Most people are familiar with latex especially due to the popular use of latex gloves in the medical profession, however, not many people know what latex is or how it is produced. Latex or natural rubber is a mixture of organic compounds produced by specific plants in cells known as caticifers.
The composition of organic compounds or polymer microparticles in aqueous form that make natural rubber differs from plant to plant. However, most latex is derived from one species commonly referred to as Hevea brasiliensis or simply H. brasiliensis. While the tree occurs naturally in South America, it has been successfully cultivated in large plantations in many Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia.
Basically, latex-producing trees take about 5 years to grow from seedling to maturity and continue to produce rubber until they are about 30 years old. To tap the aqueous compound that make rubber, trees are tapped by cutting a thin strip of bark which disrupts the plant duct containing latex. As a result, the aqueous latex flows down the tree along the grooves and drain into collection cups.
When the collection cups are full, tappers collect the latex and pour it into large containers ready for processing. Once it is processed, latex becomes natural rubber with excellent mechanical properties. It is tear resistant, has excellent tensile, resilience and elongation. In spite of these properties, rubber can be easily damaged by heat, oxygen and sunlight. It is also vulnerable when exposed to petroleum products and other solvents. To make it resistant to these elements, natural rubber is enhanced with special additives.
Uses of latex
Natural rubber in one form or another has been used for ages. Evidence of its use go back about 2,000 years or more. During those ancient times, people would tap the latex and use it to waterproof handmade pails and balls. Popular uses of latex include:
These are commonly used in the medical field since they are ideal in protecting users against contamination. Part of the reason why latex is used in gloves is because it is waterproof unlike some synthetic alternatives that absorb water. Since some people are allergic to latex and exposure to natural rubber result in anaphylactic shock, non-latex alternatives have become highly popular to prevent allergic reactions.
When purchasing gloves, you need some basic latex gloves information to assist make an informed decision. Such information include the quality of the glove and how it is made, the size and the amount of protection you need.
There are 2 types of rubber tires: pneumatic and solid or cushion tires. Pneumatic tires are used on free-moving vehicles such as automobiles, bicycles, off-road vehicles, trucks and airplanes. On the other hand, solid tires carry loads and absorb shocks. They are commonly used in industrial machinery settings or on military vehicles.
Most people have piles of rubber bands sitting around their work place or home. These bands come in handy for a variety of tasks. They can be used to hold newspapers together during delivery to customers, or hold items together.
Recently, a version of these bands known as silly bands has emerged and become highly popular. Silly bands are designed to depict various cartoon figures and are worn on ankles or wrists by children and adults.
Rubber bands are also collected by many people and fashioned into a ball. Here, a bunch of bands are wrapped around until they make a ball, the more the bands, the bigger the ball.
Apart from latex gloves and tires, rubber boots are some of the most common items that use natural rubber. These boots are so common that you are likely to find them in very closet in every home across the U.S and around the world.
In the past, these boots were donned by people working in industrial settings or outdoors but that has changed nowadays. Currently, rubber boots are worn by of men, women and children in various settings. Even some pets wear rubber boots to protect their feet from wet or cold weather.
Other latex products include:
- Bandages or adhesive strips
- Latex condoms
- Latex mattresses
- Vial stoppers
- Baby bottle nipples
- Dental dams
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Dish washing gloves
- Orthodontic elastics