What Is Sodium Polyacrylate & How Is it Used?

Sodium polyacrylate is a chemical polymer that is widely used in a variety of consumer products for its ability to absorb several hundred times its mass in water. Sodium polyacrylate is made up of multiple chains of acrylate compounds that possess a positive anionic charge, which attracts water-based molecules to combine with it, making sodium polyacrylate a suber-absorbent compound. This polymer is highly toxic when inhaled or ingested, causing damage to your eyes, skin and lungs. If you have accidentally inhaled or ingested sodium polyacrylate, seek medical attention immediately.

Sodium polyacrylate is ideal for use in diapers. (Image: TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images)

Sequestering Agents

Sodium polyacrylate is commonly used as a sequestering agent, or chelating agent, in many detergents. It has the ability to bind hard-water elements, such as magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc, to make the detergents work more effectively. Chelating agents neutralize the presence of heavy metals that may be found in water, dirt and other substances that can be found in your laundry, making the detergent more effective in cleaning and neutralizing odors in your clothes.

Thickening Agents

Sodium polyacrylate is primarily used as a thickening agent because of its unique ability to absorb and hold onto water molecules, making it ideal for use in diapers and hair gels. It is also used in industrial processes to dissolve soaps by absorbing water molecules. Thickening agents, like sodium polyacrylate, increase the viscosity of water-based compounds, which increases their stability. In diapers, sodium polyacrylate will absorb the water molecules found in urine, increasing the amount of liquid the diaper can hold while at the same time reducing the risk of diaper rash by promoting a dry environment.

Coatings

Sodium polyacrylate has been included in the coatings of sensitive electrical wiring to keep moisture away from the wires. Water and moisture conduct electricity, and can interfere with the transmission of electrical signals along wires that transmit elecrical signals, causing damage to the wire and creating a potential fire hazard. When sodium polyacrylate is infused in the protective rubber coating around a wire, it protects the wire from exposure to moisture, ensuring the safe transmission of electrical signals.

Super Absorbent Polymers

Sodium polyacrylate is used extensively in the agricultural industry and is infused in the soil of many potted plants to help them retain moisture, behaving as a type of water reservoir. Florists commonly use sodium polyacrylate to help keep flowers fresh, and this substance has been approved for domestic fruit and vegetable growing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sodium polyacrylate has also been combined with other absorbent polymers and infused into the innermost layers of spacesuits that will be worn by a NASA astronaut to help keep his skin from developing rashes during space flight.

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