Hanson, Allen L. Formerly, Department of Chemistry, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.
Marshall, William R., Jr. University-Industry Research Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.
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A substance used to withdraw moisture from other materials. Although the removal of large quantities of water is done by evaporation, aided by moving air currents and by elevated temperature, the last traces of moisture are often held very tightly and do not evaporate readily. Furthermore, evaporation ceases when the moisture content of the material is reduced to that of the drying-air current. For final drying, a desiccant is used. This is a substance with a high affinity for water, that is, it is hygroscopic. It may retain water through capillarity or adsorption or by reacting chemically. A substance, such as calcium chloride, which retains enough water to become wet and dissolve is said to be deliquescent. The drying agent is placed directly into the gas or liquid to be dried; solid materials are placed in a desiccator, a closed vessel in which moisture escapes by vapor pressure and diffuses to the desiccant through the dry desiccator atmosphere. A desiccant loses potency as it takes on water; often it can be renewed by heating. Desiccants which form hydrates can be selected to maintain certain levels of low humidity in a closed vessel. See also: Deliquescence
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