Rubber, Natural Rubber, or Natural Rubber Latex?

The Humble Eraser: How rubber got its name

The word rubber dates all the way back to the 1700s and is credited to theologian, chemist, and philosopher Joseph Priestley, who was also credited with the discovery of oxygen. In Priestley’s time, people used bread and other unusual items to erase marks made by graphite or pencil lead. Priestley instead used a chunk of vegetable gum—or unprocessed natural rubber latex—and made a passing comment about the material’s ability to successfully “rub out” marks. The name “rubber” stuck. The first rubber erasers were sold later the same year, though it would be another 90 years before anyone thought to attach them to pencils.

Rubber Today

Thanks to vulcanization, compounding, and other technologies, rubber has come a long way since Priestley’s era. While rubber is still used to make pencil erasers today, it can also be found in tires, footballs, surgical tubing, shoe soles, and more. Rubber is often compounded with other ingredients to achieve extraordinary performance characteristics and retain its desirable properties even in extreme service environments.

Modern scientists are discovering new sources for natural rubber all the time. In fact, natural rubber can be extracted from nearly a thousand organic species, and latex occurs in roughly 10% of all flowering plants, including the common dandelion. In recent years, tire manufacturers have experimented with extracting latex and creating rubber from guayule, a humble desert shrub.

What Is the Difference Between Natural Rubber Latex and Latex?

Every day, we are surrounded by products made of rubber, natural rubber, and natural rubber latex. These compounds are so common that many do not realize how prevalent they are—or the subtle differences between latex and natural rubber latex. Rubber, natural rubber, and natural rubber latex are distinguished from each other by specific nuances, such as origin, manufacturing, and application.

What is Latex?

The everyday consumer may primarily associate latex with gloves and paint. But latex refers to virtually any polymer in a water-based or viscous form. Natural latex is a complex emulsion of alkaloids, starches, sugars, oils, proteins, tannins, resins, and gums. The substance is runny and milky when contained inside a plant’s complex network of latex channels and coagulates when exposed to air.

Most natural latex used for manufacturing is harvested from Hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree. But many plants contain latex, including milkweed, poinsettias, mulberries, sunflowers, and some common vegetables, such as artichokes and lettuce. Even banyan trees produce latex.

What is Natural Rubber Latex?

Natural rubber latex is made from latex that comes from plants, especially the rubber tree. Naturally occurring latex can be collected, refined, and transformed into natural rubber latex products. Thanks to highly refined and research manufacturing methods, natural rubber latex can be used in specialized medical and surgical products, sports and leisure equipment, and laboratory environments, to name a few.

Some may use rubber as a catch-all term referring to any natural or synthetic rubber product. But there are several key differences between synthetic and natural rubber latex to be aware of. Synthetic latex is derived from petroleum compounds rather than plants. It mimics many of natural rubber latex’s properties and is popular among many industries, including tire and automotive. Synthetic latex does not contain the same proteins and thus presents no risk to people who are allergic or sensitive to natural rubber latex.

Latex Manufacturing Process

The natural latex manufacturing process starts with harvest. Skilled workers use specialized tools to carefully remove sections of bark from a rubber tree or other latex-producing plant, which encourages the latex to bleed from the tree and flow along the cut grooves. This process is conducted with a precise hand to maximize the harvest yield and longevity of each plant. The latex is collected in cups and often treated with an anticoagulant to minimize clumping.

Once tapping is complete, the collected latex is processed in a factory setting. Excess fluid is removed from the material and treated with a chemical agent. This concentrate can be used as a coating or adhesive. The leftover remaining solid material is introduced to a coagulant, which generates soft clumps of rubber material. This material is pressed into slabs and smoked before being shipped out for manufacturing.

What Products Are These Materials Used For?

Natural and synthetic latex can be found throughout everyday life. Shoes, boots, car tires, mattresses, and rubber bands are often made with natural rubber latex, along with sporting equipment. Many handheld weights are manufactured with a latex coating so they are more comfortable to hold. You are likely to find natural rubber latex in every room of your house.

Many specialized environments rely on latex products as well. In hospitals and healthcare facilities, professionals use natural rubber latex tubing, tourniquets, and personal protective equipment every day, along with catheters and other specialized products. Plus, rubber has many uses in aerospace, automotive, and industrial applications. These systems utilize many rubber seals, gaskets, hoses, and other components while in service. 

Natural Rubber Latex Products from Kent Elastomer

Natural rubber latex is a highly versatile elastomer with virtually endless applications in many industries. Kent Elastomer Products has been manufacturing natural rubber latex products for decades, from surgical tubing to sporting equipment and more. We can help you determine if natural rubber latex is the appropriate material for your project and help you explore alternatives if you need something that is safe for people with latex allergies and sensitivities to use. Kent Elastomer Products is proud to offer a variety of high-quality compounds, from natural rubber latex to synthetic elastomers and more, all manufactured in the United States.

Plus, we can customize virtually every variable of your product, from dimensions and material to color and packaging. Kent Elastomer Products offers on-site labeling and packaging services to streamline the entire production process for you, so you can get your products to market faster.

Talk to the team at Kent Elastomer Products about your next project > 



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