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 cream products.
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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