Neoprene is present in a variety of products people use today – including vehicle seat covers. Hereâ€™s a rare look into how itâ€™s made, its properties, and what itâ€™s used for and why.
The First Synthetic Rubber
According to the American Chemical Council, neoprene was the first synthetic rubber material ever created. It was first synthesized in 1930 by DuPont – first called Duprene. Over 300,000 tons of the material are produced today each and every year.
When it was first invented, it had the distinction of being more resistant than natural rubber to water, oils, heat, and solvents.
During World War II, all of the neoprene made in the U.S. went to the war effort, making necessary military parts like fan belts, tires, hoses, seals, and gaskets for vehicles. The general public had to rely on traditional rubber until the war was over.
One of the reasons itâ€™s so strong is because of its structure. According to Dr. Linky Chainsworth, an organic chemist, neoprene molecules are joined together â€œend-on-end,â€ and form long chains which are not connected. This makes the material very strong.
However, newer processes, including vulcanization, make neoprene even stronger.
Its Unique Properties
The technical name for neoprene is Chloroprene, with a chemical structure of C4H5Cl. This structure gives it some amazing traits not reproducible in natural products. For example, itâ€™s able to tolerate high heat and extreme cold. When compared to rubber, the neoprene material is more gas permeation resistant.
Its heat tolerance is an impressive 200 degrees Fahrenheit. And, even at that temperature, it will not degrade. When degradation does finally occur, it wonâ€™t melt or stretch. Instead, it hardens. This process of hardening starts when the material is cooled to a maximum threshold temperature of -40 degrees Fahrenheit. This wide range of functionality makes it suitable in extreme conditions where integrity is of paramount importance, such as braking systems in vehicles.
Neoprene can also bond to other materials very well and it resists oxidation. This means itâ€™s resistant to indoor and outdoor environments, especially harsh ones. It resists chemicals like solvents, oils, and greases, making it ideal for use in automotive applications. It can resist alkalines, mineral acids, and certain salt solutions.
because neoprene can be bonded to glass and acrylic, it has uses in both residential and commercial applications.
Many construction companies use it in building materials, automakers use it in automotive applications, and companies use it in consumer products.
The list of products where it can be used almost seems endless.
Where Itâ€™s Used
Neoprene is used in a variety of applications, ranging from water wicking neoprene seat covers to wetsuits, to window seals to hose covers, CVJ boots, power transmission belts, vibration mounts, shock absorbers, door seals, highway bridge seals, bridge bearing pads, washers, o-rings, deviator pads, and even in elevators.
The industries where itâ€™s most prevalent include mass transit, the automotive industry and the construction industry.
But, neoprene is also used in consumer appliances and applications where rubber is either undesirable or non-functional.
Lara Bird has worked in the family auto repair center for many years, and enjoys seeing what’s new on the market that she can introduce to customers. She blogs during her free evenings on a range of topics from cars to parenting.