Surfactants are nanometer and angstrom scale organic molecules that have a water-loving side and an oil-loving side of the molecule. This dual property is what makes them good at making oily type molecules more soluble in water. The oil-loving side of a surfactant molecule can associate with an oily molecule (crude oil) and the water-loving side of the surfactant molecule makes the whole thing dissolve in water better. This dual property also allows surfactants to alter wettability of certain rock formations.

Nanotechnology consistently outperforms traditional surfactant technology because of the physical/mechanical mechanisms involved. Nanoparticles are often also naturally attracted to the oil-water interface. nanoActiv® takes advantage of this tendency and employs diffusion-driven Brownian motion to wedge hydrocarbons from rock surfaces. Surfactants simply attempt to coax hydrocarbons out using a chemical effect. nanoActiv® reaches deep and uses a brute-force physical effect to drive oil from the formation.