When choosing products for your home, it's important to know where they came from, what they're made of, and how they are used.
This is especially true for rug pads, which can damage your floors if they're made of the wrong materials.
Synthetic rubber is one such material.
In this post, we'll break down the difference between natural rubber and synthetic rubber, how they're made, where each material is used, and what to do with it in your home.
Let's dig in.
What is natural rubber?
Natural rubber is a raw material produced from latex, an organic substance obtained from the sap of various species of trees. About 20,000 species of plants produce latex, but the chief source of natural rubber is the rubber tree.
Hevea brasiliensis — the tree’s scientific name — is native to the Amazon rainforest in South America.
Natural rubber latex is tapped and collected from the tree’s trunk.
This rubber in the form of latex is white, milky, and chemically categorized as a polymer.
Note: A polymer is a substance with large molecules that occur in a repeating sequence.
The unique quality of this polymer is that it bounces back to its normal shape after being stretched. That’s why rubber is elastic and stretchy.
Natural rubber vs. synthetic rubber: what's the difference?
It should be noted that not all rubber comes from trees. It can be made in a laboratory or at a manufacturing plant. This is known as synthetic rubber.
There are several differences between synthetic and natural rubber.
Natural rubber has a higher tensile strength than synthetic rubber. Tensile strength is the maximum limit that any material can withstand being stretched out.
On the other hand, synthetic rubber is more resistant to wear and tear, oxygen exposure, and extreme temperature conditions.
Another pro of synthetic rubber is that it has variety. It comes in different types, each made to suit a particular use.
Natural rubber has no variation because it occurs in nature and is harvested to yield the same product universally.
That said, natural rubber has a milder odor than synthetic rubber, which gives off a more pungent smell.
Overall, natural rubber has the edge over synthetic because it cannot be fully replicated. Synthetic rubber has most of the qualities that natural rubber has (such as flexibility), but you can’t make synthetic rubber that replicates all-natural rubber properties.
What to look for when getting natural rubber
When looking for natural rubber products, ensure they’re elastic by stretching them out gently. If what you’re buying is not elastic, it may not be rubber. One material that is often mistaken for rubber is silicone.
Additionally, natural rubber is non-sticky and has a mild smell.
Softer rubber produces items like rubber bands, while harder rubber is used to make items like rug pads. When looking for a rug pad, those made of natural rubber are often the best options. These rug pads have a superb grip, excellent for holding rugs in place.
Natural rubber properties
Natural rubber boasts highly desirable properties, making it an excellent choice for a wide variety of products.
One of these properties is a high tensile strength, as mentioned above. In this aspect, natural rubber is durable because it doesn’t break or weaken easily. It’s also flexible and doesn’t lose this ability over time.
This property of natural rubber also makes it very easy to use in the production of fabrics. Its elastic nature can be used in textile manufacturing by weaving it together with other fibers.
It also has a robust molecular structure, making it an excellent insulator.
Furthermore, it works well as a shock absorber because its solid structure reduces vibrations, making it good for soundproofing.
Another incredible property is its eco-consciousness. It’s produced from an environmentally friendly and renewable source.
Natural rubber uses and examples
Natural rubber is used to make a variety of products for daily use, including:
- Rug pads
- Surgical gloves
- Flotation devices
We’ll take a look at non-slip rug pads, tires, latex products, flooring, and roofing.
Non-slip rug pads
Non-slip rug pads are placed under rugs in any setting to prevent slipping if the surface is slick. It also prevents the rug’s edges from rolling up; this way, the rug lies flat.
Natural rubber is an excellent material to make rug pads because it has more impressive non-skid qualities than PVC.
Natural rubber’s weaving ability makes it a superb choice for non-slip rug pads like the Super-Lock Natural rug pad.
It’s eco-friendly and protects the floor finishing far better than a plastic rug pad. Plastic rug pads sometimes damage floors by leaving behind stains and discoloration.
Automobile manufacturers depend on rubber because it’s used in the production of tires. It provides unique performance characteristics that are essential for safety and function on the road.
Natural rubber has a solid grip, which helps drivers navigate both slippery and rough roads. This makes for a safe driving experience as the car doesn’t skid off-road.
Rubber is also an insulator, meaning it doesn’t conduct heat. This prevents the tires from overheating.
Vehicles carry heavy loads, which is made possible because rubber can withstand pressure and maintain its shape while not getting damaged.
Natural rubber latex products (gloves, balloons, or swim caps)
Products made from natural rubber such as gloves, balloons, and swim caps, have one thing in common — their elasticity.
Rubber products work well for gloves and swim caps because the products are durable — they can last up to 40 years. These items are readily available and affordable.
Roofing or flooring
Natural rubber is used in construction for roofing and flooring because it’s water-resistant.
For roofs, this prevents water from seeping in and acts as an impenetrable seal.
Rubber roofing is durable and requires minimal maintenance. If the roof is installed the right way, you might never have a crack or leak.
