are correlated with the ζ potential curves of clinoptilolite. Accordingly, the applicability of the hemimicelle hypothesis to the adsorption of cationic surfactants at the clinoptilolite/water interface considering in the electrical double layer (EDL) of clinoptilolite is discussed. Even though the adsorption occurs in the EDL of clinoptilolite, the adsorption of HDTMA, TDTMA and DDTMA onto clinoptilolite is not conveniently described by the hemimicelle hypothesis. The absence of all expected marked increase in the ζ potential curves at the hemimicelle concentration is ascribed to the large external cation exchange capacity of clinoptilolite. The hydrocarbon chain length of surfactant molecules is found to have a significant effect on the ion exchange as well as hydrophobic interaction mechanisms. The effectiveness of both ion exchange and hydrophobic interactions increases with increasing chain length, and so the greatest surfactant adsorption onto clinoptilolite was obtained by HDTMA.

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