The Viscosity of Glycerin: A Comprehensive Analysis

Glycerin, also known as glycerol or glycerine, is a versatile compound with a wide range of applications in various industries. One of its important properties is viscosity, which refers to the resistance of a fluid to flow. In this article, we will delve into the topic of viscosity of glycerin in great detail, exploring its definition, measurement methods, factors affecting viscosity, and its significance in different fields. Let’s embark on this journey to understand the fascinating world of glycerin viscosity.

1. What is Viscosity?

Viscosity can be defined as the measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. It determines how easily a fluid can be poured or how readily it flows. The viscosity of a liquid is influenced by internal friction between its molecules, which determines the fluid’s thickness and stickiness. In simple terms, it is a measure of a fluid’s thickness or its ability to resist deformation under shear stress.

1.1 Newtonian vs. Non-Newtonian Fluids

Fluids can be broadly classified into two categories based on their viscosity behavior: Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids.

1.1.1 Newtonian Fluids: Newtonian fluids exhibit a constant viscosity regardless of the applied shear stress. The relationship between shear stress and shear rate in Newtonian fluids follows Newton’s law of viscosity, which can be expressed as:

τ = μ * du/dy


  • τ is the shear stress
  • μ is the dynamic viscosity (a measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow)
  • du/dy is the velocity gradient or shear rate

Common examples of Newtonian fluids include water and most organic solvents.

1.1.2 Non-Newtonian Fluids: Non-Newtonian fluids, on the other hand, exhibit complex viscosity behavior. Their viscosity can change with the applied shear stress or shear rate. These fluids do not follow Newton’s law of viscosity and can be further classified into different types based on their behavior: Shear-Thinning Fluids: Shear-thinning fluids, also known as pseudoplastic fluids, exhibit a decrease in viscosity with increasing shear rate. As the shear rate increases, the fluid becomes less viscous. Examples include ketchup and paint. Shear-Thickening Fluids: Shear-thickening fluids, also known as dilatant fluids, display an increase in viscosity with increasing shear rate. These fluids become more viscous as the applied force or shear rate increases. A common example is a mixture of cornstarch and water. Bingham Plastic Fluids: Bingham plastic fluids exhibit a yield stress, which means that they do not flow until a certain stress threshold is exceeded. Once the yield stress is surpassed, they behave like a Newtonian fluid. Toothpaste and mayonnaise are examples of Bingham plastic fluids.

2. Measuring Viscosity

The viscosity of glycerin, like any other fluid, can be measured using various methods. Here, we will discuss two commonly used techniques:

2.1 Capillary Viscometry

Capillary viscometry is a widely employed method for measuring the viscosity of fluids, including glycerin. It involves the use of a capillary tube, typically made of glass, with a known diameter. The fluid is allowed to flow through the capillary under the influence of gravity or by applying a pressure difference.

The time taken for the fluid to flow a certain distance through the capillary is recorded, and the viscosity is calculated using the Hagen-Poiseuille equation:

μ = (ΔP * V * t) / (L * Q)


  • μ is the dynamic viscosity
  • ΔP is the pressure drop across the capillary
  • V is the volume of the fluid
  • t is the time taken for the fluid to flow
  • L is the length of the capillary
  • Q is the volumetric flow rate

Capillary viscometry provides accurate results for Newtonian fluids but may not be suitable for non-Newtonian fluids.

2.2 Rheometers

Rheometers are sophisticated instruments specifically designed to measure the rheological properties of fluids, including viscosity. These instruments apply controlled shear stress or shear rate to the fluid and measure the resulting deformation or flow behavior.

Rheometers offer more versatility and can handle various types of fluids, including non-Newtonian fluids. They provide comprehensive viscosity data by analyzing shear stress and shear rate relationships.

3. Factors Affecting Glycerin Viscosity

Several factors influence the viscosity of glycerin. Understanding these factors is crucial for predicting and controlling the flow behavior of glycerin-based systems. Let’s explore the key factors:

3.1 Temperature

Temperature has a significant impact on the viscosity of glycerin. As the temperature increases, the viscosity of glycerin decreases due to the decreased intermolecular forces and increased molecular motion. This phenomenon is observed for both Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids.

