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Structure and properties of organic compounds made by replacing the hydrogen of an acid with an alkyl or other organic group.

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Have You Any Wool?

Have You Any Wool?


Credit: christmasstockimages.com
Source: http://christmasstockimages.com/free/xmas-lights/slides/light_of_christmas.htm
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Waxes make up an important part of the natural world. These compounds provide protection to the plant or animal, help in waterproofing, and serve as useful materials for human purposes. Because of environmental concerns, some sources of wax are no longer available (example: spermaceti from whales), but other natural and synthetic materials can still be easily obtained.

News You Can Use

  • Waxes are a class of organic esters characterized by long carbon chains in both the carboxylic acid and the alcohol components of the ester. These lengthy carbon chains are hydrophobic, allowing the surface to repel water. Waxes are particularly important for the water-repelling properties of leaves.
  • In general, natural waxes (obtained from animal or plant sources) tend to be solids at room temperature, but will transition to the liquid state at slightly higher temperatures. The components of a given wax may include many dozens of different compounds (beeswax contains over 80 different constituents), with a wide mix of different kinds of esters.
  • Credit: JoshBerglund19
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tyrian123/1309082138/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Wax can also be used to create works of art. Wax sculptures of celebrities are quite popular [Figure2]


  • In addition to the waxes obtained from natural sources, there are a wide number of synthetic waxes available today. One group of the waxes are polyethylene waxes (usually with molecular weights of 10,000 or less). Another class (the alpha olefin waxes) derives from ethylene as the fundamental component. These waxes are widely used in a variety of lubricants and personal care products.

Show What You Know

Learn more about waxes at the links below. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What is the major commercial source of wax?
  2. How much synthetic wax was used in the U.S. in 2010?
  3. How is lanolin obtained from wool?
  4. What properties does lanolin have that protect sheep skin?
  5. What are the main constituents of beeswax?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: christmasstockimages.com; Source: http://christmasstockimages.com/free/xmas-lights/slides/light_of_christmas.htm; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: JoshBerglund19; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tyrian123/1309082138/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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