When people talk about “rubber”, they don’t usually specify what kind. There are many different kinds of rubber, but they all fall into two broad types:
Commercially, the most important synthetic rubbers are styrene butadiene (SBR), polyacrylics, and polyvinyl acetate (PVA); other kinds include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polychloroprene (better known as neoprene), and various types of polyurethane. Although natural rubber and synthetic rubbers are similar in some ways, they’re made by entirely different processes and chemically quite different.
Think of rubber and you probably think of elastic bands, car tires, or pencil erasers. But this super-stretchy material actually finds its way into tens of thousands of different products—everything from rubber stamps and waterproof shoes to surfing wetsuits, swimming caps, and dishwasher hoses. Rubber, which has been commonly used for over 1000 years, once came entirely from natural sources; now rubber products are just as likely to be made artificially in chemical plants. That’s large because we can’t produce enough natural rubber to meet all our needs. And that, in turn, is because rubber is so fantastically useful. Let’s take a closer look at one of the world’s most amazing materials!