What is Melamine

Many visitors to home-improvement-and-financing.com have written in to ask "What is Melamine" so we have written this article in answer - you might be getting ready for a boring technical read about now - but actually the story of how this material first came about and by whom has turned into quite an interesting read.

Now, when you look at a piece of modern day melamine and touch it you will probably agree that it can look and feel very much like plastic and so we all view this material as being of 'our age' - as a relatively new discovery - so when I throw in the date 1834, mirrors and linked to the oxo cube... you might be a little surprised!.

There is a bit of a trick to that because melamine wasn't actually discovered as a commercialy interesting material until the late 1930's and most articles first produced date from the 1960's - but still you will be able to read in many places on the world wide web that melamine was synthesized as a compound by a German Chemistry professor back in 1834.

When you ask what is melamine it can lead to what do they mean by synthesized, what is triazine and who is Professor Liebig?

What they mean by synthesized - or synthesis is simply that seperate elements were combined into a new whole one - or combined into a coherent whole.

picture of melamine compound

In this case a white powder compound was made up of 3 elements, being carbon C3, nitrogen N6 and hydrogen H6, which was called triamino (tri is for 3 and amino is for anything with a NH2 mix) or sometimes triazine (tri for 3 and azine for any organic compound with two or more nitrogen atoms etc...)

What is Melamine - Professor Liebig

So who was this German professor?, well his name was Justus von Liebig and he was born on the 12th May, 1803 in Darmstadt in Germany. He studied at the University of Bonn and went on to become a professor of Chemistry at a time when this subject was really in it's infancy.

He is credited for having established Chemistry as a course to be study as well as designing and setting up the first real study chemistry labs which were so popular and innovative for the time that students came from all over the world to study Chemistry there.

He did a lot of experiments and made different discoveries but his passion was to create a really good fertilizer once he had discovered that plants feed of nitrogen compounds as well as the carbon dioxide in the air and the soil in the ground.

He also invented a process for silvering that improved mirrors... that helps us to see ourselves more clearly today...

But even more surprising is that he developed a manufactoring process for making beef extract and in 1865 he founded the Liebig Extract of Meat Company through which he sold his new product - one that is famous throughout the world... but it was actually only years after his death in Munich in 1873 that his product was given the trademark of the "oxo" bouillon cube.

One student wrote after his death: "No other man of learning in his passage through the centuries has ever left a more valuable legacy to mankind" - of course that student wasn't talking about melamine paint but it is still clear that the good Professor Liebig has left us with the question that is now posed, of what is melamine, a questions which leads to another which is... what is melamine paint.

What is Melamine - material development

Melamine is used industrially as a powder compound or a resin and can now be found just about everywhere in and around your home. Melamine plus formaldehyde creates an easy to manipulate melamine resin...

Melamine has become so popular because it is a particularly durable hard thermosetting plastic which is made from melamine and formaldehyde by polymerization (which is a chemical reaction to make the molecules of many, many small monomer molecules combining and linking together to form a polymer which is a really large molecule.)

Hard Thermosetting means that it can be heated up into just about any shape the designers can imagine and when it cools it will maintain the shape well and can be developed with a hard glossy surface.

melamine picture

It lends itself as the main constituent in high pressure laminates - and this is when you start to take a closer look at your kitchen cabinets and bathroom cupboards... another clue is that it is also the main constituent in formica countertops as well as laminate flooring.

Melamine is used in flame retardants as well as in fertilizers because it is rich in nitrogen, it is used in fabrics and glues, in tile wall panels, in colorants, in food packaging and in tableware - remember the "Melmac" plates?, is your tissue paper or kitchen roll of paper strong because of added melamine resin?

We have been eating off Melamine and chopping food on melamine surfaces for years, but it was only when a company added white granular or scrap melamine to pet food that alarm bells started to go off as pets became seriously ill and many died - and hopefully the practise of adding scrap materials to foodstuffs will cease.

Because Melamine Formaldehyde is moisture resitant and has fire resistant properties we have for years found it to be a very useful material but now that we are once again looking favourably at natural materials that are more ECO friendly, melamine does not fair so well.

While you are asking what is melamine, many people are also asking how do we get rid of melamine!.

It is not an easy material to dispose of after use - the manufacturing process does not get any green friendly credits - just about the best comment that can be made when thinking about the environment is that melamine has been used to clad particleboards that have been created from recycled materials.

Can we really get rid of all our old melamine by combining it into asphalt to make new longer lasting road surfaces... we will have to think of something because we have created an awful lot of melamine over our lifetime.

melamine surface from a kitchen cupboard

Related Melamine Articles

  • If you are doing home improvements and wanted to know what is melamine it is only natural that you now ask What is Melamine Paint

  • If you want some help applying your melamine paint you can read our article on Painting Melamine Cabinet techniques. Our melamine painting instructions are there to help you but please note that we always recommend you follow a manufacturers specific instructions in all cases.

  • If you are planning your own melamine kitchen makeover this article may help you choose your Melamine Paint Colors

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