A detailed analysis of the temperature-viscosity relationship can be represented using the Vogel-Fulcher-Tammann (VFT) equation:

μ = A * exp[(B / (T – T0)]


  • μ is the dynamic viscosity
  • A, B, and T0 are temperature-dependent coefficients
  • T is the absolute temperature

This equation allows for accurate viscosity predictions over a wide temperature range.

3.2 Concentration

The concentration of glycerin in a solution also affects its viscosity. Higher concentrations of glycerin generally result in higher viscosity. Glycerin molecules tend to interact with each other, leading to increased resistance to flow. This behavior is more pronounced in non-Newtonian glycerin solutions.

3.3 Shear Rate/Shear Stress

The applied shear rate or shear stress plays a crucial role in determining the viscosity of glycerin, particularly for non-Newtonian fluids. Different types of non-Newtonian fluids exhibit varying behavior under shear, resulting in changes in viscosity. Shear-thinning fluids show a decrease in viscosity with increasing shear rate, while shear-thickening fluids exhibit the opposite trend.

4. Significance of Glycerin Viscosity in Various Fields

The viscosity of glycerin holds great importance in multiple industries and applications. Let’s explore some key areas where glycerin viscosity plays a significant role:

4.1 Pharmaceuticals and Cosmetics

Glycerin finds extensive use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics due to its moisturizing and emollient properties. The viscosity of glycerin-based creams, lotions, and ointments determines their texture, spreadability, and absorption rate. Manufacturers need to carefully control the viscosity to ensure optimal product performance.

4.2 Food and Beverage

In the food and beverage industry, glycerin is utilized as a humectant, sweetener, and texture enhancer. The viscosity of glycerin solutions affects the mouthfeel, stability, and flow properties of various food products such as syrups, sauces, and confectionery items. Controlling viscosity is essential for achieving desired product characteristics.

4.3 Industrial Applications

Glycerin’s viscosity plays a vital role in industrial applications such as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and antifreeze solutions. The desired viscosity ensures proper lubrication, efficient heat transfer, and effective flow control in these applications. Understanding glycerin’s viscosity behavior is crucial for formulating high-performance industrial products.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQ 1: What is the viscosity of glycerin at room temperature?

At room temperature (around 25°C), the viscosity of glycerin ranges between 100 and 1,500 centipoise (cP). The exact value depends on the glycerin’s concentration, purity, and any additives present.

FAQ 2: Can glycerin’s viscosity be adjusted?

Yes, the viscosity of glycerin can be adjusted by varying factors such as temperature and concentration. Increasing the temperature generally reduces viscosity, while higher glycerin concentrations result in higher viscosity.

FAQ 3: How can I measure the viscosity of glycerin at home?

Measuring viscosity accurately at home can be challenging without specialized equipment. However, you can estimate the viscosity by observing the flow behavior of glycerin. If it flows easily and quickly, it has lower viscosity, while slow and resistant flow indicates higher viscosity.

FAQ 4: Is glycerin a Newtonian or non-Newtonian fluid?

Glycerin is typically considered a Newtonian fluid, meaning its viscosity remains constant regardless of the shear rate. However, at higher concentrations or in the presence of additives, glycerin can exhibit non-Newtonian behavior.

FAQ 5: How does glycerin viscosity affect its application in skincare products?

The viscosity of glycerin-based skincare products affects their texture, spreadability, and absorption rate. Higher viscosity creams and lotions tend to be more occlusive and take longer to absorb, while lower viscosity products may feel lighter and spread more easily.

FAQ 6: Does glycerin’s viscosity change with aging?

Glycerin’s viscosity remains relatively stable over time if stored properly. However, exposure to air, heat, and contaminants can lead to changes in viscosity. It is essential to store glycerin in a cool, dry place and use it within its recommended shelf life for consistent viscosity.


Glycerin viscosity is a crucial property that impacts its behavior and applications across various industries. Understanding the factors influencing glycerin viscosity, such as temperature, concentration, and shear rate, allows for precise control and optimization of its performance in different products. Whether in pharmaceuticals, food, or industrial applications, the viscosity of glycerin plays a significant role in determining product quality and functionality.

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