Rubber makes for some of the best tiles in construction because of their longevity and sturdiness. The tiles have a grip that prevents accidents while maintaining water-resistance. Rubber flooring is common in gyms, hospitals, and even homes.
Brief history of natural rubber
Natural rubber was discovered as early as 1600 BC. According to archaeological evidence, the Olmec tribe among South American Indians used it to make medicines. Years later, Christopher Columbus also came across rubber, around the time he arrived in America.
In 1751, Charles Marie de la Condamine, a French scientist, researched and presented a paper on the qualities of natural rubber extracted from rubber trees. He studied two types of trees: Hevea Brasiliensis (Pará rubber tree) and Castilla Elastica (Panama rubber tree) — both produce rubber.
His paper explained that Hevea Brasiliensis was the best option for harvesting because it has a connected latex network in its trunk. When an incision is made on the tree’s trunk, the latex seeps out, or the tree ‘bleeds’ latex.
Castilla Elastica doesn’t have this latex network in its trunk, making harvesting rubber difficult because it doesn’t bleed latex. Condamine’s research led to the Pará rubber tree being accepted as the main source of latex.
Charles Goodyear, an American engineer, discovered the vulcanization of rubber in 1839. This is heating it in the presence of sulfur or other chemicals to make it resistant to extreme heat and cold. The vulcanized rubber is more elastic than it was before heating.
The rubber industry continued to grow in Brazil and South America in the 1800s. In fact, South America became the world’s chief producer of latex.
Did you know? Henry Wickam smuggled tens of thousands of rubber tree seeds to the UK.
Only about 3.5% of them grew into rubber tree seedlings.
Sneaky Wickham sent the seeds to Malaysia, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. The growth spread over into acres, and today, rubber produced in Asia contributes to about 70% of the world's natural rubber industry.
Today, it remains a valuable and irreplaceable resource, and the natural rubber industry is growing steadily due to increasing demand. The industry is set to hit 33.87 billion USD by 2027.
FAQs about natural rubber
Is natural rubber toxic?
No, it’s non-toxic. Since rubber is obtained from plants, it's as organic as it gets. However, some people do have a latex allergy.
Is natural rubber the same as latex?
No, they’re not the same. These two terms are used interchangeably, but they’re different. Latex is a general term for any polymers in liquid form. When rubber is produced, natural rubber latex is the milky substance from plants used to make it.
Why is natural rubber better than synthetic?
Natural rubber is better than the synthetic kind because it‘s eco-friendly. It has a milder odor, it’s more flexible, and it has a very high resistance when stretched out with a lot of force.
Why Is it called rubber?
In 1600s England, people referred to rubber as something that could erase marks or dirt. In 1751, Charles Marie de la Condamine discovered in his research that the material could erase lead pencil marks from paper, and the name ‘rubber’ was adopted based on this quality.
Is rubber a carcinogen?
Natural rubber is not a carcinogen because of its organic nature. As for rubber produced in a lab, some of the chemical compounds in it can cause cancer, and people who work in manufacturing may be at risk.
What are the disadvantages of natural rubber?
Natural rubber has a few disadvantages:
- It wears out quickly, especially when exposed to the elements, i.e., extreme sunlight or oxygen.
- Some people are allergic to latex, and using it irritates their skin.
- It has low resistance to grease and oils — they cause damage to rubber.
Is latex biodegradable?
Yes, it is. Due to its plant-based origins, it can be broken down to avoid pollution. Its synthetic counterpart isn’t biodegradable.
How long does natural rubber last?
Natural rubber lasts anywhere between 5 to 25 years. This depends on what it’s used for, the frequency, and the environment it’s used in. It lasts a shorter time if exposed to the elements, especially extreme temperatures.
How strong is natural rubber?
It’s very strong, with a tensile strength of 20-25 MPa (force per unit area). For perspective, the tensile strength of natural hair is 10 MPa, and stainless steel has an MPa of about 860 MPa.
Can you throw away rubber?
Yes, because it’s biodegradable. Still, recycling is a better choice to be processed for new uses — in construction, playground covers, and sporting surfaces such as basketball courts.
Other materials in rug pads
Although we produce high-quality natural rubber rug pads, it’s not the only material used to manufacture rug pads. Other materials like PVC and felt fabric also make high-quality rug pads. Here’s how:
Our PVC rug pads are one of a kind because the pad coating is durable and maintains your floor’s quality and integrity. Other rug pads lower the quality of floors by staining, stripping, and sticking to floors.
Felt fabric is a blend of different fibers that are compressed, matted, or condensed together. The different fibers in the blend can be natural fibers like wool or synthetic fibers like polyester and acrylic.
A rug pad made from felt fabric is an excellent choice because it protects floors from dents formed by heavy furniture. Felt is a great soundproof insulator, and a felt rug pad will protect your rug from dirt.
How do I know which non-slip rug pad to buy?
The right non-slip rug pad for your home depends on your rug’s size, your flooring material, and personal preference.
Whatever the case, use our handy buying guide to find the right rug pad for you because here at RugPadUSA, we don’t want any of our customers to slip-up.