Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber: Top Differences to Consider

November 24, 2022

Rubber tree plantation

Whether you’re a company leader who’s choosing materials for your products or a consumer who’s making buying choices for your household, learning about your options is the first step. For many types of products, you have a choice between natural rubber and synthetic rubber. Which one should you choose?

Both natural rubber and synthetic rubber are used abundantly, but they often have different applications and use cases. Let’s explore the differences between natural vs. synthetic rubber and why natural rubber may be the most ecologically healthy choice.

Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber: Where Does It Come From?

Before we dig into the differences between natural and synthetic rubber, let’s look at what each one is and their different origins.

First, what is rubber made out of? Natural rubber comes from trees. Certain types of trees produce liquid latex within them, although the rubber tree is the primary source. Rubber manufacturers extract the latex from the trees, much the same way maple syrup manufacturers extract sap. They then put the latex through processes that remove excess water and stabilize it to make it into the firm rubber that we see in products.

Where does synthetic rubber come from, then? In scientific terms, synthetic rubber is produced by turning monomers into specific polymers. Manufacturers typically start with petroleum and perform chemical processes and formulas that create synthetic rubber. Keep in mind that there are several types of synthetic rubber, so the manufacturing process varies.

How Natural and Synthetic Rubber are Used

Natural rubber and synthetic rubber each have their own pros and cons, so they’re often used for different products and purposes. These can vary, of course, but you’ll most often find natural rubber in:

  • Vehicle tires
  • Fabrics and clothing
  • Medical devices
  • Surgical gloves
  • Children’s toys and pacifiers
  • Balloons

As far as synthetic rubber goes, various types of synthetic rubber can be used in different ways but the most common applications include:

  • Wetsuits
  • Chemical-protective garments
  • Shoe soles
  • Insulation for wires and cables
  • Seals and gaskets, such as in machinery and vehicles

Price of Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

Finances are a factor in any decision, so how do natural and synthetic rubbers measure up?  Which one is more expensive?

In truth, this varies considerably. The price of both natural and synthetic rubber constantly fluctuates based on supply and demand. Both of them have factors in their manufacturing that make prices unstable. Natural rubber depends on crop yields (though it depends on how well rubber trees grew or were planted years ago because it takes 6-8 years for a rubber tree to start producing latex). Synthetic rubber depends on petroleum prices.

As a result, the answer to which material is more economical is always shifting.

Environmental Impact of Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

When it comes to the environment, the choice is clear: natural rubber has a significantly lower negative impact on the planet.

Natural rubber does come from trees, but manufacturers don’t need to cut down the trees to get the rubber, so the industry doesn’t contribute to deforestation. In fact, it takes up to 8 years for a rubber tree to start producing latex but when it reaches that point, it produces latex every year for up to 30 years. As a result, it encourages manufacturers to keep trees alive and healthy for longer.

Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, is typically produced using petroleum. Extracting petroleum from the earth has a negative effect on the planet, and petroleum is considered a non-renewable resource because it takes so long to develop.

The impact of natural rubber vs. synthetic rubber also comes into play at the end of products’ lives. Natural rubber is biodegradable, but synthetic rubber is not.

Lifespan of Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

When comparing products made of natural rubber and synthetic rubber, which one lasts longer? Much like the price comparison, this question is a toss-up.

Natural rubber and synthetic rubber have their own strengths and weaknesses – they can each withstand different types of degrading factors. As a result, the longevity depends on what a product is exposed to. For example, sunlight will break down natural rubber faster than synthetic rubber, but synthetic rubber is more vulnerable to tearing and abrasion.

Functional Benefits of Natural vs. Synthetic Rubber

Natural and synthetic rubbers are rather different materials, so each has its own benefits. The top advantages of natural rubber include:

  • High tensile strength
  • Resistant to tearing and abrasion
  • Resistant to compression
  • Dampens vibrations well
  • Strong adhesion abilities

In the case of synthetic rubbers, each type of synthetic rubber has its own properties, so the benefits will vary. Generally, though, synthetic rubber has these functional benefits:

  • Withstands extreme temperatures well
  • Resistant to chemical damage
  • Resistant to damage from sunlight, ozone, and weather
  • Strong electrical insulation
  • Flexible at low temperatures

Choosing Between Natural Rubber and Synthetic Rubber…or a Unique Middle Ground

At the end of the day, which is better – natural rubber or synthetic rubber? From an ethical standpoint, using natural rubber will have a less detrimental effect on the planet and on humankind. But there’s a third option too.

Yulex manufactures unique materials that are not exactly natural rubber but are plant-based rubber materials. These unique materials take on many of the benefits and properties of synthetic rubbers, making them a substitute for materials like neoprene, but they are plant-based so they’re more eco-friendly. Learn more about Yulex natural rubber and plant-based rubber products.

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