Until recently, the rapid time scales associated with the formation of an adsorbed surfactant layer at the solid-aqueous interface has prevented accurate investigation of adsorption kinetics. This has led to the mechanism of surfactant adsorption being inferred from thermodynamic data. These explanations have been further hampered by a poor knowledge of the equilibrium adsorbed surfactant morphology, with the structure often misinterpreted as simple monolayers or bilayers, rather than the discrete surface aggregates that are present in many surfactant-substrate systems. This review aims to link accepted equilibrium data with more recent kinetic and structural information in order to describe the adsorption process for ionic surfactants. Traditional equilibrium data, such as adsorption isotherms obtained from depletion approaches, and the most popular methods by which these data are interpreted are examined. This is followed by a description of the evidence for discrete aggregation on the substrate, and the morphology of these aggregates. Information gained using techniques such as atomic force microscopy, fluorescence quenching and neutron reflectivity is then reviewed. With this knowledge, the kinetic data obtained from relatively new techniques with high temporal resolution, such as ellipsometry and optical reflectometry, are examined. On this basis the likely mechanisms of adsorption are proposed.