Natural Rubber Latex: A Beginner’s Guide - Kent Elastomer Products

Rubber is like the superhero of the elastomer world. You encounter it every day in common products like car tires, shoe outsoles and garden hoses – but you’d never guess its secret identity!

Is it man-made? Is it from another planet? Is it trying to save the world from an evil genius?

Okay, that might go a bit too far. The point is that natural rubber latex is a mystery to many of us, even some who have been customers of Kent Elastomer Products for years. You’re likely an expert on the specific products you trust us to manufacture for your medical, food and beverage, sports equipment or industrial applications.

But you may still have actual questions, like:

  • What is natural rubber latex made of?
  • Is natural rubber latex the same as latex?
  • What are the properties of natural rubber latex that make it so versatile?
  • How could natural rubber latex help improve products for my industry?

The pros at Kent Elastomer have your back. To give you greater insight into our world of rubber, we break down the basics of natural rubber latex, its properties and some of the ways different industries use it.

What Is Natural Rubber Latex?

At its heart, natural rubber latex is a product of Mother Nature – it really does come from rubber trees. Specifically, latex is a soft, milky white substance that forms beneath the bark of the Hevea brasiliensis, a rubber tree species common in South America and parts of Southeast Asia.

Tapping mature 5-year-old trees for raw latex is similar to tapping maple trees for syrup. Tappers peel back a thin layer of bark, disrupting the plant ducts that contain latex. They cut narrow grooves into the side of the tree and place cups at the base of the grooves. The natural latex then flows down the grooves and gathers in the cups, which are replaced as needed. This process does not harm the trees and they can continue to produce valuable latex for decades.

Raw harvested latex is not yet the superhero we recognize. It must go through a curing process to gain its superpowers. Here’s how that goes:

  • For applications requiring dry rubber, acid is added to get liquid latex to clump.
  • The clumpy liquid is pressed into sheets with rollers to remove excess water.
  • The sheets are dried or smoked.
  • Those sheets are eventually processed into the final product.

One critical step is the vulcanization process, which involves heat, pressure and chemical additives, that will crosslink the natural rubber. The result of this process is vulcanized rubber latex that is harder, tougher and more elastic than raw latex. It is used to make anything from car tires to pencil erasers to children’s toys.

Natural Rubber Latex Properties

After the vulcanization process, natural rubber latex starts to exhibit its superpowers, which include:

  • Outstanding resilience
  • Excellent elasticity
  • High tensile strength
  • Excellent tear strength
  • Good resistance to abrasion
  • High performance in low temperatures
  • Dynamic sterilization properties that are compatible with steam, ETO and gamma radiation
  • Translucent and uniform color
  • Good colorant acceptance, can be made in many vibrant hues
  • When compounded with certain chemicals, high resistance to corrosion from heat, sunlight and oxygen

Is Natural Rubber Latex the Same as Latex?

No. Many people shorthand the moniker natural rubber latex to the single word latex – but these are different substances. Here’s the lowdown on the differences between latex, rubber and natural rubber latex:

  • Latex refers to any polymer in a water-based emulsion form, including the milky white natural latex substance produced by rubber trees and other plants.
  • Rubber may be used to refer to a variety of synthetic latex materials that are made from petroleum compounds, as well as natural rubber latex.
  • Natural rubber latex is the refined and processed compound derived from natural latex that has been harvested from rubber trees.

If you’re in the midst of an epic natural rubber latex vs. silicone debate for your tubing or dip-modeling needs, the experienced pros at Kent Elastomer can help you make the right choice.

Products Made from Natural Rubber Latex

Let Kent Elastomer help elevate your project with our high-quality compounds, rigorous quality-control systems and American-made natural rubber latex products.

Natural Rubber Latex Tubing

Kent Elastomer can customize our natural rubber latex tubing to meet your exacting specifications for compound length, color and size. We also offer packaging and labeling services, as well as ordering options by the box, by the reel and in bulk. We’re the only U.S.-based manufacturer of natural rubber latex, and you can choose from three Kent Elastomer natural rubber latex compounds to meet your project needs:

  • K-100 – a highly versatile and eco-friendly compound that’s suitable for a number of applications
  • K-600 – a compound specifically formulated to absorb X-rays
  • K-912 – includes a neoprene layer on the external surface for improved resistance to degradation and decreased gas permeability

Dip-Molded Products

Kent Elastomer offers dip-molding services that range from prototyping to final product production to packaging. Collaborate with us on the unusual or unique shapes and sizes of natural rubber latex components you need, and we’ll help keep your project within your specs and on your timeline.

Applications by Industry

Kent Elastomer is the only company that domestically produces natural rubber latex tubing. We’re proud to deliver that rare Made in the USA moniker to a variety of industries who count on us for the highest quality, shortest lead times and best customer service around.

Check out some of the natural rubber latex applications we deliver for:

Food-Grade Tubing

  • Compliant with NSF standards for food processing
  • Kent Elastomer facilities meet the stringent requirements of the FDA
  • Great choice for dispensing hot and cold beverages and liquid foods, like cheese sauce and condiments

Sports and Leisure Products

  • Highly customizable in both color and compound
  • Kent Elastomer’s unique dip-molding process eliminates die lines, seams and other imperfections
  • Good choice for bow peep sights, sunglass retainers, slingshots, resistance bands, launching systems and speargun tubing

Laboratory Supplies

  • Excellent bending, twisting and stretching in tight spaces without deforming
  • Less expensive than Tygon® with similar performance profile
  • Responds well to steam, ethylene oxide (ETO) and gamma radiation sterilization methods
  • Superior choice for connecting glassware, Bunsen burners and other lab components

Orthodontic Products

  • Kent Elastomer’s emphasis on flexibility and durability in natural rubber latex tubing supports rigorous use without loss of quality or functionality
  • Ease of sterilization supports hygiene while reducing cross-contamination risks
  • Excellent choice for suction tubing, handpiece tubing, saliva ejector tubing and retainer bands

Distribution and Industrial Tubing

  • Kent Elastomer can customize inner and outer dimensions, color, length and other product specs
  • Natural rubber latex tubing is appropriate for highly sensitive research environments as well as fast-paced production facilities
  • Smart choice for transfer tubing, high-pressure pump tubing, vacuum tubing with heavy outer walls and seamless construction and single-use disposable tubing

Contact Kent Elastomer Today and Be Your Team’s Superhero

Why work with Kent Elastomer for your natural rubber latex needs? Our superpowers include:

  • Superior Customer Service – A real person answers the phone when you call.
  • Decades of Product Development Experience – Bring us your challenges. We’ll crush them.
  • Exacting Customer Standards – We make it the way you want it and deliver it when we say we will.