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What Are the Alternatives to Fuller's Earth?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 21, 2024
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Attapulgite, bentonite, and calcium montmorillonate are some examples of alternatives used for fuller’s earth. A mixture of aluminum, iron, magnesium, and silica, fuller’s earth is commonly used by various industries for the its absorbent properties that can filter or eliminate greases and oils. Many cultures throughout history have used this clay for medicinal purposes related to its absorbent and possible antimicrobial properties. Some industries use fuller’s earth as a generic term referring to any number of mineral clays.

Fuel, grease, and oil manufacturers commonly use fuller’s earth filtration systems that eliminate contaminants and water from products. Attapulgite clay is also a fine-grained, earthy substance with absorbent properties. Industries typically refine fuels and lubricants by forcing them through attapulgite containing filters or by pouring the substances over an attapulgite substrate. Personal care product industries use filler’s earth as an ingredient in cosmetic products for the substance’s oil absorbing properties.

Bentonite not only absorbs water and oils but also acts as a thickening agent in a variety of products, including adhesives, cosmetics, and foods. Contractors might use sodium bentonite as a moisture barrier when constructing ditches or ponds. As the substance absorbs water, it swells to such proportions that it thickens and forms a plastic-like surface. Bentonite is also a common ingredient in clay based cat litters.

Since prehistoric times, fuller’s earth has been used as a topical dressing for wounds or been taken internally as a mineral supplement. Researchers discovered that bentonite and montmorillonate clays demonstrate antibacterial and antifungal properties against a number of microbial species, including some resistant forms of bacteria. Used as a topical dressing or in the form of a mud bath, the clays act as a barrier against invading microbes while eliminating existing infections. Scientists have also developed a topical dressing comprised of gauze and kaolin clay that triggers clotting mechanisms, minimizing life threatening blood loss in combat situations.

Pregnant women in primitive cultures took fuller’s earth internally as a vitamin and mineral supplement. Analysis reveals that calcium bentonite and calcium montmorillonate both contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The clays also usually contain iron in amounts that vary from 1% to 10%. Fuller’s earth has been used to treat upset stomachs and diarrhea, and modern over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medications often include attapulgite clay. Clay taken internally can result in serious constipation.

Film industry companies commonly use filler’s earth, or alternatively pyrolite, for dramatic effects. The substance might be used to create a dirt road over a paved surface, dust scattered in high speed car scenes, or the massive amount of dirt displacement seen during explosions. Often, film crews dust entire rooms with the substance to replicate decades or centuries of abandonment.

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