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The practice of oiling parchment or paper in order to make it semi-translucent or moisture-proof goes back at least to the Middle Ages. Paper impregnated or coated with purified beeswax was widely used throughout the 19th century to retain or exclude moisture, or to wrap odorous products. Gustave Le Gray introduced the use of waxed paper for photographic negatives in 1851. Natural wax was largely replaced for the making of wax paper (or paraffine paper) after Herman Frasch developed ways of purifying paraffin and coating paper with it in 1876. Wax paper is commonly used in cooking for its non-stick properties, and wrapping food for storage, such as cookies, as it keeps water out or in. It is also used in arts and crafts.
In a microwave, wax paper can be used to prevent splatters by covering the food when microwave cooking. Since the paper is mostly unaffected by microwaves, it will not heat to the point of combustion under normal usage. This makes wax paper more functional than plastic wrap which will melt at higher temperatures, or aluminium foil which is not safe for use in most microwave ovens.
Safety razor blades are traditionally wrapped in wax paper to make handling them less dangerous. Wax paper can also be used to make long lasting paper boats because of its high resistance to water.
From the early 1950s to the mid-1990s, wax paper was used as a common wrapping for sports card packages (O-Pee-Chee, Topps, Donruss, etc.). It was notorious for leaving wax markings on the back card where the wax paper was heated to be sealed. Wax paper was used as a way to keep the enclosed piece of bubble gum protected.
In the mid-1990s, sports card manufacturers stopped including pieces of bubble gum in packs of sports cards, thus ending the need for wax paper packs. Plastic (mylar) or other plastic/paper blends were used from then on.
Wax paper is also commonly used to attach pattern pieces to fabric while cutting it for sewing. One presses an iron over the wax paper briefly and attaches it to the cloth, making it easier to trace while cutting.
When children's playground slides were made of metal, it was common to sit on a piece of wax paper. This would not only lessen the heat, it would make the ride much faster.
Wax paper's particularly high dielectric strength makes it a practical electrical insulator, although modern materials have surpassed and mostly replaced it. Common applications are coil winding separators and capacitor dielectrics, and other applications requiring resilience against a potential difference up to the order of a few thousand volts per layer.
Turntablists (DJs) commonly place one or multiple sheets of wax paper under their records to increase record slip and aid in scratch (where the record is rotated in a number of different ways by a finger to create special sound effects) routines.
In photography, wax paper can be used as a light diffuser.
There are multiple environmental issues concerned with wax paper. Though it is biodegradable in its unaltered form, oft-applied additives such as petroleum rid it of that quality. Wax paper also cannot be recycled.
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- Media related to Wax paper at Wikimedia Commons