Famous Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, was the first to use rubber in a practical application as an eraser. Since then, rubber has been used for numerous purposes ranging from car tires to pacifiers and feeding nipples. However, there are a host of other materials that are suitable alternatives for this ancient, natural material.
Silicone is a good substitute for rubber. It is man-made material that is typically inert, contains low toxicity levels and is largely heat-resistant. For these reasons and due to its rubber-like texture, it’s often used in cookware as well as in lubricant and adhesive materials. It’s used as an alternative material in synthetic rubber electrical and insulation applications. Moreover, manufacturers use silicone in place of latex products such as feeding nipples and pacifiers.
Nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) is a suitable natural rubber substitute because it is stable in a variety of temperatures. Therefore, automotive and aeronautical industries have put NBR to use in fuel and hose and seal applications. NBR is also used in flexible and durable products such as footwear, sponges and floor mats. In addition, its resilient and flexible nature makes it a suitable alternative for disposable gloves because NBR gloves are more puncture resistant than traditional rubber gloves.
First created in 1920, vinyl is another man-made substitute for rubber. It is durable, plastic-resin material, also called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), that is made by combining ethylene and chlorine. Vinyl in an inexpensive substitute and is an environment-friendly alternative because it is easily recycled. Its moisture-resistant qualities make it a good option for products such as vinyl records, siding, flooring and gloves.
This is a man-made rubber that is a common stand-in for rubber products such as surgical gloves. It is oil-resistant, flexible and resilient so it is often used in waterproof products such as wetsuits. Due to its flexibility and durability, it's also a common alternative in numerous commercial products ranging from electrical insulation to orthopedic braces. However, neoprene is pricier than latex rubber and the material is a pollutant once discarded due to its molecular makeup.