Modification of surface characteristics of solids using surfactants has practical implications in industrial and environmental applications. Extensive research has been conducted to explore the mechanism of surfactant sorption to different solid surfaces. However, a clear understanding yet to be found especially for heterogeneous surfaces in which pores and structure show local differences. The main objective of this study was to determine the effects of ions on the surface potential of surface modified activated carbon. In order to achieve the objective, anionic and cationic surfactants were selected and adsorptions of these surfactants to powdered activated carbon (PAC) were investigated. Then, zeta potential measurements were conducted for the surface modified PAC and finally, the effects of mono- and di-valent anions and cations on the zeta potentials of PAC surface were investigated. The results showed that even at very low cetyl trimethyl ammonium bromide (CTAB) concentrations charge reversal was observed and substantial increase was observed in zeta potential. However, linearalkyl benzene sulfonate (LABS) showed somewhat gradual decrease in zeta potential, reaching maximum when maximum sorption capacity was attained. Presence of anions in addition to CTAB effected the change of zeta potential. Similar effects were also observed for LABS modified PAC in the presence of mono- and di-valent cations. The change of zeta potential of with the valance of cations and anions were linear. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.