Charged Surface-Active Impurities at Nanomolar Concentration Induce Jones–Ray Effect

The electrolyte surface tension exhibits a characteristic minimum around a salt concentration of 1 mM for all ion types, known as the Jones–Ray effect. We show that a consistent description of the experimental surface tension of salts, bases, and acids is possible by assuming charged impurities in the water with a surface affinity typical for surfactants. Comparison with experimental data yields an impurity concentration in the nanomolar range, well below the typical experimental detection limit. Our modeling reveals salt-screening enhanced impurity adsorption as the mechanism behind the Jones–Ray effect: for very low salt concentration added salt screens the  electrostatic repulsion between impurities at the surface, which dramatically increases impurity adsorption and thereby reduces the surface tension.