Effective corrosion inhibition of mild steel 1030 at 0.01 M NaCl concentration was achieved by the use of the nontoxic surfactant salt cetrimonium trans-4-hydroxy-cinnamate (CTA-4OHcinn). Polarization analysis on the steel samples immersed for 24 h in the control and CTA- 4OHcinn-containing solutions shows the development of a passivation potential that is more obvious at higher inhibitor concentrations along with a maximum inhibition efficiency of 97.8%. Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) pinpoints the effect of the inhibitor on the corroding regions of the metal surface, showing an increase in the local electric resistance and conversely a decrease in the local capacitance, which indicates that the charge transfer in the corroding regions is being hindered by a deposition process. This is consistent with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images, showing the presence of a porous oxide matrix that fills localized corrosion sites on the metal surface after 24 h of immersion in a 0.01 M NaCl + 10 mM inhibitor solution. Additionally, SEM analysis also shows the formation of an organic film surrounding the defects that is able to shield chloride attack. As a result of diffusion of chloride from the defects below the protective film, filiform corrosion can be seen. Time-resolved impedance analysis over the first 120 min of immersion in the control and inhibitor solution shows that significant inhibitor protection does not take place immediately and there is a lag phase in the first 50 min of immersion, suggesting that early localized corrosion drives further adsorption of inhibitor micelles on the metal surface. This is in agreement with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) analysis, which indicates a complete surface coverage over the first 2 h of immersion in a concentrated inhibitor solution. XPS also shows the heterogeneity of the film, where some parts are poorly covered, revealing the underlying surface containing iron.