From Raw to Rubber: The Vulcanization Process

Back in the early 1800s, natural rubber became very popular throughout the United States, but it wasn’t long before people started to realize the limitations of this versatile material. Specifically, rubber didn’t withstand temperature extremes very well. These earliest forms of rubber would melt when the temperature got too warm, and would freeze and crack when the temperature got too cold.

As a result, Americans turned their backs on rubber, but companies strived to find a solution to improve the versatility of rubber. Charles Goodyear stumbled upon one solution and, as The Christian Science Monitor notes, he did it purely by accident.

Natural Rubber As the story goes, Goodyear treated rubber with sulfur and accidentally exposed it to extreme heat. One version of the story holds that in excitement, he accidentally threw his sample atop a hot stove, while other accounts claim he spilled test tubes together on a stove in his lab. However it truly occurred, Goodyear didn’t necessarily intend for the sulfur to be the answer to his rubber problem, but his happy accident revealed a process of treating rubber to remove its gooeyness and, in essence, weatherproofed it to withstand extremes of heat and cold.

This process, later named vulcanization, took some further refinement, but all began with Goodyear’s accidental discovery. Rubber has a chemical structure comprised of isoprene units linked by double bond. This is what helps to make rubber so flexible, but also means it can be more dramatically affected by temperature changes. When sulfur is added, it chemically crosslinks to the isoprene bonds, which improves the strength and resistance of the rubber in the presence of heat and, often, pressure. At the end of the process, the vulcanized rubber that is created can be used for a number of practical purposes. It can be utilized to make tires, rubber mulch and much more.

Rubber Safe Playgrounds and industry as a whole has benefitted greatly from the rubber vulcanization process, giving us a range of products we use in our everyday lives. From car tires to rubber seals to sneakers and the rubber mulch we offer, there is a vast world of items that all come from vulcanized rubber. Just think: If it weren’t for an accidental discovery in the 1800s, we might never have developed many of the things we take granted today.

If you are currently putting in a playground or other outdoor space and want to keep it as safe as possible, nothing offers as many benefits as rubber mulch. The material lasts a long time and, thanks to vulcanization, you will never have to worry about it melting in the summer or cracking in the winter. Check out some of the other benefits of rubber mulch or call Rubber Safe Playgrounds today at 630-330-6589 and find out why you should consider using rubber mulch for your next project.