Rocks and Minerals in Everyday Life

Rocks and Minerals in Everyday Life

Posted by Oak Rocks on 18th Oct 2023

Did you know there are lots of rocks and minerals that we use in everyday life? 

It is estimated that in the United States alone, every person will have used more than 3 million pounds of rocks, minerals and metals in their lifetime! No wonder mining is so important. Although the U.S. has significant deposits of essential industrial minerals, our dependence on imports of minerals is growing. The U.S. is more than 50% import dependent on at least 46 minerals considered to be very important. The most widely used industrial minerals include limestone, clays, sand, gravel, diatomite, kaolin, bentonite, silica, barite, gypsum, potash, pumice, and talc.

Here are just some of the many rocks and minerals that are used in everyday life:

Copper was one of the first metals ever extracted by humans. In ancient times it was used in baubles and coins. Copper is used in the manufacture of electrical wire, copper pipes for water, copper cookware, and in the computer you're using to read this blog. Copper has low resistance to electrical charge and is relatively abundant. Copper is an essential component in the motors, wiring, radiators, connectors, brakes, and bearings used in cars.

Clay is actually a group of minerals. Clays composed of kaolinite are required for the manufacture of ceramics; from plant pots, to everyday dishes, to fine porcelain. Clays in which illite is most abundant, are used in the manufacture of brick, tile, stoneware, and glazed products. Various clays are used to absorb pollutants including organic compounds (such as atrazine, trifluraline, parathion, and malathion) and inorganic trace metals (such as copper, zinc, cadmium, and mercury) from soils and groundwater. Clay is also used as an effective barrier in landfills and mine tailing ponds to prevent contaminants from entering the local groundwater system.

Diamonds Due to amazing marketing, diamonds are a must in wedding jewelry and a great accent stone in high end jewelry. But most diamonds found are not gem quality, however they are important in metalworking and the mining industries. Diamond is the hardest natural substance known, so it is great as a cutting tool or abrasive. In the 1950s, synthetic or lab grown diamonds were discovered. Soon, the methods of making synthetic diamonds were so efficient that synthetic diamond abrasives were more reliably available and less expensive than diamond abrasives made from natural diamonds. Diamonds are still used as windows in laser or x-ray machines, in high-quality speakers, and inside high-quality watches.

Garnet has a relatively high hardness, harder than silica sand, so small grains are used as an abrasive for both sand blasting and in sand paper. The petroleum industry uses huge amounts of garnet sandblasting agents to clean compacted mud and silt from drill pipes and well casings. Garnet powder and grit is also used to polish optical lenses and metal, and as a media in filtration systems for water and industrial liquids. A rapidly growing use is as the abrasive agent in water-jet cutting, which eliminates the need for flame cutting in many manufacturing operations.

Gold and Silver are actually better conductors than copper, which is why they're used in high-end electronic devices, like cell phones and some audio equipment. Gold and Silver are natural precious metals that has been used for coins, jewelry, and other arts throughout recorded history. Gold is also used in infrared shielding, production of colored glass, gold leafing, and tooth restoration. Silver is used in solar panels, water filtration, high-value tableware and utensils, electrical contacts and conductors, window coatings, as a catalysis of chemical reactions, as a colorant in stained glass, and in specialized confectionery. Its compounds are used in photographic and X-ray film. Dilute solutions of silver nitrate and other silver compounds are used as disinfectants and microbicides and are added to bandages, wound-dressings, catheters, and other medical instruments.

Gypsum is literally surrounding us every day, as it is the basis for drywall. It is used because it contains water in its mineral structure, which it loses when heated, providing an initial line of defense against building fires.

Iron is extracted from iron bearing ores and is the most common element on Earth, just ahead of oxygen, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust, and was mostly deposited by meteorites. Extracting usable metal from iron ores requires kilns or furnaces. People learned how to do that during the 2nd millennium BCE and the use of iron tools and weapons began to displace copper alloys, leading use into the Iron Age. Today, iron alloys, including steel, are by far the most common industrial metals. Iron and steel are used in construction, in bridges, in aircraft, in electrical towers, in the railroad, in appliance, in knives, and it even is necessary in the human body!

Lead is found in nature most often as galena. Lead is a very dense, very soft metal and has a low melting point, which allows it to be easily formed. Its density and ease of forming have made it the most common metal for bullets since the origin of firearms. It has also been used for fishing weights, in some solders, in lead crystal, in weights for lifting, and as a radiation shield-both in doctors’ offices and in nuclear reactors. Its most common use today is in the lead-acid batteries found in automobiles. Lead is also used for the ballast keel of sailboats and scuba diving weight belts. Lead use to be used in paints until it was discovered that Lead is poisonous.

Marble and Granite are commonly used for building and for countertops. Marble has been used for sculptures since ancient times.

Obsidian forms when lava cools very quickly, forming natural glass. It can be broken to produce extremely hard, sharp edges, which for centuries many cultures have used for arrowheads and knives. Obsidian is used in pyrotechnics to create a spark. Even today, some surgical scalpels are made from obsidian.

