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page title: the historical applications/uses of pumice

Pumice has been utilized for practical applications in its found form for millennia. The annals of history have a whole lot of missing pages, and pumice use may not have warranted much ink, but we are aware of a few uses—especially the Romans and their enduring concrete.

Dust Bathing

Chinchillas—small Rodentia-order critters from the Andes Mountain range—are prized as pets and for their incredibly lush fur. To keep that super dense, fine-shafted fur clean and their skin free from parasites, wild chinchillas eschewed water and instead bathed vigorously in drifts of pumice dust. To watch a Chinchilla take a pumice bath is to watch joy in action: high-speed flipping and twisting, wiggling and shaking, all in a practiced effort to work the little scouring pumice stones deep into the fur to absorb oils and capture gunk before shaking it back out.01

Chinchillas are not the only creatures that adopted dust bathing behaviors. Other furry dry land critters enjoy a good roll in grit. Poultry too. But the wild Chinchilla herds specifically sought out the places in their mountain home rich in loose pumice. Today, wise breeders and enthusiasts gladly feed the need, regularly providing their chins with a bowl of pumice dust in which to groom and frolic.

Roman Concrete

The Romans built a vast empire. They did it on the strength of their legionaries, yes, but also on the strength of their enduring and widespread infrastructure—aqueducts, piers, arenas, temples and buildings of all kinds—built from an impressive understanding of concrete. Roman engineering prowess and concrete formulations were so good they chanced daring structures that still impress today. The Pantheon and its huge, unreinforced 142-foot concrete dome, for example. David Moore, author of The Roman Pantheon: The Triump of Concrete wrote: “Made entirely out of concrete, without the reinforcing support of structural steel, no modern engineer would dare attempt such a feat.”

The key component to their now widely-studied concrete? Pumice. The Romans didn’t have a quick-setting cements of today, rather, they used hydrated lime. When hydrated lime and water were mixed with a amorphous silica dust (known to the Romans as pulvis puteolanus; referred to today as volcanic ash or pumice pozzolan), nearly 100% of the lime converted to the critical cementitious binder chemical (known as CSH) that makes concrete concrete. 2000 years later, much of that concrete empire built of lime, water, and pumice powder, still stands.

Present-day understanding of superior Roman concrete mix designs has driven research and subsequent demand for pumice pozzolans, now used to greatly improve our modern fast-setting Portland-cement concretes.02 Larger pumice aggregates are also used to pour lightweight insulating concretes.

Pharmaceutical Use

When it comes to pharmaceutical applications, historians find evidence of pumice use going back two thousand years. It was often included in teas, along with herbs and other geopharmaceuticals to treat gall bladder issues, urinary conditions, dry and hacking coughs, even anxiety disorders. The abrasive properties of pumice were also utilized in medical applications—dentifrices, skin ulcer cleanser, cicatrizing agents (scar formation), depilatory pastes, and more.03

Tooth Powders and Pastes

Cleaning gunk from teeth anciently was all about some kind of abrasive. Without the dense and durable brushes of today, the ancients and classicals relied on an abrasive that was rubbed on and worked with a finger or cloth-wrapped stick. There is evidence that the Egyptians worked with various abrasive tooth-scrub concoctions, including powdered egg shells, ox hooves, bones, shells, myrrh (hardened tree resin), and pumice. The Chinese also used tooth powders and polishing creams, likely utilizing similar materials, with a breath-freshening kick from ginseng or mint. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans also embraced the value of a clean mouth and gleaming smile. As widely known and appreciated as pumice was to the Greeks and Romans, pumice-powered oral hygiene was likely.

Ancestral Puebloan Farmers

In 2007, a group of researchers from the University of New Mexico and federal government land management agencies published a report04 on their research into the geological resources that attracted ancient peoples to the Jemez Mountains region of current day New Mexico. The researchers state: “...it appears that pumice enticed Pueblo farmers to the region. El Cajete pyroclastic pumice fall (some 55,000 years ago) blanketed the south and the southeast side of the Jemez Mountains and, beginning in the 1200s, ancestral Pueblo populations began to settle and farm areas of pumice deposits. In the southern Jemez region, nearly all of these newly established settlements had one thing in common—they were situated in areas of pumice soils.”

Their research pointed out that these ancestral Pueblo farmers did not use contemporary farming strategies, noting that the “pumice soils were not often subjected to constructed facilities such as terraces, check dams or grid gardens, suggesting that unique properties of the soil made it ideal for agriculture.” They concluded that these pumice-bearing soils held more moisture and acted as mulch, conserving soil moisture—vital for farmers in that arid environment relying solely upon rainfall to water their crops. “For nearly five hundred years,” reads the last line in the report abstract, “El Cajete ‘pumice patches’ enabled Pueblo farmers to survive on the slopes of the Jemez Mountains.”

Today, pumice is used in a variety of horticultural, reclamation, and agricultural and applications.05

Sourcing Pumice

Hess Pumice Products provides pumice to market at two levels: industrial-use quantities shipped via rail, truck, or ocean container, and small quantities for specific consumer-direct uses via an online Pumice Store backed by a dedicated fulfillment center.


Hess produces a variety of pumice grade and grade blends, from one-inch aggregate to highly refined powders as small as 3 microns. Email salesteam@hesspumice.com (or call 208.766.4777) for expert help with grade selection and logistics.


Sample most of our production grades or purchase branded pumice products for specific applications via an online ordering process.