Anionic and cationic alkyl-chain effects on the self-aggregation of both neat and aqueous solutions of 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium alkylsulfonate salts ([C(n)H(2n+ 1)mim][CmH2m+1SO3]; n = 8, 10 or 12; m = 1 and n = 4 or 8; m = 4 or 8) have been investigated. Some of these salts constitute a novel family of pure catanionic surfactants in aqueous solution. Examples of this class of materials are rare; they are distinct from both mixed cationic-anionic surfactants (obtained by mixing two salts) and gemini surfactants (with two or more amphiphilic groups bound by a covalent linker). Fluorescence spectroscopy and interfacial tension measurements have been used to determine critical micelle concentrations (CMCs), surface activity, and to compare the effects of the alkyl-substitution patterns in both the cation and anion on the surfactant properties of these salts. With relatively small methylsulfonate anions (n = 8, 10 and 12, m = 1), the salts behave as conventional single chain cationic surfactants, showing a decrease of the CMC upon increase of the alkyl chain length (n) in the cation. When the amphiphilic character is present in both the cation and anion (n = 4 and 8, m = 4 and 8), novel catanionic surfactants with CMC values lower than those of the corresponding cationic analogues, and which exhibited an unanticipated enhanced reduction of surface tension, were obtained. In addition, the thermotropic phase behaviour of [C(8)H(18)mim][C8H18SO3] (n = m = 8) was investigated using variable temperature X-ray scattering, polarising optical microscopy and differential scanning calorimetry; formation of a smectic liquid crystalline phase with a broad temperature range was observed.