Latex is a substance found naturally in plants, which consists of a stable mixture of polymer micro-particles in a watery or aqueous solvent. Natural latex is made by extracting the polymer from trees by cutting an incision in the bark and collecting the milky white fluid. Most synthetic latex is made of two petroleum products, styrene and butadiene. In the past the majority of natural latex came from South America. Today, 90% of the world’s supply comes from Asia, with the bulk originating in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Latex can also be produced synthetically, and has been used for centuries to make rubber products and plastics. Latex is commonly used a protective coating or adhesive in many products. It can be found in countless industries and applications, from insulating electrical products to making adhesives and coatings, waterproofing to manufacturing. Examples of latex adhesives and coatings include latex paints and glues, latex caulking products, and latex cement. It is especially useful in these applications because it provides an impenetrable layer to prevent the transfer of liquids.
Latex cement is a type of adhesive that is used in manufacturing to bond wood, plastic and paper materials together. Latex is also used to manufacture industrial safety products such latex clothing. Latex clothing has advantages over garments made of other fabrics such as cotton because it forms an impenetrable barrier. Therefore it is useful for making waterproof boots, shoes, raincoats, gloves and safety gear used by workers who must handle hazardous materials. Nitrile gloves, for example, are made from synthetic rubber and provide resistance to many types of chemicals. Therefore, they are used in a variety of manufacturing environments.
Another manufacturing application in which latex is used is making molds from which products made of metals, plaster, cement, wax and polyester may be reproduced. Synthetic latex products can also be made which have great resistance to high temperatures. Because of its insulating properties latex is also very useful in electrical applications; metal wires, cords, fence materials and cables coated in latex will last much longer because they will not corrode or rust. Industrial conveyor belts, tires, fan belts, flooring and hoses can all be made with latex.