Renewable Farming

Free test you can use to choose a surfactant with superior “wetting” power

The agricultural market is jammed with hundreds of products called surfactants. Their main job is to allow spray materials to smoothly coat leaves of the target plant, rather than forming rounded droplets on the leaf.

Some spray adjuvants are described as “stickers,” which add adhesion to the spray mix. Methylated seed oil (MSO) is an example; it’s the main ingredient in a wide array of spray adjuvants. Their purpose is to hold the payload of chemicals or nutrients on the leaf surface longer.

Here’s a quick test of competing surfactants which you can perform at almost zero cost in your shop, or even in your kitchen. It measures just one aspect of what WakeUP does for your spray mix: How much it drops the surface tension of water.

Keep in mind that WakeUP is also a leaf cleanser that softens the waxy cuticle for quick entry of nutrients in the foliar blend. And inside the leaves and stems, it’s a carrier which helps pump nutrients and sugars through the phloem system. 

But if you’re just comparing surface tension reduction capability among surfactants, all you need is some 8-ounce jars or other small jars or cups, paper towels and water — plus the products you want to compare.

The photo here shows how a paper towel folded and stapled allows water to wick up and out of a full 8-ounce jar, then down so it drips off the wick into a jar below.   E-mail us with any questions; see our “contact us” links from the home page.

To download a 2-page PDF description showing you step-by-step exactly how to perform this test…  click on this link.


Test setup for checking capillary action rates

Here’s the physical principle at work: Reducing the surface tension of water also sharply reduces its ability to move by capillary action.

Thus the treatment which exhibits the slowest capillary action has the greatest degree of surface tension reduction

One measure of water’s surface tension is expressed in “dynes.” Normal water has a surface tension of 70 dynes. That’s strong enough to make water form dewdrops on a leaf in a cool morning. It’s strong enough to make spray solutions do the same, which reduces the leaf area available for absorbing spray materials.

Adding one ounce of WakeUP Summer to two gallons of water (a 1:256 ratio) will drop the surface tension of the mixture to about 30 dynes. That’s so low that when a spray droplet hits a leaf, the droplet spreads out smoothly and clear-coats the leaf instead of beading up. Which is what you want to see. 

In the test apparatus above, eight ounces of ordinary well water wicked through the paper towel in about two and a half hours. So the top jar was empty, the bottom jar held about 7 ounces and the rest was still saturating the paper towel “wick.”

In the middle jar at top, we mixed a 1:256 ratio of a widely used surfactant in 8 ounces of water. The red bar shows how much actually transferred: about three ounces had dripped into the bottom jar and the wick still held an ounce.

WakeUP Summer at 1:256 in the top right jar “lost the ketchup race” (If you’re old enough to remember the Heinz ketchup commercial). Capillary action was constrained by the drastic reduction of surface tension in the water. The water molecules lacked what physicists call “intermolecular attraction.” But Wakeup didn’t “lose the race”! The test proves it won this race.

Capillary action has been observed and scientifically described since the 1600s.  Leonardo da Vinci wrote about it. Albert Einstein’s first scientific paper described capillary action. Wikipedia has a decent description of it, but we haven’t seen a precise answer to how the xylem tubes in tall trees can move thousands of gallons of water up hundreds of feet in defiance of gravity.  Nowhere have we seen a detailed scientific explanation of the ionic attractions and repulsions, or measures of the values that drive capillary action.

What we do know is that WakeUP is exceptional among ag surfactants because it creates “micelles” or clusters of water molecules.  These clusters behave like tiny liquid ball bearings, each with a negative exterior which repels its neighbor. An ordinary H20 (water) molecule has a positive end and a negative end. Since opposites attract, water “sticks together.” This is especially visible on the surface of water, thus the term “surface tension.” 

In the top right jar in our photo of the three-jar experiment, you can see that the water laced with a bit of WakeUP Summer looks milky. This shows billions of “micelles” circulating; they reflect light rather than being transparent like ordinary water.  Such water molecular structures don’t stick to each other, and they have a reduced tendency to adhere to the walls of a container surface or a wick, like the paper towel.  Usually when we run a test like this, we add a few drops of food coloring to the water to make the levels easier to see. We left out the food coloring for this demonstration because we wanted to show you how WakeUP makes water look milky. 


WakeUP colloidal micelle

Each colloid in WakeUP concentrate is around one-billionth of a meter in size, or one “nanometer.” A water molecule is 0.275 nanometers, which allows water to move through extremely tiny tubules in plant cells and circulation systems. Each negatively charged WakeUP colloid attracts the positive ends of many water molecules, leaving the negative posteriors of water molecules sticking out. Each micelle is hungry to grab hydrocarbons or metals, so the micelle becomes a cleaner and softener of waxy leaf surfaces and a carrier for nutrients.

Beyond that basic description, the physics of surface tension and capillary action spirals away into quantum physics, which apparently fascinated Einstein but is way outside our pay grade. We can’t explain, for example, why “WakeUP water” with low surface tension actually migrates more readily through soil. We’ve measured that. Or how it helps new seedling roots absorb nutrients more quickly.  Nor can we explain why it quickly clear-coats leaves with a glossy sheen regardless of droplet size.  It just does.

So we encourage you to do a kitchen experiment, or a shop experiment if the kitchen is off limits. Test any commercial surfactant against raw water, and against WakeUP Summer

The real trial, naturally, is out in the field. That’s why we’ve taken tissue tests for many years, measuring WakeUP’s ability to transfer nutrients and crop protection products into the leaves.  So far, WakeUP Summer has always outperformed other commercial surfactants we’ve compared.