Humans use rubber for a huge variety of products and tools in everyday life. From life-saving equipment to memory-making toys, natural rubber latex is all around you. And while natural rubber latex has many excellent properties, it isn’t the only material available, and it’s not always the best choice for your application. Today, we’re breaking down some natural rubber latex properties and sharing a few alternatives for when natural rubber latex isn’t the right fit.
Natural Rubber Latex Properties
The properties and uses of natural rubber latex make it ideal for certain applications. Natural rubber latex is highly elastic with excellent stretch recovery, compression set, and tensile strength. It performs well when subjected to repeated stretching or compression and recovery. Natural rubber latex holds up well against physical stressors, such as wear, tear, abrasion, and fatigue, and performs well under a wide range of temperatures. It’s also resistant to water, alcohols, and certain chemicals.
While natural rubber latex is an excellent choice for many applications, there are some applications in which a different material might be the superior choice. Natural rubber latex is vulnerable to certain substances, such as fats, oils, and greases, making it less than ideal for applications such as industrial sealing. Without proper antiozonants, natural rubber latex is also vulnerable to ozone exposure and weathering. Additionally, some people are highly allergic to the proteins found in latex. Reports vary on the prevalence of latex allergies, but reactions can be severe. As a result, there are some situations in which the risk of allergic reaction outweighs the benefits of using natural rubber latex.
Each elastomer and polymer offers a unique blend of properties, performance attributes, and drawbacks. Choosing the right one depends on a deep understanding of what you need the material to do and its intended service environment.
We’ve put together a short guide to common alternatives to natural rubber latex:
Alternatives to Natural Rubber Latex
Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE)
Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) behave differently depending on the temperature. These copolymers are hard and durable when cooled but can be melted and reprocessed fairly easily. TPE responds well to coloring, and the production press for TPE is lean. Unlike natural rubber latex, TPE provides a strong barrier against environmental factors such as oxidation and moisture. TPE is also comfortable to the touch and is thus a popular choice for medical and dental applications. In these cases, thorough extractables and leachables (E&L) analyses may be critical to ensure that the material adheres to regulatory guidelines.
Thermoplastic elastomers can be expensive compared to other materials but generally are less expensive than silicones. Additionally, TPE is more likely than thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to deform under stress.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) serves as a middle ground between soft, flexible rubbers and rigid plastic. TPU is also quite durable and can withstand a tough service environment, including extreme temperatures, ozone exposure, and high levels of abrasion. Unlike natural rubber latex, TPU is highly resistant to oils and grease.
The drawbacks for thermoplastic polyurethane are primarily related to processing. Costs and processing times for TPU can be high compared to other materials.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a member of the vinyl family. Many people are familiar with PVC as a popular material for pipe, but PVC is used in many additional applications. PVC is incredibly strong and durable, with high tensile strength, and does not deform easily under stress. It is highly resistant to corrosion, weather, and chemicals. PVC is also relatively inexpensive compared to similar materials, which only increases its popularity.
The major drawback of polyvinyl chloride is that it is not heat stable. If PVC reaches its melt point or is exposed to flame, it emits dangerous, toxic fumes. Using PVC at high temperatures requires the addition of stabilizing additives during production.
Kent Elastomer Compounds
It’s important to understand the properties and uses of natural rubber latex and other compounds so you can make the right choice for your application. Our expert team at Kent Elastomer Products can help you determine the exact specifications you need and the special considerations of your industry so you can make a confident decision. Learn more about the material properties of natural rubber latex, TPE, PVC, and other materials >