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Any of a group of important hydrous aluminum silicates with a layered structure and very small (less than 0.005 mm or microscopic) particle size. They are usually the products of weathering. Clay minerals occur widely in such sedimentary rocks as mudstones and shales, in marine sediments, and in soils. Different geologic environments produce different clay minerals from the same parent rock. They are used in the petroleum industry (as drilling muds and as catalysts in refining) and in the processing of vegetable and mineral oils (as decolorizing agents).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on clay mineral, visit Britannica.com.