Ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), neoprene, and silicone are long-lasting and valuable alternatives to natural rubber. Learn about the specific characteristics of each material, their advantages and disadvantages, and the applications that suit each material best.

EPDM

EPDM is a type of synthetic rubber. EPDM has a saturated polymer backbone, which gives it better resistance characteristics than natural rubber and other unsaturated materials. The material is also relatively elastic and flexible, which makes it ideal for creating seals. 

Depending on the intended purpose for the raw EPDM material, it may often be combined with the following materials:

  • Fillers (calcium carbonate, carbon black)
  • Plasticizers (paraffin oil)
  • Foaming processes (radiation from electron beams)

EPDM is compatible with water and alkalis, but shouldn’t be used with oils, kerosene, and other hydrocarbons.

Silicone rubber and EPDM are often considered comparable materials. Both resist environmental damage, making them ideal for seals and gaskets. However, silicone rubber retains its characteristics and stays stable in high temperatures up to 446 °F (230 °C), which is higher than EPDM’s temperature threshold. Silicone rubber can also be sterilized, making it the preferred option for food, beverage, and some medical applications.

Benefits and Disadvantages of EPDM

EPDM conforms to the shape of designs through a variety of manufacturing processes, making it easy to work with in manufacturing and finishing stages. One of the key benefits offered by EPDM is its resistance to damage. EPDM seals and gaskets resist environmental factors in a wide variety of residential, commercial, and industrial contexts. It can withstand weathering, UV exposure from sunlight, and ozone, making it an ideal choice for outdoor seals.

EPDM also operates as an insulator, which makes it additionally useful for outdoor seals and gaskets that need to help control building temperatures rather than solely block contaminants.

However, most of EPDM’s positive properties exist only at temperatures below 266 °F (130 °C). Once it’s higher than that temperature, its ability to resist damage decreases significantly as it begins to melt or deform.

Applications of EPDM

Sealing solutions are one of the primary applications of EPDM, such as the gaskets commonly used in the construction and automotive industries. Specific uses include the following:

  • Automotive door and window seals
  • Bungee cords
  • Door seals
  • Gaskets
  • Seals for refrigerators and cooling units
  • Garden hoses
  • O-rings
  • Tarp straps
  • Waterproofing sheets
  • Weather stripping
  • Window seals

Neoprene

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber produced by polymerizing chlorine. Some of the material’s key properties include flexibility, resistance to environmental damage, and chemical inertness. Neoprene and EPDM are both durable synthetic rubbers, and as such are often used to produce the same types of goods and components.

While EPDM offers a greater number of benefits over a broader range of temperatures, neoprene is a useful, cost-effective choice for parts that face only moderate risk of damage or mild operating conditions.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Neoprene

Neoprene was originally designed to replace natural rubber, and it has many of the same characteristics as rubber. Some of the benefits offered by neoprene include:

  • Resistance to damage. Neoprene can handle exposure to solvents, refrigerants, fats, greases, and oils. Neoprene withstands damage from weathering and contact with abrasive surfaces. It also features favorable tear resistance. This makes the material useful in high-contact or temporary outdoor applications.
  • Compatibility. Neoprene adheres well to most fabrics and metals, which make it good for certain sealing applications.
  • Flexibility. Neoprene offers good flexibility and some degree of elasticity while still holding the form created during fabrication. 

Of note, neoprene tolerates a smaller temperature range than EPDM (-50 °F to 275 °F). The biggest detriment to widespread use of neoprene, however, is cost. It is more expensive than most other synthetic rubber alternatives, and as such is only used in applications that call for its specific properties. 

Applications of Neoprene

Neoprene components are used in a variety of indoor and outdoor applications. Some of the most popular uses include:

  • Coatings
  • Electronics sleeves
  • Gaskets
  • Grippers
  • Hoses
  • Medical equipment
  • Safety gloves
  • Technology covers
  • Wetsuits

Silicone

Silicone is a synthetic rubber compound that operates in a wide temperature range. This material, along with neoprene and EPDM, is used in the mass production of goods that need elasticity and resistance to damage.

By way of comparison, silicone and neoprene both perform very well in cold temperatures, but silicone can handle high-temperature operations much more favorably. Silicone is often chosen over EPDM for its high tear resistance and excellent elongation properties.  

Benefits and Disadvantages of Silicone

Silicone rubber’s key advantage is the diverse range of circumstances for which it provides an ideal material solution. For example:

  • It offers excellent compressibility and weather resistance. 
  • Silicone is highly resistant to UV radiation damage, making it ideal for outdoor, construction, and automotive applications. 
  • It can also maintain its favorable properties in operating temperatures ranging from -58 °F (-50 °C) to 446 °F (230 °C). That maximum intermittent temperature can be increased to 536 °F (280 °C) with the right heat stabilizing additives during production.

However, silicone does have some limitations. Neoprene can withstand contact with different types of oils and chemicals and is a better fit for those applications. Silicone also has a much lower resistance to abrasion damage, which could make the material a poor choice for high-contact applications. 

Applications of Silicone

Some of the most popular applications of silicone include:

  • Gaskets
  • Membranes
  • O-rings
  • Seals
  • Tubes
  • Vacuum sheeting and pumps

Learn More About Universal Polymer’s Plastics and Supply Processes

Synthetic rubbers have dozens of applications in consumer, commercial, and industrial markets. EPDM, neoprene, and silicone rubber are three similar materials that offer flexibility, durability, and good formability for gaskets, O-rings, and other sealing components. However, each material has its strengths— both for the end product and the overall budget of the project—that make choosing the right material essential. 

At Universal Polymer, we specialize in creating high-quality polymer parts through extrusion, die-cutting, and molding processes. Our experienced team is happy to help you determine which synthetic rubber is most appropriate for your application. Contact us today to learn more about our capabilities. 

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