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It Does What? 8 Secrets About Alum | The Stray Whisker

Posted by Con Kazantzidis on

Contrary to popular belief, alum or potassium alum, has been around and in use for centuries. Gaius Plinius Secundus, otherwise know as Pliny the Elder, outlines in his most extant and voluminous tome, The Natural History, no less than thirty eight, yes 38 remedies using alum!

Evidently the only affliction alum could not remedy was survival from a volcanic eruption which was what ultimately took poor old Pliny's life. He perished in one of the most famous, or infamous, historic volcanic eruptions whilst trying to save a friend from Mount Vesuvius. 


But I digress!


Rather than put you through the laborious task of outlining all 38 remedies and applications attributed to alum, I have for the sake of brevity and relevance decided to briefly discuss 8 "modern" uses of alum.


1. Industrial Use

Alum and its various mineral derivatives have been used as dye fixatives in the textile industry since the early Middle Ages.

Industry has made extensive use of alum as both a water purifier and metal flocculant. Flocculants are substances which promote the clumping of particles, especially one used in treating waste water.

2. Cosmetic and Wet-shaving Use

Most alum blocks are used as astringents and as an adjunct to styptic or haemostatic agents. Alum has very effective antibacterial and antiperspirant properties and is used as a "natural alternative" to canned products.

Alum may also be used to groom and train a moustache in the absence of mo-wax and other hair styling agents or pomades. 

Check out the video below.

3. Flame Retardant

In 450 BC, Egyptians used alum to reduce the flammability of wood. Romans fire-proofed wood by treating it with vinegar and alum. 

The first fire retardant, a mixture of alum, borax, and ferrous sulphate, was created in 1735 by Obadiah Wyld.

In addition to wood, paper and cloth may also be treated with an alum solution to ameliorate the effects of fire.

4. Taxidermy

Alum may also be used to tan hides by removing moisture and assisting in the leather manufacturing process. A simple mixture of crushed alum (powder) and table salt in a water solution is an easy DIY way of tanning hides.

PLEASE NOTE: This is the reason I suggest you wash alum off post-shave as it may dry out the skin.

5. Food Preparation

Alum has been used for pickling to maintain crispness of fruit and vegetables. It is used in the process and NOT in the final pickling solution.

6. Art and Craft

Alum is used to create marbling effects on paper and as a colour fixative.

7. Flocculation

As mentioned above it is used as a clumping agent which assists in purification and separation processes in numerous industrial applications. 

8. Medical Applications

They assist in the treatment and management of minor mouth ulcers or canker sores.


So there you have it! 

Alum a most wondrous and humble little block that should be a part of everybody's shave den!