Desiccants at War!

A Look Into How Military’s Use Desiccants in Gas Masks and Medical Equipment


Desiccants are used all over the world and military’s around the world are no exception.

The first widespread use of desiccants by any military occurred during the First World War. This war is famous for the use of chemical gases as a weapon, and armies that were afflicted with a barrage of gas containing shells needed protection in order to avoid being poisoned.

This led to the first gas masks being mass produced. The material in the gas mask canisters that absorbed potential toxins was silica gel, and this helped to reduce the effects of poisonous gas attacks that opposing armies faced throughout the remainder of the war.

During 1915 ,while World War I was on-going, Russian scientist Nikolay Zelinsky improved upon the gas mask by creating a filter that used activated carbon, another desiccant. Today activated carbon is the standard desiccant used in most modern gas masks.

The activated carbon filters in gas masks didn’t start getting used until after World War II. During this war silica gel was replaced as the primary adsorbing material in gas mask by asbestos… which the world learned after the war caused serious illnesses like mesothelioma and malignant lung cancer.

This paved the way for modern gas masks which use activated carbon filters in combination with aerosol filters to keep soldiers safe. Activated carbon has a larger surface area than silica gel and can adsorb more potentially dangerous airborne chemicals, thus making it more effective filter.

Besides being used in gas masks, desiccants have recently found a new use in military medical technology.

Zeolites have been attached to gauze and recently been used by the U.S. military to help reduce the blood flow in wounded soldiers and civilians. The pores in the zeolites are small enough to adsorb the water out of the bloodstream leaving only cells and platelets.

Platelets circulate throughout our blood stream looking to clot blood. With all the water absorbed out of the bloodstream, thanks to the zeolites, the blood is allowed to clot a lot faster. This has helped save many lives because it greatly speeds up the time for a wound to close and stop bleeding and it also reduces the chance of wound becoming infected.

The success of zeolites in gauze has allowed this product to be used in the commercial medical market and it is now being used by law enforcement and emergency response units.