What is latex, and why is it so popular in manufacturing industries across the globe? While you may think that latex is all about glossy black clothes and condoms, there’s actually much more to it. For example, most people don’t know that latex comes from nature.
Today we’ll explore the wonderful world of latex to teach you about its manufacturing, uses, and some of the best latex products on the market.
What in the World Is Latex?
It seems that latex is all around us, and thousands of manufacturers use it for various products, from tennis shoes, clothing, balloons, chewing gum to condoms, as well as sexy boots and tights. But what is latex made of?
To put it simply, latex is mainly made from rubber (40%) and water (55%). Despite its all-black or red appearance in various processed products, it’s actually a white, soft, and milky fluid. Essentially, unprocessed latex comes from flowering plants and tree barks. In its natural form, plants produce it to defend themselves from insects. But, when processed, it can be used in thousands of industries. The processed material is affordable, durable, and the simple manufacturing process opens many possibilities for the user.
Of course, not all manufacturers use 100% natural rubber latex. There are other types, including 85% natural and 20% pure latex. Obviously, 100% natural latex provides the best feel/quality, but it can have some molecular inconsistencies. Therefore, most manufacturers use a combination of natural and synthetic latex. That ensures high durability and affordability while preserving natural resources.
How It’s Made
Firstly, manufacturers need to harvest or tap natural latex from its primary source, i.e., a rubber tree (hevea brasiliensis). They do that with 5-to-7-year-old trees, and the trees can be tapped for not more than 30 years. Typically, the process begins when a rubber tree matures and starts to produce the latex. The harvesters then cut grooves in the bark to extract it. Then, the grooves allow the latex to flow. Finally, the harvesters collect the materials in cups in a process that takes several hours. The result is an average yield of one ton per acre. After harvesting, manufacturers can filter the compound to transport it easily.
During the processing stage, manufacturers add acid to the latex. That way, they can make it clump and dry/roll it much easier. Then, the smoked sheets of latex undergo chemical treatment during prevulcanization. Again, this process makes the material easier to transport. From there, you simply need to use more heat to create rubber. The end result is a highly stretchy, resilient, and incredibly waterproof material.
The best source of natural latex used to be the Amazon. However, rubber production has recently shifted to Asia. In fact, over 90% of all latex production hails from Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia are leading producers, with over 50% of latex manufactured there. Some other latex rubber industry leaders are in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India.
Regarding synthetic latex, there are several manufacturing processes, but most use petroleum-based chemicals. The end result is synthetic rubber polymers. The makers can process them even further with extrusion or injection/compression molding.
The Many Uses of Latex
When it comes to the uses of latex, it’s worth mentioning that up to 70% of natural and synthetic rubber is used on vehicle and aircraft tires. The second-biggest user of latex is the adhesives/glue industry. So think about latex tubes, tape, labels, and envelopes. Interestingly, the U.S. consumes over 50% of all latex rubber produced worldwide.
Household items and clothing are also big examples of latex’s wide applications. That can include latex gloves, shoes, jackets, and boots. It’s also an important compound in creating molds for wax, cement, and plaster. However, there are many other industries that use latex. You can find latex in various everyday items such as pencil erasers, sports equipment, car parts, rubber bands, medical devices, etc.
However, the list doesn’t end there. Latex is also a common material for the production of toys, diapers, pacifiers, and other baby equipment. Latex is also the key ingredient of many buttons, switches, and cables on computers along with other electronic gadgets. Interestingly, there are even some foods that contain raw, unprocessed latex. If you have a latex allergy, you may not be able to eat them. Bananas, tomatoes, figs, apples, peaches, and other foods could give you an allergic reaction.
And regarding synthetic rubber, it’s found in a wide array of products, including belts, cables, flooring, hoses, etc. Rubber latex is also the first choice for manufacturers of condoms and other contraceptives like diaphragms.
Latex in Fabrics and Clothing
Still, perhaps the most fascinating use of latex is in fabrics and clothing. It’s something that we wear and use every day but rarely pay any attention to it. Lots of manufacturers use it in straps, zippers, shoe soles, and other parts of clothing. But, the sleek and shiny black look of latex has also become a big part of the fashion industry. Just think of glossy black jackets, tights, corsets, etc. When used in this way, latex acts as a second skin and provides a stunning visual effect.
Also, latex is one of the best materials for mattresses and beds. These types of beds use latex foam to provide a durable, comfortable, and ergonomic surface. Other qualities of latex beds include pressure relief, easy maintenance, and eco-friendliness. Plus, latex is hypoallergenic, which makes it impervious to house dust mites. If you use a latex mattress, you’ll notice that they have a springy texture that bounces back much quicker compared to memory foam. However, it is just firm enough to contour and adapt itself to your body shape. This material is ideal for restless sleepers and those who move in their bed a lot.
As you can see, latex is used in a variety of products and applications, and it’s truly a fascinating phenomenon that has revolutionized many industries. Hopefully, you’ve learned all you need to know before buying something new that’s made with this material. Catch you latex!