Triethanolamine, often abbreviated as TEA, is a viscous organic compound that is both a tertiary amine and a triol. A triol is a molecule with three alcohol groups. Triethanolamine is a strong base. Triethanolamine can also be abbreviated as TEOA, which can help to distinguish it from triethylamine. It is a colourless compound although samples may appear yellow because of impurities.
Triethanolamine is used primarily as an emulsifier and surfactant. It is a common ingredient in formulations used for both industrial and consumer products. The triethanolamine neutralizes fatty acids, adjusts and buffers the pH, and solubilises oils and other ingredients that are not completely soluble in water. Some common products in which triethanolamine is found are liquid laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids, general cleaners, hand cleaners, polishes, metalworking fluids, paints, shaving cream and printing inks.