a white or colorless, tasteless, odorless, water-insoluble, solid substance not easily acted upon by reagents, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons chiefly of the alkane series, obtained from crude petroleum: used in candles, for forming preservative coatings and seals, for waterproofing paper, etc.
  1. any member of the alkane series.
  2. one of the higher members of the alkane series, solid at ordinary temperatures, having a boiling point above 300°C, which largely constitutes the commercial form of this substance.
Also called paraffin oil. British. kerosene.

verb (used with object)

to cover or impregnate with paraffin.

Origin of paraffin

1830–40; < German < Latin par(um) barely + aff(īnis) connected + -in2; so called from its slight affinity for other substances; see affinity Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for paraffin

Historical Examples of paraffin

  • The necessity for this coating of sulphur or paraffin you will understand by an experiment.

    The Story of a Tinder-box

    Charles Meymott Tidy

  • The hot water will heat the turpentine, and the turpentine will melt the paraffin.

    Boy Scouts Handbook

    Boy Scouts of America

  • Then pile your tent into a tub and pour in the turpentine and paraffin mixture.

    Boy Scouts Handbook

    Boy Scouts of America

  • The paraffin must be removed by toluol before proceeding further.

  • After about one minute the paper may be thrust below the paraffin to soak.

    On Laboratory Arts

    Richard Threlfall

British Dictionary definitions for paraffin


less commonly paraffine (ˈpærəˌfiːn)


Also called: paraffin oil, (esp US and Canadian) kerosene a liquid mixture consisting mainly of alkane hydrocarbons with boiling points in the range 150°–300°C, used as an aircraft fuel, in domestic heaters, and as a solvent
another name for alkane

verb (tr)

to treat with paraffin or paraffin wax

Word Origin for paraffin

C19: from German, from Latin parum too little + affinis adjacent; so called from its chemical inertia
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for paraffin

1838, from German Paraffin, coined c.1830 by German chemist Karl von Reichenbach (1788-1869), who first obtained it as a waxy substance from wood tar, irregularly from Latin parum "not very, too little," probably related to parvus "little, small" (see parvi-) + affinis "associated with" (see affinity).

So called because paraffin is chemically not closely related to other substances. The liquid form (originally parafin oil) Reichenbach called eupion, but this was the standard meaning of paraffin in English by 1860.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

paraffin in Science



A waxy, white or colorless solid mixture of hydrocarbons made from petroleum and used to make candles, wax paper, lubricants, and waterproof coatings. Also called paraffin wax
See alkane.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.