What Is Neoprene?
Neoprene is a durable polymer material with a somewhat spongy feel, made via the polymerization of chloroprene. It’s a synthetic alternative to natural rubber and is lauded for its durability and resilience, even in extreme conditions. Neoprene rubber comes in several different varieties, some of which are waterproof.
The history of neoprene traces back to 1930. A man named Julius Arthur Nieuwland, who was a priest and a professor of chemistry, gave a presentation on his work with acetylene chemistry. In the audience was Dr. Elmer K. Bolton of DuPont, who was intrigued by Nieuwland’s discoveries. DuPont purchased the patent for Nieuwland’s work, and Nieuwland teamed up with Wallace Carothers and several other chemists to create chloroprene for the first time.
The material was branded as DuPrene and first sold in 1931. The early years came with a few hiccups, namely a foul odor produced by the manufacturing process, but DuPont eventually discovered a solution. DuPrene went on to become a roaring success. Over time, DuPont changed their approach to marketing and selling the material and announced “neoprene” as a generic name in 1937.
Neoprene has since become an extremely popular material for a wide variety of industries. Consumer and industrial manufacturers alike choose neoprene for its durability, environmental resistance, and other desirable attributes.
How Neoprene Is Manufactured
Neoprene, also called polychloroprene, is made from chloroprene, which is a colorless, volatile liquid. Chloroprene is subjected to a polymerization reaction that results in polychloroprene chips. These chips are melted and mixed with carbon pigments, foaming agents, and other additives, depending on the needs of the final product. The mixture is then cured in an oven and cut into sheets of varying thickness. These sheets may be cut into specific shapes, stitched together, or sandwiched between other materials to create a final product.
Pros and Cons of Neoprene
Like any material, neoprene offers many excellent benefits—and has a few limitations.
Closed-cell neoprene is entirely waterproof, making it an excellent choice for seals and other applications where water resistance is vital.
Resilience and durability
Neoprene is a highly resilient material and can handle a good deal of wear and tear. Neoprene is unlikely to rip or sustain damage for repeated twisting, flexing, and abrasion. Because of this, neoprene may be an excellent choice for products that endure rough handling while in service. One heavy-duty example: Bridge bearings are often made of neoprene.
Weather and temperature resistance
Neoprene holds up well against environmental factors such as sunlight, ozone, and many types of weather and can survive fairly extreme conditions. Additionally, neoprene can withstand a wide range of service temperatures, from -35 to 100°C. Many companies choose neoprene for outdoor products for these reasons.
Neoprene is resistant to a number of chemical and industrial substances. This includes oxidizing agents and chemicals, solvents, and acids.
Neoprene is a popular choice for automotive, industrial, and aerospace components because it’s resistant to vibration. Seals, hoses, tubing, and tire sidewalls are often made with neoprene, along with vibration damping pads and mounts of all sizes.
Neoprene doesn’t need much pressure to create a tight seal against moisture, air, or dust. Many o-rings, seals, and gaskets are made with neoprene.
The primary drawback of neoprene is the price tag. Neoprene is not as cost effective as other available materials. However, few comparable materials can match neoprene’s impressive portfolio of beneficial properties. For many companies, the benefits of neoprene justify the cost.
Neoprene offers only modest resistance to oils and petroleum products. In some contexts, neoprene may suffice, but for products subjected to constant oil exposure, neoprene may not perform the same as a different material.
Resistance to other substances
Neoprene is not highly resistant to a number of chemicals and other substances, including hydrocarbons, esters, ketones, and oxidizing acids.
Water resistance and electrical insulation
Contrary to popular belief, not all neoprene is waterproof. Neoprene’s water resistance depends on how it’s manufactured. While closed-cell neoprene is entirely waterproof, open cell neoprene absorbs water over time. For this reason, neoprene is not the best material option for electrical insulation products.
What Neoprene Is Used For
Many people associate neoprene with wetsuits. That’s because neoprene is fairly buoyant and stretchy and keeps divers warm by trapping their body heat against their skin. These qualities, plus neoprene’s durability, make neoprene a popular choice for a wide variety of sports and leisure products, such as wetsuit boots, pingpong and pickleball paddle covers, hand weight coatings, waist packs, and personal flotation devices (PFDs).
Neoprene is becoming increasingly popular in tech accessories. Neoprene laptop sleeves, tablet covers, and mouse pads are fairly common, as are neoprene zip pouches for cords and cables.
However, while neoprene is best known for its everyday uses, there are many industrial applications for neoprene that most consumers may not be aware of.
As mentioned, neoprene is highly resistant to the effects of vibration and has excellent sealing properties, which makes it a great choice for intense service environments. This often includes sealing and noise isolation applications in the aerospace and automotive industries. These sectors also favor neoprene because of its flame resistance qualities. Neoprene seat covers and floor mats are fairly popular among automotive aftermarket buyers.
Another major consumer of neoprene is the medical and surgical industry. Neoprene can be found in medical bellows, finger cots, breather bags, and a number of other healthcare products.
Neoprene Products from Kent Elastomer
Kent Elastomer Products is a leading manufacturer of top-quality dip-molded neoprene products. Our expert team can create custom neoprene products for a variety of applications, from sports and leisure to aerospace and automotive components to industrial parts. Our neoprene compounds are 21 CFR compliant for medical devices and the food and beverage industry. Thanks to our color-matching capabilities, we can produce neoprene in virtually any hue to meet your specifications.
Additionally, KEP is proud to offer on-site labeling and packaging to streamline the entire production process for our customers. We strive to be your one-stop shop so you can spend less time worrying about the logistics.
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