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Chemical structure of liquid paraffin

Updated February 21, 2017

Liquid paraffin, used commonly in medical and industrial applications, consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon chains rather than a single type of molecule. It also goes by the names mineral oil and paraffin oil.

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According to a 1972 "Chemistry and Technology of Fuels and Oils" article, mineral oil, or liquid paraffin, consists of a mixture of alkanes. This term refers to a subgroup of hydrocarbons. Alkanes consist solely of single-bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms. Some alkanes in liquid paraffin have a straight chain shape; others have more than one branch in their molecular structure, making them isoalkanes.


Liquid paraffin burns easily and serves as a lamp oil, the Artists Resource for Fire website states. Drugstores sell mineral oil over the counter as a laxative; the same variety makes a good medium for preparing samples in infrared spectroscopy, according to 2004 articles in the "Internet Journal of Vibrational Spectroscopy."

Molecular Size Effects

The alkanes' large molecular size makes liquid paraffin less volatile than other alkane mixtures such as gasoline, according to a Brigham Young University website information on vapour-liquid equilibria. Therefore, paraffin oil has little odour because the particles do not evaporate easily.

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About the Author

Eri Luxton

Eri Luxton holds a B.A. in liberal arts, an M.F.A. in creative writing, a first aid certification and a biomedical ethics certificate. She has worked as an English teacher overseas and as a local volunteer in first aid and in technology troubleshooting. Luxton mentors students in chemistry and physics while studying toward a pre-health sciences degree.

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