Neoprene synthetic rubber is a more resilient and durable type of rubber than natural rubber due to its chemical composition. Neoprene sheets are ideally used for heavy-duty applications that experience harsh chemicals, repeated impacts, oil, or outdoor environments. While natural rubber retains a moderate level of strength and chemical-resistance, the resilience and chemical resistance of neoprene outweighs the protective properties of natural rubber. In addition, neoprene sheets are more versatile than natural rubber. Outdoor environments consist of damaging sunlight, UV rays, and ozone that will deteriorate natural rubber products; however, neoprene products will resist damage from abrasive outdoor conditions and last a long time.
Is Neoprene Natural Rubber?
Neoprene is not a natural rubber, but was actually invented to be a synthetic and more durable replacement for natural rubber. During World War II in the 1940s, neoprene products were on high demand due to its usefulness in military machinery and technology. The government at the time charged the DuPont Company with the responsibility of building a neoprene synthetic rubber plant to help with war efforts to produce more synthetic rubber replacements for natural rubber. A complex in Louisville, Kentucky dubbed “Rubbertown” was the birthplace of mass-producing neoprene which began in 1918. By the time World War II came into play, Japan had cut off natural rubber supplies to the United States which increased the demand for synthetic rubber. Due to this, “Rubbertown” continued to expand and began producing more neoprene synthetic rubber to keep up with the war.
Also known as polychloroprene, neoprene synthetic rubber is produced using various chemicals, including petrochemicals, while natural rubber is harvested from trees. Neoprene sheets are grease and oil-resistant allowing them to be used in oil-heavy applications without deteriorating. Natural rubber sheets are not oil-resistant and will be rendered obsolete when coming into contact with greases and oils. In addition, neoprene sheets are available in a wide variety of durometers ranging from 45A to 80A which offers a larger selection of neoprene sheets to choose from, based on the abrasiveness of an application. Although natural rubber has a high tensile strength and great resilience, it is not as durable and strong as neoprene. While neoprene sheets can be used for general-purpose applications, it is most useful in industrial settings.
How is Neoprene Made?
Neoprene sheets are made by linking carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine polymers through the process of vulcanization. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that derives from petrochemicals which gives neoprene sheets their unique chemical and physical properties, such as oil-resistance and resistance to extreme heat. For instance, two of the chemical compounds found in neoprene, butadiene and isoprene, are both common compounds found in synthetic rubbers due to their ability to crease resilient and oil-resistant synthetic rubbers. Furthermore, the compound isoprene is a common component found in synthetic rubbers because it “has outstanding impermeability to gasses” (Britannica.com). The chemical resistance of neoprene can be attributed to the chemical polymers used in its composition.
How is Natural Rubber Produced?
Natural rubber is harvested through a method called “tapping” which is the process of extracting latex sap from Hevea Brasiliensis, or the rubber tree. This is an eco-friendly process that cuts the tree in a way that does not harm it so that it can produce more sap in the future. Once the tree has been cut, the liquid latex sap is then collected into buckets then transported to a production facility to undergo processing. Strengthening agents are mixed into the liquid latex to strengthen it and prevent the material from oxidating. Finally, the mixture then undergoes the process of vulcanization, the process of heating the mixture with sulfur, to harden and solidify the rubber material. Natural rubber is an eco-friendlier material; however, the chemical compounds found in neoprene synthetic rubber outmatch the abilities offered by the strengthening agents used to create natural rubber.
What are the Advantages of Neoprene Over Natural Rubber?
Neoprene has an advantage over natural rubber because it is a synthetic rubber with improved chemical and physical properties, durability, and resistance to weathering. In addition, neoprene synthetic rubber is more easily accessible to countries that do not have rubber trees to harvest natural rubber. Hevea brasiliensis is native to South America, but was introduced to England in 1972 where it was subsequently distributed to the British colonies, including Malaysia and Thailand. Today, these countries are still the highest producers of natural rubber; however, as of 2020, there has been a shortage of natural rubber due to climate change and disease (thelantern.com). Therefore, neoprene synthetic rubber is much easier to access than natural rubber because it is not dependent on the growth of more trees.
Synthetic rubbers, in general, have a huge advantage over natural rubber due to the butadiene chemical compound found in these materials. Butadiene is a common chemical compound found in synthetic rubbers and is added to enhance its strength. For instance, “Butadiene is used to make synthetic rubber…The physical and chemical properties of these rubber polymers provide performance-enhancing components to tires, such as rolling resistance, wear, and traction” (chemicalsafetyfacts.org). Natural rubber also retains a high degree of resilience against tearing and some mild chemicals, but the chemical resistance of neoprene along with its durability allows it to be used in harsher conditions and in settings with more potent chemicals. In addition, neoprene rolls are more versatile than natural rubber and can be used both indoors and outdoors, for heavy-duty and all-purpose applications. Furthermore, foam neoprene rolls are also available and will offer better compressibility which leads to longer life for impact-heavy applications.
Neoprene vs Natural Rubber: Chemical Properties
Neoprene synthetic rubber has better resistance against harsh chemicals and petroleum-based solvents that are damaging to natural rubber. Neoprene sheets can stand up well against oil and will not be damaged upon contact with oil. In fact, during World War II, neoprene synthetic rubber was invented for the sole purpose of being an oil-resistant replacement for natural rubber. Natural rubber will deteriorate when exposed to oil but can hold up well against most organic salts, ammonia, acids, and alkali solutions. Neoprene sheets are ideal for heavy-duty applications involving oils, constant impacts, and harsh chemicals whereas natural rubber is better suited for light to medium-grade applications without overly abrasive temperatures and chemical conditions.
Neoprene vs Natural Rubber: Physical Properties
Neoprene sheets are much more durable than natural rubber sheets and are available by durometer hardness. Neoprene is a hard rubber, when in its solid form, and is popularly used with the durometer of 65A to 75A. Durometer refers to how hard a material is and, with a higher durometer, the more abuse the material can handle without damage. Neoprene sheets can therefore withstand a higher degree of abuse than most other materials. Natural rubber features a low compression set, high tensile strength, excellent surface traction, and good shock absorption properties making it commonly used for general purpose applications. Neoprene synthetic rubber also retains these properties; however, they are enhanced and will better resist overly abrasive industrial settings than natural rubber. Furthermore, outdoor conditions can be highly degrading and damaging to the integrity of natural rubber, but neoprene sheets are built to be resilient and will resist damage caused by direct sunlight, heat, wet weather, and ozone.
Neoprene sheets provides physical and chemical properties that cannot be met by natural rubber. Natural rubber products will deteriorate or become damaged if used in applications involving harsh chemicals and oils; however, neoprene synthetic rubber was created to resist the damaging effects of oil and replace natural rubber. The chemical resistance of neoprene gives it long life in the face of abrasive settings and strength will prevent neoprene sheets from breaking or tearing while in use. Overall, natural rubber is outmatched by neoprene synthetic rubber and its enhanced chemical and physical properties.