Stearic acid is prepared by treating animal fat with water at a
high pressure and temperature, leading to the hydrolysis of
triglycerides. It can also be obtained from the hydrogenation of
some unsaturated vegetable oils. Common stearic acid is actually a
mix of stearic acid and palmitic acid, although purified stearic
acid is available separately.
Stearic acid is useful as an ingredient in making candles,
plastics, dietary supplements, oil pastels and cosmetics, and for
softening rubber. It is used to harden soaps, particularly those
made with vegetable oil. Stearic acid is used in aerosol shaving
Stearic acid is also used as a parting compound when making
plaster castings from a plaster piece mold or waste mold and when
making the mold from a shellacked clay original. In this use,
powdered stearic acid is dissolved in water and the solution is
brushed onto the surface to be parted after casting. This reacts
with the calcium in the plaster to form a thin layer of calcium
stearate which functions as a release agent.
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