Pumice is formed by rapid cooling of lava. In this case, the lava is cooling as dissolved gasses are escaping, creating a large number of frozen bubbles in its structure. Pumice is used as an abrasive. Pumice stones are great for cleaning the tile in your pool or your toilet bowl. A pumice stone is also good for your calluses and corns.

Quartz crystals have piezoelectric properties, which enables them to function as a stable resonator and therefore is valuable in electronics applications to be used as a quartz crystal oscillator. Consumer devices such as quartz watches and clocks make use of these oscillators, and in industrial applications, test and measurement devices, such as oscilloscopes, frequency generators, and counters contain quartz crystal oscillators as well. Quartz has a high thermal resistance and is non-flammable, making it suitable for use as an insulator material. Quartz fibers are fabricated and formed into a wool that can be used to create a variety of insulation products, similar to fiberglass. Glassmaking is one of the primary uses of quartz. Optical-based quartz crystals are used in the manufacture of lasers, microscopes, telescopes, electronic sensors, and scientific instruments. Quartz is used for sandblasting, glass grinding media, scouring cleansers, and sanding and sawing grit. Novaculite, a form of cryptocrystalline or microcrystalline quartz, has been used in making medical scalpels, cutting weapons, and sharpening cutting tools for thousands of years even up to this day. Hones are used to sharpen razor, while whetstone or smooth stone is used to sharpen the edges of tools and knives. Quartz crystals have been used for years to give an accurate frequency for all radio transmitters, radio receivers, GPS transmitters, and computers. Tripoli, a powder form of quartz, is used to polish jewelry, buff out stains from wood, as a filler, in plastics, paint, and rubber, and in toothpaste and soap production. Quartz too, can be synthesized.

Salt (yes, salt is a mineral!) Salt is of great importance to human and animal health. Salt is formed from the elements sodium and chlorine. Most salt is formed by the evaporation of sea water. Sea salt is made from the evaporation of seawater today, while commercial salt is made from rock salt and salt from deposits created when seawater evaporated during warm intervals in the past. The meat-packing, sausage-making, fish-curing, and food-processing industries use salt as a preservative or seasoning or both. It is employed for curing and preserving hides and as a brine for refrigeration. Salt is also employed in soap, glaze and so many other products. When applied to snow or ice, salt lowers the melting point of the mixture. Thus, large amounts are used in cold climates to help rid the roads of snow and ice.

Sand and Gravel The concrete that makes up most of the urban landscape is actually an artificial reconstruction of a naturally occurring rock, sand and gravel. Sand and gravel are also used for road construction, for mixing with asphalt, as construction fill, in bricks, in roofing shingles, on icy roads in the winter, for railroad ballast, for water filtration, to make glass, and in abrasives (sandpaper and sandblasting).

Sapphire is the second hardest mineral on the Mohs scale, and can be used in high temperature environments, making it useful for everything from surgical instruments to industrial cleaning equipment. Sapphire's optical, electrical, chemical resistance, high thermal conductivity, and mechanical properties make it a superior choice for hundreds of applications ranging from optical sapphire windows for aerospace sensor systems, chamber windows for semiconductor wafer processing, industrial systems/tools, medical applications, watch crystals, and even groery store barcode scanners. Synthesis of blue sapphire came in 1909. Along with zirconia and aluminum oxynitride, synthetic sapphire is used for shatter-resistant windows in armored vehicles and various military body armor suits, because it is ideal as a window or display material that needs to be shatter-proof. Several attempts have been made to make sapphire screens for smartphones. Crushed materials are also used to manufacture materials such as sand paper, cutting tools, and polishing compounds.

Sulfur is an important part of gunpowder, which creates the explosive potential in fireworks. Sulphur is also used to make matches. Millions of tons of sulfur is used each year, mostly for the manufacture of sulfuric acid, which is primarily used in the manufacture of fertilizers. Other important uses of Sulfur include the production of pigments, detergents, petroleum products, sheet metal, explosives, storage batteries, paper, insecticides, fungicides, dyestuffs, and numerous other products.

Talc is a very soft mineral and is used in baby powder, foot powders, first aid powders, and a variety of cosmetics and antiperspirants. Talc is also used as a filler in the manufacturing of plastics and ceramics products such as bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, pottery, and dinnerware. Talc is used as an extender and filler in paints and as a mineral filler can improve the opacity, brightness, and whiteness of the paper. Talc is added to the asphaltic materials used to make roofing materials to improve their weather resistance. And it is used as a carrier for insecticides and fungicides as it can easily be blown through a nozzle and readily sticks to the leaves and stems of plants.

Oakrocks has been in the rock and mineral business for over 40 years. We specialize in beautiful colored and patterned gemstone materials; rough rocks for the lapidary artist to create works of art, cabochons for the jewelry designers to make lovely jewelry pieces to adorn ourselves in, and beautiful display pieces to decorate our homes. 

By sure and check out my last previous blogs:

Ancient Use of Rocks and Minerals in Medicines and Drugs

Current Use of Rocks and Minerals in Medicines and Drugs


Metaphysical Use of Rocks and Crystals for Healing