It is well established in the physical sciences that the adsorption of a monolayer of certain surfactants onto the surface of a synthetic membrane used for ultrafiltration can greatly modify its permeability to water and its ability to transmit small solute molecules and ions of physiological interest. In this hypothesis, it is proposed that, when indigenous surfactant is adsorbed to certain membranes in the body, it can similarly modify their permeability. Since adsorption can be a rapidly reversible process, this would provide a simple physical means of controlling the overall level of physiological activity of the membrane and, possibly, an additional means of differentiating membranes according to function. The hypothesis raises many questions concerning its applicability to the general structure of biological membranes, the nature of the surfactant, its ability to adsorb to solid surfaces and the reasons why such a coating may have been missed. There are then the questions of which membranes might benefit most and what happens if the coating is too sparse or is removed unintentionally.