It sometimes seems like every other product in our home contains latex but what is latex and what is it made of?
Well, latex is a natural substance that many of us know by another name, rubber.
What Is Latex Made Of?
Latex is a rubber and water blend. It contains 40% rubber, 55% water, and around 5% of “other substances” such as impurities, coloring agents, etc.
If you lift the bark of a rubber tree, you will find a soft white substance beneath. That substance is latex.
Where In The World Does Latex Come From?
Latex is a natural product of rubber trees but the vast majority of the latex used by human beings comes from a single species of rubber tree.
It is native to South America and it is farmed mainly in South America as well as Southeast Asia which offers similar tropical conditions for the rubber tree to thrive in. These two regions are where most of the world’s rubber latex is from.
Removing latex from the rubber tree does not harm the tree and latex will be harvested from a single tree many times throughout its lifetime. It’s kind to produce latex and good for the environment as long as it’s natural.
How Do They Harvest Latex?
The bark is lifted from the tree and then a worker (known as a “tapper” in the trade) places cups at the base of the tree near where the strips of bark were removed.
The latex sap then flows down the tree into the cups.
When the cups fill up with milky latex, they’re replaced and more cups are filled until harvesting comes to an end for this period of time.
How Is Latex Made Into Rubber?
The raw latex, collected from the mature rubber tree, is filtered to remove as many impurities as possible and then poured into large chemical drums to be shipped elsewhere.
When these drums arrive at the processing plant, they add acid to the drums. This makes the liquid latex clump together in a sort of solid.
This solid can be rolled out into sheets at a latex mill.
Once this is done, the sheets are dried and then smoked. This is when the natural rubber becomes natural latex.
Then the final part of the process is called “prevulcanization” which is a gentle chemical treatment applied under low heat.
This makes it easier to ship to other destinations, where it can be turned into vulcanized rubber by applying more heat.
What About Synthetic Latex, How Is That Made?
Synthesized latex involves no natural rubber but is instead made from petroleum products. This involves making synthetic rubber and following similar steps for latex production. It’s not as good as natural rubber latex.
The ingredients are mixed and then rolled into sheets and they may then be used for further processing such as compression molding, injection molding, and extrusion.
What Are The Properties Of Latex?
Latex is rubber and that means it’s not rigid and can be stretched and compressed easily without tearing.
It’s not easy to use abrasives on latex.
It is very hardy in low temperatures but it corrodes at temperatures over 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
It can be damaged by petrol and other organic solvents and should be stored away from these products where possible.
How Is Latex Used?
Natural latex is used in a huge number of products in our lives. You can find it in anything from chewing gum to swimming caps, mattresses, pillows, and even tennis shoes!
Synthetic latex can be used in similar ways but they are most common in chemical coatings (such as paint), glues, and cement (where it is used to help bind cracked cement together).
Natural latex is made of rubber, water, and impurities. It can be found in everything from latex paint, to latex gloves, to rubber bands, and so on. It is also less likely to aggravate a latex allergy than its synthetic counterpart.
Synthetic latex, on the other hand, is made from petroleum products. It uses a chemical process to produce latex that can also be used in rubber particles and in items like surgical gloves.
We recommend that wherever possible you buy natural, organic latex produced under the GOLS standard to be as kind to the planet as possible.