Knowledge of soluble glass has been traced to antiquity where it is known that the Romans learned to use soda ash to lower the melting temperature of sand. Goethe is known to have experimented with it in 1768. Industrial development, however, began in Germany in the early 19th century. Soda ash (sodium carbonate) and sand fused in an open-hearth furnace produced the most common soluble glass, that was cooled, crushed, and dissolved in water. This common form was called "wasserglass".  Three principal uses in Europe during that time were in treating curtains to decrease flammability, as a dung replacement in textile manufacture and in making bar soaps.  By the middle of the nineteenth century silicates were produced in Germany by Walcker, France by Kuhlmann and Britain by Gossage. In the United States, imported silicates were also used as a corrosion-inhibiting coating for cannons and for treating wooden docks.  Commercial production began in North America during the Civil War to replace rosin in laundry soaps.  

Currently, roughly 75% of the production of soluble silicates is used primarily as sources of reactive silica and in detergency. The structure and chemistry of solutions containing polymeric silicate species have been better characterized using modern analytical techniques (discussed in ANALYSIS). This improved understanding of silicate speciation contributes to the development of new markets. Thus, the sodium silicates remain a versatile material ranked among the top 50 commodity chemicals.




  • J. G. Vail, Soluble Silicates in Industry, ACS monograph 1928 (out of copyright) see https://archive.org/details/solublesilicates00vail
  • J. G. Vail, Soluble Silicates, Reinhold Publishing Corp., New York, 1952.
  • D. Barby and co-workers, in R. Thomson , ed.,  The Modern Inorganic Chemical Industry, Chemical Society: London, 1977, p. 320.
  • “Soluble Silicates and Synthetic Insoluble Silicates” in ECT 1st ed., Vol. 12, pp. 303-330 by by J. H. Wills, Philadelphia Quartz Co.
  • “Synthetic Inorganic Silicates” under “Silicon Compunds” in ECT 2nd ed., Vol. 18, pp. 134-165 by J. H. Wills, Philadelphia Quartz Co.
  • “Synthetic Inorganic Silicates” under “Silicon Compunds” inECT 3rd ed., Vol 20, pp. 855-880, by J. S. Falcone, Jr., The PQ Corp.; ECT 4th ed., Vol. 22, pp. 1-30, by J.S. Falcone, Jr., West Chester University
  • “Silicon Compounds, Synthetic Inorganic Silicates” in ECT(online), posting date: December 4, 2000, by J. S. Falcone, Jr., West Chester University