Does rubber rot?
17th September, 2018
Have you ever had to replace a vintage tire that’s worn through, even though the vehicle has been sat in the garage for ten years? Maybe you’ve gone to wrap up a pile of letters, only for your last rubber band to snap because it’s become dried out and brittle.
This type of degeneration can be referred to as ‘dry rot’.
What is rubber ‘dry rot’?
Confusingly, rubber ‘dry rot’ isn’t actually dry rot. Genuine dry rot is caused by a fungus, and attacks only organic materials like wood or cotton. Rubber trees are capable of contracting dry rot, but rubber itself is not.
The rot that natural rubber experiences is more of a flaking, cracking, and drying phenomenon.
What is rubber made from?
Essentially, natural rubber is made from latex that’s harvested from the rubber tree. Natural rubber is a polymer – this means its chemical makeup consists of long chains of molecules that are naturally elastic. They can be pulled apart with little effort, but also spring back into shape just as quickly.
When natural rubber is treated for use as a material, it is polymerised. This process allows manufacturers to mix additives into the rubber to improve its properties for certain uses. Carbon black is added to make rubber turn black for use in tires, and heat stabilizers like ammonia are often used to improve heat resistance.
Why does rubber dry out?
Because all types of rubber (whether synthetic or natural) are polymers, they’re susceptible to most types of degeneration, including ultraviolet radiation, heat, cold, ozone erosion, and oxidation.
When manufacturers treat rubber, they add a protective compound to the mixture. With regular use, the rubber products flex and compress. This causes the protective compound to be pushed to the surface of the rubber product, meaning it is less vulnerable to any erosion it may be experiencing.
This is why tires that are used daily tend to be in better condition (rot-wise) than those left in a garage.
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