Thin-film composite polyamide membranes are state-of-the-art materials for membrane-based water purification and desalination processes, which require both high rejection of contaminants and high water permeabilities. However, these membranes are prone to fouling when processing natural waters and wastewaters, because of the inherent surface physicochemical properties of polyamides. The present work demonstrates the fabrication of forward osmosis polyamide membranes with optimized surface properties via facile and scalable functionalization with fine-tuned nanoparticles. Silica nanoparticles are coated with superhydrophilic ligands possessing functional groups that impart stability to the nanoparticles and bind irreversibly to the native carboxyl moieties on the membrane selective layer. The tightly tethered layer of nanoparticles tailors the surface chemistry of the novel composite membrane without altering the morphology or water/solute permeabilities of the membrane selective layer. Surface characterization and interfacial energy analysis confirm that highly hydrophilic and wettable membrane surfaces are successfully attained. Lower intermolecular adhesion forces are measured between the new membrane materials and model organic foulants, indicating the presence of a bound hydration layer at the polyamide membrane surface that creates a barrier for foulant adhesion. © 2012 American Chemical Society.