Abstract Rheological behavior of surfactant-stabilized colloidal dispersions of silica particles under extreme conditions (low pH, high ionic strength) has been investigated in relation to interparticle forces and stability of the dispersion. The surfactant used as the dispersing agent was C12TAB, a cationic surfactant. Stability analysis through turbidity measurements indicated that there is a sharp increase in the stability of the dispersion when the surfactant concentration is in the range of 8 to 10 mM in the system. The state of the dispersion changes from an unstable regime to a stable regime above a critical concentration of C12TAB in the system. In the case of interaction forces measured between the silica substrate and AFM tip, no repulsive force was observed up to a surfactant concentration of 8 mM and a transition from no repulsive forces to steric repulsive forces occurred between 8 and 10 mM. Rheological measurements as a function of C12TAB concentration indicated a significant decrease in the viscosity and linear viscoelastic functions of the dispersion over the same range of surfactant concentration (8 to 10 mM C12TAB), showing a strong correlation between the viscosity behavior, interparticle forces, and structure development in the dispersion.