wax

wax

[waks]
wax, substance secreted by glands on the abdomen of the bee and known commonly as beeswax; also various substances resembling beeswax. Waxes are mixtures comprising chiefly esters of monohydroxy alcohols, besides other esters and free fatty acids, free alcohols, and higher hydrocarbons. They differ from fats in that fats contain chiefly esters of glycerol. Waxes are generally harder and less greasy than fats, but like fats they are less dense than water and are soluble in alcohol and ether but not in water. Among the waxes derived from plants are carnauba wax, obtained from the leaves of a palm grown in Brazil, and candelilla wax, produced by a Mexican plant (Euphorbia antisyphilitica). Those of animal origin include wool wax, or lanolin, obtained from the surface of wool fibers and used in making certain creams, ointments, and soaps, in the processes of finishing and softening leather, and as an ingredient of some paints and varnishes; spermaceti, obtained from the sperm whale, and Chinese wax, which is deposited on certain trees in parts of Asia (especially China and India) by a species of scale insect. Mineral waxes include ozocerite and paraffin, both composed of hydrocarbons. Japan wax and bayberry (or myrtle) wax are composed chiefly of fats.

See L. Roth and J. Weiner, Waxes, Waxing and Wax Modifiers (1961); H. Bennett, Industrial Waxes (2 vol., 1963); P. E. Kolattukudy, ed., Chemistry and Biochemistry of Natural Waxes (1976).

Wax has traditionally referred to a substance that is secreted by bees (beeswax) and used by them in constructing their honeycombs.

It is an imprecisely defined term generally understood to be a substance with properties similar to beeswax, namely

Waxes may be natural secretions of plants or animals, artificially produced by purification from natural petroleum or completely synthetic. In addition to beeswax, carnauba (a plant epicuticular wax) and paraffin (a petroleum wax) are commonly encountered waxes which occur naturally. Earwax is an oily substance found in the human ear. Some artificial materials such as silicone wax that exhibit similar properties are also described as wax or waxy.

Wax chemistry

Chemically, a wax is a type of lipid that may contain a wide variety of long-chain alkanes, esters, polyesters and hydroxy esters of long-chain primary alcohols and fatty acids. They are usually distinguished from fats by the lack of triglyceride esters of glycerin (propan-1,2,3-triol) and three fatty acids. In addition to the esters that contribute to the high melting point and hardness of carnauba wax, the epicuticular waxes of plants are mixtures of substituted long-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons, containing alkanes, fatty acids, primary and secondary alcohols, diols, ketones, aldehydes. Paraffin waxes are hydrocarbons, mixtures of alkanes usually in a homologous series of chain lengths.

Uses of wax

Waxes are used to impregnate and coat paper and card, to waterproof it or make it resistant to staining, or to modify its surface properties. Waxes are also used in wax polishes for furniture and other wood products, footwear and vehicles, as mold release agents in mold making, as a coating for Edam and Gouda cheeses, and to waterproof leather and fabric. Wax has been used since antiquity as a temporary, removable model in lost-wax casting of gold, silver and other materials. Waxes and hard fats such as tallow have long been use to make candles, used for lighting and decoration in a number of religious traditions, including Christianity and Hinduism. Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which centers on the lighting of candles, dates back to 165 BC. There are several Biblical references to candles, and the Emperor Constantine is reported to have called for the use of candles during an Easter service in the 4th century AD. Candles continue to be used to by Christians in worship as symbols of the light of Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, beeswax candles are used, since a colony of bees is a celibate sisterhood with a single mother. Candles have also played a role in paganism, in Wiccan ceremonies, and in modern humanist festivals. Wax candles were also used in secular life for lighting, signals in warfare, safety in travel and for time keeping, and are still in popular use today to provide soft lighting for meals and other social activities. Wax with colored pigments added has been used as a medium in encaustic painting, and is used today in the manufacture of crayons and colored pencils. Carbon paper, used for making duplicate typewritten documents was coated with carbon black suspended in wax, typically montan wax, but has largely been superseded by photocopiers and computer printers. In another context, lipstick and mascara are blends of various fats and waxes colored with pigments, and both beeswax and lanolin are used in other cosmetics. Also, the sports of surfing, skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding often use wax to enhance the performance.

Wax types

Animal waxes

Vegetable waxes

Mineral waxes

Petroleum waxes

Synthetic waxes

References

External links

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