Mitochondrial dysfunction underlies many heritable diseases, acquired pathologies, and aging-related declines in health. Szeto-Schiller (SS) peptides comprise a class of amphipathic tetrapeptides that are efficacious toward a wide array of mitochondrial disorders and are believed to target mitochondrial membranes because they are enriched in the anionic phospholipid cardiolipin (CL). However, little is known regarding how SS peptides interact with or alter the physical properties of lipid bilayers. In this study, using biophysical and computational approaches, we have analyzed the interactions of the lead compound SS-31 (elamipretide) with model and mitochondrial membranes. Our results show that this polybasic peptide partitions into the membrane interfacial region with an affinity and a lipid binding density that are directly related to surface charge. We found that SS-31 binding does not destabilize lamellar bilayers even at the highest binding concentrations; however, it did cause saturable alterations in lipid packing. Most notably, SS-31 modulated the surface electrostatics of both model and mitochondrial membranes. We propose nonexclusive mechanisms by which the tuning of surface charge could underpin the mitoprotective properties of SS-31, including alteration of the distribution of ions and basic proteins at the interface, and/or modulation of bilayer physical properties. As a proof of concept, we show that SS-31 alters divalent cation (calcium) distribution within the interfacial region and reduces the energetic burden of calcium stress in mitochondria. The mechanistic details of SS-31 revealed in this study will help inform the development of future compound variants with enhanced efficacy and bioavailability.