Wood products: Everywhere for everyone

Most Canadians are familiar with traditional forest products like lumber, structural panels, newsprint, pulp, paper, tissue and packaging, but there are also wood components in a wide variety of other products that Canadians use every day. By breaking wood down into its central components—cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin—it is possible to produce a range of substances that are needed to manufacture a variety of common household products.

Here are some examples of common household products that are made from wood components:


Bath towels

Bath towel

Some bath towels are made with rayon, which is produced from the wood component cellulose. Rayon is well suited for use in bath towels because of its high absorbency. Fabrics made with rayon are soft, comfortable and highly absorbent, but they do not insulate body heat, making them ideal for use in hot and humid climates. They can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton and linen, and are used in a wide range of products, including clothing, home furnishings and bedding.

Rayon is produced from a type of pulp called dissolving pulp, which is made mainly from cellulose. Cellulose makes up the “skeleton” of all wood fibres, and is the most abundant organic polymer on the planet.

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Toothpaste

Toothpaste

Toothpastes can contain several different wood components, including carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), also known as cellulose gum, and xylitol. CMC is used primarily because it has a high viscosity, is non-toxic and is hypoallergenic. It is added to food products as a thickening agent and/or to prevent mixtures from separating during storage in products like dry cake mixes, instant macaroni and cheese dinners, and chewing gums. It is also used in many non-food products, such as toothpastes, laxatives, diet pills, eye drops, water-based paints and detergents.

CMC is manufactured by mixing cellulose with chlorinated acetic acid (acetic acid is the chemical name for vinegar). This makes it soluble and hydrophilic—binding easily with water molecules—and ideal for use in liquids and gels.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute that can be made from xylose, the sugar molecule from hemi-cellulose. Xylitol is usually extracted from birch trees or other hardwoods and is used mainly as a sweetener in oral hygiene products, such as toothpaste, fluoride tablets and mouthwashes.

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Nail polish

Nail polish

Some nail polishes contain the wood component nitrocellulose. Nitrocellulose comes from cellulose and is added to nail polish—as well as leather finishes, wood varnishes and printing inks—because of its strength and quick-dry properties.

Nitrocellulose is produced by exposing cellulose to a powerful nitrating agent like nitric acid. This is done in a highly controlled setting, as nitrocellulose in its pure form is extremely flammable.

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Makeup

Makeup

Some makeup products contain the wood component carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), also known as cellulose gum. CMC is added to makeups like liquid foundations to ensure that the dissolved components stay dissolved during storage and use. CMC is used primarily because it has high viscosity, is non-toxic and is hypoallergenic. These properties make it extremely important in the production of many products, including toothpastes, laxatives, diet pills, water-based paints and detergents.

CMC is manufactured by mixing cellulose with chlorinated acetic acid (acetic acid is the chemical name for vinegar). This makes it soluble and hydrophilic—binding easily with water molecules—and ideal for use in liquids and gels.

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Disinfecting wipes

Disinfecting wipe

Disinfecting wipes are often made of rayon, which is produced from the wood component cellulose, because of its softness and high absorbency. These characteristics allow the rayon sheet to hold a disinfecting liquid while maintaining its texture and shape. Rayon is used in a wide range of other products, including clothing, home furnishings and bedding.

Rayon is produced from a type of pulp called dissolving pulp, which is made mainly from cellulose. Cellulose makes up the “skeleton” of all wood fibres, and is the most abundant organic polymer on the planet.

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Medications

Medication

Many of the pills in Canadians’ medicine cabinets contain the wood component microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). MCC is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a carrier. Carriers are inert substances used in pills and tablets to ensure that the active ingredients are effectively delivered to a patient’s body. MCC is used in medications because it compacts well under minimum pressure, easily binds with active ingredients and creates tablets that are hard and stable but that can be broken down once consumed. Because it is a wood component, MCC is safe for consumption and physiologically inert. MCC is also used in food and cosmetics manufacturing as a texturizing, stabilizing and thickening agent—for example, in many yogurts and shower gels.

MCC is made from high-purity dissolving pulp, a type of pulp made from pure cellulose. Cellulose makes up the “skeleton” of all wood fibres, and is the most abundant organic polymer on the planet. MCC is produced by isolating the crystalline portion of the cellulose, hydrolyzing it to achieve a uniform molecular structure, and then drying it.

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Paints

Paint

Some paints contain the wood component hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC), a gelling and thickening agent used to match the texture of a liquid product to consumers’ needs. For example, manufacturers use HEC to produce low-spatter paints. HEC is also widely used in cosmetics, adhesives, detergents and other household products.

HEC is produced in a process similar to that used to make carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), which is an ingredient in toothpaste and makeup. Like CMC, HEC bonds easily with water, but the strength of the bond is relatively lower, making HEC well suited for making thinner liquids.

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LCD screens

LCD screen

The LCD screens of many of today’s electronics contain the wood component cellulose triacetate (TAC). TAC is applied as a layer within these screens and acts as a polarizing film. Both high-purity dissolving pulp and cotton linter are used to make TAC. The chemical composition of TAC makes it possible to apply it in a thin solid film with excellent optical clarity.

A similar wood component, cellulose acetate, is used in a variety of products, from cigarette filters to eyeglass frames. Cellulose acetates and cellulose triacetates are made by reacting cellulose with acetic acid (vinegar).

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Ping-pong balls

Ping-pong ball

Ping-pong balls are made from the wood component celluloid, a mixture of nitrocellulose (used in nail polish) and the plant-based plasticizer camphor. Celluloid is used in ping-pong balls because it is easily moulded and shaped, while allowing for the high-bounce property of the balls. Celluloid was originally used as a replacement for ivory in dolls, jewellery and utensils. Today, its primary uses are in the production of ping-pong balls and guitar picks.

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