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Silicone vs Rubber: Which Material is Better for Your Needs?

Silicone vs Rubber: Which Material is Better for Your Needs?

silicone gaskets series

Silicone and rubber are both popular materials used in a wide range of applications, from household items to industrial components. At JESilicone, we manufacture our products exclusively from pure silicone. Silicone is a type of synthetic rubber made by modifying the naturally-occurring chemical element of silicon. While the most well known rubber is natural rubber, commonly known as latex. For many applications, it is not quite clear which rubber is the best to use. In this article, we’ll look at the properties of silicone rubber and natural rubber and discover when you might choose one or the other.

What Is Silicone Rubber?

Silicone rubber is a type of synthetic rubber made by modifying the naturally-occurring chemical element of silicon. Due to this modification, silicone rubber is resistant to heat, fungus, and chemicals. On top of that, silicone rubber stands up well against ozone and intense UV rays.

What is Natural Rubber?

Natural rubber, with the chemical name polyisopropene, is an elastic material that comes from the latex sap of certain trees and plants, including the rubber tree, dandelions, rubber fig, and Panama rubber tree. The latex is extracted by slicing the bark of the tree, and the resulting rubber is an elastomer, or elastic hydrocarbon polymer, that can return to its original shape after stretching. Natural rubber has great flexibility, but it does not hold up well against oil, grease, or fat. For that reason, you will rarely see natural rubber products used in the food industry.

The Major Differences

The biggest difference between silicone rubber and natural rubber is that silicone rubber is made while natural rubber is harvested. When you look more closely, you’ll also see that natural rubber fails to hold up against certain environmental conditions, while silicone rubber thrives.

Comparison Between Silicone And Natural Rubber

While both materials are elastomers, they differ in many of their properties. Some of these properties are summarised in the table below.

Natural Rubber Silicone
-40 °C to 80 °C -40 °C to 250 °C
Excellent compression set Excellent compression set
Poor weather resistance Excellent weather resistance
Approx. tensile strength 25 MPa Approx. tensile strength 5 MPa
Excellent abrasion resistance Poor abrasion resistance
Not compatible with: ozone, strong acids, fats, oils, greases, hydrocarbons. Not compatible with: hydrocarbon fuels, alkalis and acids, steam over 121 °C, trichloroethylene, aromatic hydrocarbons.
Compatible with: hot and cold water, weak acids, alcohols, ketones, aldehydes. Compatible with: ozone, oils, brake fluids, hot and cold water, salt water, high molecular weight chlorinated hydrocarbons, fire resistant hydraulic fluid.
Silicone Rubber Is Better For Medical Uses

Is Silicone Better Than Natural Rubber?

While both materials have their advantages, silicone often stands out as the superior choice for many reasons. Here explores why silicone is often considered better than natural rubber:

1. Temperature Resistance

Both natural rubber and silicone are able to operate at very low temperatures down to -40 °C. However, silicone is able to operate at much higher temperatures than natural rubber. Natural rubber starts deteriorating at 80 °C and melts at 120 °C. Silicone is able to be formulated to operate up to 250 °C. Silicone also has significantly better flame resistance than natural rubber. For high temperature applications, silicone is certainly the better choice.

2. Durability and Longevity

Silicone rubber is renowned for its durability and longevity. It does not degrade as quickly as rubber when exposed to UV light, ozone, or harsh weather conditions. This makes silicone an excellent choice for outdoor applications and products that need to maintain their integrity over time. Nature rubber tends to harden, crack, and lose its elasticity when subjected to such conditions, reducing its lifespan.

3. Chemical Resistance

silicone exhibits a wider chemical resistance than natural rubber, often making it the better choice for chemical sealing applications. Silicone rubber is highly resistant to many chemicals, including oils, solvents, and acids. Natural Rubber, while resistant to some chemicals, does not offer the same level of protection and can degrade when exposed to certain substances.

4. Flexibility and Elasticity

Both silicone and rubber are flexible materials, but silicone maintains its flexibility over a broader temperature range. It remains pliable and elastic even at low temperatures, where natural rubber might become brittle. This flexibility makes silicone a preferred choice for seals, gaskets, and other applications requiring a tight, reliable seal across varying temperatures.

5. Safety and Hypoallergenic Properties

Silicone rubber is non-toxic and hypoallergenic, making it safe for use in medical and food-grade applications. It does not release harmful chemicals, and its non-reactive nature makes it ideal for products like baby bottle nipples, kitchenware, and medical devices. latex can sometimes contain latex, which can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, limiting its use in sensitive applications.

6. Ease of Cleaning and Sterilization

Silicone is easier to clean and sterilize compared to natrual rubber. It can be boiled, autoclaved, and subjected to high temperatures without losing its properties. This makes silicone particularly suitable for medical devices, baby products, and kitchen utensils that require frequent cleaning and sterilization.

7. Environmental Impact

Silicone rubber is more environmentally friendly than latex in many aspects. It is derived from silica, a natural resource, and its production process is less harmful to the environment compared to the synthetic production of rubber. Furthermore, silicone products have a longer lifespan, reducing the frequency of replacements and, consequently, waste.

8. Versatility in Applications

Silicone’s unique properties make it incredibly versatile. It can be found in a wide range of products, from kitchenware and baby products to automotive parts and medical devices. Its ability to perform consistently across different environments and applications makes it a go-to material for manufacturers seeking reliability and performance.

In Conclusion

Although natural rubber remains a valuable material in various applications, silicone’s superior properties make it the better choice for many uses. Its exceptional temperature resistance, durability, chemical resistance, flexibility, safety, ease of cleaning, environmental benefits, and versatility ensure that silicone often outperforms rubber in demanding conditions. Whether for household items, industrial components, or medical devices, silicone offers a reliable and long-lasting solution that meets the needs of modern consumers and industries.

Now that you know how silicone rubber differs from natural rubber, we hope you have a better understanding of the incredible properties of silicone. Its unique resistances make it the perfect material for so many applications.

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