Carnauba wax is a botanical product used in a large number of industries. Sometimes called the "Queen of Wax," it has a much higher melting point than other waxes and is also extremely hard. This makes it ideal for creating extremely strong coatings for floors, automobiles, and other things that see hard wear. In addition, this wax appears in candies, polishes, varnishes, cosmetic products, and in many other places. Although carnauba wax has largely been replaced by synthetics, it is still produced and used in many parts of the world.
A Brazilian tree formally named Copernicia prunifera, and otherwise known as the fan or carnauba palm, is the source for carnauba wax. The palm has broad fan-like leaves attached to toothed stalks. In hot, dry weather, the plant secretes wax to protect the leaves from damage. People who want to collect the wax dry the leaves and then beat them to dislodge the yellowish to brown coating, which usually flakes off. The wax is refined and bleached before it is used. Carnauba palms can live in extreme environments because of their protective coating, making them an excellent choice of crop for farmers working with poor soil and weather conditions.
A temperature of 172°F (78°C) is required to melt carnauba wax. It is also not readily soluble. Water cannot break down a layer of this wax, and only certain solvents can, usually in combination with heat. This means that it is highly durable. Used plain, it can make something waterproof and wear resistant. Combined with things such as tints and dyes, it can be used to create an enduring colored polish. Eventually, hard wear will strip the wax from most surfaces, but a fresh layer can be reapplied. In older homes with hardwood floors and fixtures, carnauba wax was probably used on them as a conditioner at some point.
The substance is often used instead of, or in combination with, other waxes because of how strong it is. Many surfers, for example, use waxes for their boards that integrate carnauba. It is also used to coat paper plates, dental floss, and as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. In the pharmaceutical industry, this wax frequently appears as a tablet coating, and it is used in a number of packaged foods. Unlike many other waxes, a carnauba finish will not flake off with time, it will merely become dull. This makes it ideal for locations where a flaking finish would look unsightly.