Rubber is such a ubiquitous material that we may take it for granted. That has not always been the case however. Before Charles Goodyear invented vulcanization—a process involving the addition of sulfur to heated natural latex—the most common uses for rubber were waterproofing and rubber balls. Vulcanization stabilized rubber and made it stronger, leading to broader applications. Now synthetic rubbers allow a greater diversity of available rubber products.
Home and Garden
The average household uses rubber in everything from elasticized bands in clothing and hair ties, to dishwashing gloves, toys, jar seals and tires. Starting at the welcome mat in front of the door and moving to the garden hoses out back, we use hundreds of rubber products in our lives. Other household rubber items include boots, raincoats, pond liners, mattresses and cushions, pillows, grips on garden tools, bathtub plugs, doorstops, earplugs, hot water bottles, aquarium tubing, faucet washers and backing for rugs.
Medical and Laboratory Use
Despite the fact that 5% to 10% of health care workers have allergic responses to natural latex rubber, it remains a staple material source for surgical tubing and gloves in labs and medical facilities. Nitril and Neoprene are synthetic rubbers used to make such things as “corks” for lab flasks and vials, chemical resistant mats and pads, birth control devices, prosthetics and other specialized products and equipment.
Pets and Livestock
If you have pets, you know the value of unbreakable grooming, play and feeding items. Rubber food and water bowls come in sizes for every pet from Chihuahuas to horses and you can buy a staggering array of chew toys and balls as well. On the practical side, foam rubber mattress pads, stall mats, elasticized vet wraps, flea collars, shed mitts and rubber combs are all rubber products to help your pets look and feel their best.
School and Office
Any place that has books and paper as an essential part of the décor uses rubber bands and pencil erasers, or rubbers as the British call them. (The word rubber originated with the discovery that the substance could be used to rub out pencil marks). Other common rubber items found in schools and offices include mouse pads, keyboards, adhesives and rolling chair wheels. Anti-fatigue mats, carpet underlayment, head phone pads and rubber stamps are just some useful rubber items found in offices and schools.
Fun and Games
It would not be summer without swimming rafts and inner tubes, rings and darts for toss games, basketballs, volleyballs, badminton shuttlecocks, tennis shoes, crocks and flip-flops or those foam beverage sleeves we use to keep drinks cool. Other fun related rubber items include inflatable beds for camping, playground tiles, rubber ducks, sportswear, scuba gear and, of course, “superballs” and silly putty.