Neoprene is pretty amazing stuff. You’ll know it as the squishy foam material that’s used in your stubby coolers, baking mitts and bottle holders. It can be used in a huge range of other products too, everything from lunch bags to sunglasses pouches to pencil cases. And let’s not forget wet suits.

According to the American Chemistry Council, by 2004 more than 300,000 tons of neoprene was being produced around the world every year. But what exactly is it and why is it used to make so many different things?

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A Powerful Custom Invention

During the 1920s natural rubber was in high demand, thanks in part to the burgeoning automotive industry, which used rubber in car tyres. Teams of scientists set out to try and create synthetic rubbers that could meet the needs of growing commercial enterprise. One such team, led by a young chemist called Wallace Carothers of the American chemical company DuPont, had a major breakthrough, and in April 1930 they created neoprene.

DuPont marketed the new material as DuPrene, though the manufacturing process left it with an unpleasant smell, and it was not an instant commercial hit. DuPont refined the process though, dropped the name DuPrene, and by the end of the 1930s, neoprene was selling in large volumes.

Technical Aspects of Neoprene

The scientific name for neoprene in its raw form is polychloroprene. It is a polymer, which means it is made by linking together smaller molecules known as monomers. As an organic compound, polychloroprene is made up mostly of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Polychloroprene is mixed with other substances to make different neoprenes.

So Why Is Neoprene So Useful?

Its main advantage is that it is more resistant to heat, oil, water, and solvents than natural rubber. It has a very high tensile strength, which means it can endure a lot of stress while being pulled or stretched before it breaks. It also deals well with bad weather and sunlight, which means it ages better than other materials.

No wonder it’s used to make so many things!