The magnetic soap that cleans up oil spills

  • Bristol University has developed a soap that could be used to treat oil spills in the future, using a unique magnetic property. The soap (composed of iron rich salts) dissolves in water, and responds to a magnetic field when placed in solution which allows it to be controlled by magnets.
  • This test shows that it is much easier to remove magnetic soaps from mixtures of other liquids, suggesting they could be used in response to environmental disasters such as oil spills, where concerns have been raised about the cleaning substances in use. A magnetic soap could easily be collected after cleaning, reducing the environmental impact.
  • The potential applications of magnetic surfactants are huge. Their responsiveness to external stimuli allows a range of properties, such as their electrical conductivity, melting point, the size and shape of aggregates and how readily it dissolves in water to be altered by a simple magnetic on and off switch.

Its magnetic properties also make it easier to round up and remove from a system once it has been added, suggesting further applications in environmental clean ups and water treatment.

For more information, visit:;;

About Joao Delgado

Joao is a Research Fellow in Futures Research and leads on medium-large scale futures projects at CERF. Amongst other projects, he has led the development of scenarios for the future of river basin management for the Environment Agency. His professional interests include veterinary science, epidemiology, risk and systems thinking.
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