Evidence is reviewed that demonstrates how the mesothelial cell in the normal peritoneum and comparable serosal cavities secretes surface-active phospholipid (SAPL) as a means of protecting itself and the membrane it forms with its neighbors. It is shown how SAPL, if adsorbed (reversibly bound) to mesothelium, can impart excellent lubricity, antiwear and release (antistick) properties, while impeding surgical adhesion formation. More-speculative benefits include acting as a deterrent to fibrosis and as a barrier to both protein leakage and pathogen invasion by spanning cell junctions. Such spanning would also pin down cell corners, impeding peeling as the first step in exfoliation encountered in prolonged continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). The molecular mechanism underlying each of these possible functions is adsorption. Morphological and hydrophobicity studies are discussed as validation for such an adsorbed lining and how it can be fortified by administering exogenous SAPL. Any role for SAPL in ultrafiltration is much more controversial. However, a surfactant lining can explain the very high permeability of the membrane to lipid-soluble drugs, implying that it is a barrier to water-soluble solutes. The clinical and animal evidence is conflicting but would seem to be best explained by a role for the barrier in promoting semipermeability, and hence the osmotic driving force for water transmission. Thus, adsorption of exogenous SAPL in CAPD patients with low ultrafiltration seems to restore this barrier function. The future direction for surfactant in CAPD would seem to rest with the physical chemists in producing formulations that optimize adsorption, probably involving a compromise between water solubility and surface activity of the phospholipids selected. It might even warrant using the interdialytic interval for re-adsorbing SAPL without the problem of dilution by a large volume of dialysate.