Jump to main content
Jump to site search
Access to RSC content Close the message box

Continue to access RSC content when you are not at your institution. Follow our step-by-step guide.

Issue 15, 2014
Previous Article Next Article

Polyelectrolyte adsorption, interparticle forces, and colloidal aggregation

Author affiliations


This review summarizes the current understanding of adsorption of polyelectrolytes to oppositely charged solid substrates, the resulting interaction forces between such substrates, and consequences for colloidal particle aggregation. The following conclusions can be reached based on experimental findings. Polyelectrolytes adsorb to oppositely charged solid substrates irreversibly up to saturation, whereby loose and thin monolayers are formed. The adsorbed polyelectrolytes normally carry a substantial amount of charge, which leads to a charge reversal. Frequently, the adsorbed films are laterally heterogeneous. With increasing salt levels, the adsorbed mass increases leading to thicker and more homogeneous films. Interaction forces between surfaces coated with saturated polyelectrolyte layers are governed at low salt levels by repulsive electric double layer interactions, and particle suspensions are stable under these conditions. At appropriately high salt levels, the forces become attractive, principally due to van der Waals interactions, but eventually also through other forces, and suspensions become unstable. This situation can be rationalized with the classical theory of Derjaguin, Landau, Verwey, and Overbeek (DLVO). Due to the irreversible nature of the adsorption process, stable unsaturated layers form in colloidal particle suspensions at lower polyelectrolyte doses. An unsaturated polyelectrolyte layer can neutralize the overall particle surface charge. Away from the charge reversal point, electric double layer forces are dominant and particle suspensions are stable. As the charge reversal point is approached, attractive van der Waals forces become important, and particle suspensions become unstable. This behaviour is again in line with the DLVO theory, which may even apply quantitatively, provided the polyelectrolyte films are sufficiently laterally homogeneous. For heterogeneous films, additional attractive patch–charge interactions may become important. Depletion interactions may also lead to attractive forces and suspension destabilization, but such interactions become important only at high polyelectrolyte concentrations.

Graphical abstract: Polyelectrolyte adsorption, interparticle forces, and colloidal aggregation

Back to tab navigation

Article information

08 Aug 2013
15 Jan 2014
First published
15 Jan 2014

This article is Open Access

Soft Matter, 2014,10, 2479-2502
Article type
Review Article

Polyelectrolyte adsorption, interparticle forces, and colloidal aggregation

I. Szilagyi, G. Trefalt, A. Tiraferri, P. Maroni and M. Borkovec, Soft Matter, 2014, 10, 2479
DOI: 10.1039/C3SM52132J

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported Licence. Material from this article can be used in other publications provided that the correct acknowledgement is given with the reproduced material and it is not used for commercial purposes.

Reproduced material should be attributed as follows:

  • For reproduction of material from NJC:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) on behalf of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the RSC.
  • For reproduction of material from PCCP:
    [Original citation] - Published by the PCCP Owner Societies.
  • For reproduction of material from PPS:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) on behalf of the European Society for Photobiology, the European Photochemistry Association, and RSC.
  • For reproduction of material from all other RSC journals:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Information about reproducing material from RSC articles with different licences is available on our Permission Requests page.

Social activity

Search articles by author