Atmospheric aerosols often contain surface active organics. We study the influence of these surfactants on predictions of particle cloud activation potential and aerosol indirect climate effects, by implementing different parametrizations of surfactant effects in the global circulation model ECHAM5.5–HAM2. A parametrization based only on droplet surface tension reduction produces significantly larger effects on predicted cloud droplet numbers than novel parametrizations based on detailed considerations of organic surface activity. It seems better to disregard surfactant effects altogether than employing parametrizations accounting only for effects on surface tension. We strongly recommend not using only the surface tension reduction to represent the surfactant effects in climate models.