The Difference Between Rubber Latex and Natural Rubber Latex
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 is used in many applications. Latex refers to any polymer in a water-based emulsion 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.
Natural Rubber & Latex Properties
In its liquid form, latex is a milky liquid that is well over 50% water and usually around 40% rubber material. The solution may contain other components, such as natural sugars or resins. Pure latex, when properly processed, is strong and flexible. It can withstand quite a bit of stretching and twisting without sustaining any tears or damage.
Natural Rubber Latex
Natural rubber latex has a number of desirable properties that make it an extremely popular material in many industries and applications. Natural rubber latex is extremely flexible with excellent tensile strength. Its elasticity properties are valuable for applications where it may be subjected to repeat stretching, twisting, and compression.
Natural rubber latex is not resistant to all substances, but it holds up well against water, alcohol, and some chemicals. Introducing appropriate antidegradants during the compounding process can improve the material’s resistance to certain stressors.
Natural Rubber & Latex Product Applications
Latex is used as a standalone material as well as a strengthening agent. Paper, textiles, fabrics, and plastic films may be made with a latex coating to make them stronger, smoother, glossier, and more resistant to abrasion and aging. Latex is even used to coat household objects such as handheld weights to make them more comfortable to hold. Additionally, many adhesives are made with latex.
Latex is highly compatible with dipping processes and is often used to make gloves, balloons, bottle nipples, and other dip-molded products.
Natural Rubber Latex
Perhaps the most well-known consumer uses for natural rubber latex include shoes, boots, car tires, mattresses, rubber bands, and sporting equipment, such as resistance bands. But natural rubber latex has many everyday applications that we may not be aware of. Countless automotive components, including rubber seals, gaskets, and hoses are made with natural rubber latex. The aerospace, industrial, and energy industries rely on natural rubber latex for many similar components. 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. The food and beverage industry also uses natural rubber latex tubing for dispensing of food products.
The manufacturing process for natural rubber latex begins with harvest. Skilled workers use specialized tools to carefully remove sections of bark from a rubber tree or other latex-producing planet. This encourages the latex, a milky white substance that resides just below the bark, to bleed from the tree and flow along the cut grooves. The latex is collected in cups and may be 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 the remaining substance is treated with a chemical agent. At this stage, some of the material may be retained for use as a coating or adhesive. The other material is introduced to a coagulant, which generates soft clumps of rubbery material. This material is pressed into slabs and smoked before being shipped out for manufacturing. At this stage, the natural rubber latex may be used to make anything from car tires to medical tubing.
Rubber 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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