In this study, the adsorption mechanism of cethyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB), a cationic surfactant, onto powdered active carbon (PAC) from aqueous solution was investigated and also some thermodynamic quantities such as isosteric adsorption enthalpy and entropy for this system were determined. In addition, the mechanistic and thermodynamic results of the experiments were supported with the surface zeta potential measurements. It was found that 5 min is sufficient in order to reach adsorption equilibrium. The adsorption of CTAB onto active carbon/water interface mainly takes place through ion exchange, the ion pairing and hydrophobic bonding. The predominant mechanisms in the lower CTAB concentrations are probably ion exchange and ion pairing. The hydrophobic bonding mechanism predominates with the increasing CTAB concentration. It was determined that the signs of isosteric adsorption enthalpy (DeltaH(zeta)) and isosteric adsorption entropy (DeltaS(zeta)) for adsorption of CTAB onto PAC are negative and positive, respectively. As temperature increases, the amount of CTAB adsorbed is decreased indicating the exothermic nature of adsorption process. This decreasing verifies the negative sign expected of (DeltaH(ads))(zeta). As a result of the adsorption, since the number of the water molecules surrounding the hydrocarbon tails of CTAB molecules decreases and thus the degree of freedom of the water molecules increases, the positive sign of (DeltaS(ads))(zeta) points out the hydrophobic bonding mechanisms. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.