Neoprene is also known as polychloroprene and is produced by the polymerization of chloroprene, a synthetic monomer, and colorless volatile liquid almost exclusively for the production of synthetic rubber.
Neoprene fabric is a very popular and widely used synthetic rubber. Since its first discovery in 1930, it has been used by many apparel brands and retailers.
Neoprene fabric is very cheap to produce. It has fantastic properties to make cheap waterproof clothes and accessories. Its base materials are petrochemicals used to create entirely synthetic and affordable fabrics.
Unfortunately, synthetic neoprene fabrics aren't the most environmentally friendly. Neoprene production has a catastrophic impact on people, animals, and the planet.
Here is the truth about synthetic neoprene fabric that most companies are hiding from you.
In this article:
- What is neoprene fabric?
- What is neoprene fabric good for?
- How is neoprene fabric made?
- Is neoprene a good fabric?
- Is neoprene washable?
- Is neoprene safe to wear?
- Is neoprene eco-friendly?
What is neoprene fabric?
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber produced by the polymerization of chloroprene and is used in a wide variety of applications, including sportswear, wetsuits, and swimsuits.
It has become an increasingly popular material because of its many qualities for clothing fabrics like low cost, durability, resistance, and insulation properties.
Neoprene is a polychloroprene brand name by American chemical company DuPont. It was invented by DuPont scientists in 1930 to resist degradation and extreme conditions more than natural or synthetic rubber.
Neoprene is well-known for its thermal insulation properties. It also resists burning better than rubbers made exclusively from hydrocarbons.
Neoprene is produced a wide range of thickness and length in the closed-cell form to become waterproof or in the open-cell form for more breathability.
What is neoprene fabric good for?
Polyamide fabric in many different applications today, including clothing fabrics in the textile and apparel industry to make pants, tights, leggings, underwear, sportswear, swimwear, wetsuits, shoes, gloves, facemasks, and accessories.
Most wetsuits for scuba diving, jet-skiing, or surfing are made of neoprene. Neoprene properties make it an excellent choice for fashion, water sports, outdoor equipment, protective clothing, medicine, orthopedics, and industrial products.
Neoprene fabric is also used to create many home accessories, pads, cases, sleeves, household textiles, bicycle seats, car seats, upholstery, outdoor furniture, packaging, and industrial materials.
How is neoprene fabric made?
Neoprene fabric is produced by the free-radical emulsion polymerization of chloroprene. It's generally made in facilities that also produce other types of synthetic rubber derived from petroleum-based chemicals.
Neoprene is a synthetic material made by combining chemicals extracted from petroleum oil, which is a non-renewable resource and inherently a pollutant.
Neoprene fabric production mostly involves the combination of monomers of chloroprene, a colorless liquid made from acetylene and hydrochloric acid, also called 2-chlorobuta-1,3-diene.
The emulsion polymerization is initiated using inorganic compounds and powerful oxidants such as potassium persulfate. The chemical reaction forms a big repeating molecule to create polychloroprene blocks.
To create neoprene fabrics used in the textile and apparel industry, polychloroprene blocks are then sliced into sheets with the desired thickness.
Is neoprene a good fabric?
Neoprene fabric is a synthetic rubber with many unique properties. It's soft, elastic, lightweight, breathable, resistant, and has many excellent qualities that make it ideal for fashion, sportswear, and swimwear.
Neoprene fabric is fully synthetic so it's resistant to attacks from insects, moths, molds, fungi, and many everyday chemicals. It doesn't resist harsh chemicals though such as strong acids.
Neoprene fabric has excellent resiliency and tenacity. It's often used in wetsuits because it's waterproof and quick-drying. Neoprene can also be dyed easily in brilliant colors.
Neoprene has become an increasingly popular material because of its fantastic properties such as low cost, durability, resistance, and thermal insulation.
Neoprene has amazing chemical stability and maintains flexibility over a wide temperature range. It also resists degradation more than natural or synthetic rubber.
Neoprene has many excellent properties, so it’s a wise choice for a wide variety of uses, including textiles for clothing. Here are some of the best qualities of neoprene fabric:
- Water repellant
- Excellent thermal insulation
- Good wrinkle resistance
- Good abrasion resistance
- Good heat resistance
- High tensile strength
- Moderate chemical protection
- Saltwater and weather resistance
- Moths, molds, insects, fungi resistance
- High elasticity
- High chemical stability
- High dynamic load capacity
Is neoprene washable?
Neoprene fabrics can be washed by hand with cold water at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). It's best to avoid cleaning neoprene in the washing machine.
Taking good care of your neoprene clothes is one of the best ways to ensure that they last longer. Give special attention to neoprene fabrics, even if they can resist high temperatures.
Before washing neoprene fabrics, read the care instructions that can be found on the care tag. This way, you can easily determine if the garment is washable.
To save water, energy, and preserve the quality of your garment, it's best to use lower water temperatures. It saves energy and preserves fabric quality.
Don't use any chlorine-based or strong detergent when cleaning neoprene. Use a gentle and natural soap instead.
Do not dry neoprene fabrics in a tumble dryer either. Even if they have relatively high thermal resistance, the dryer reduces their durability and risk damaging the garments.
A more sustainable way of drying your neoprene clothes is to hang them to dry. Place them on a line in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves their quality and saves energy.
You can easily lay neoprene fabrics down on a towel for a while, then flip them over. Try to avoid hangers. Instead, place neoprene garments on a flat surface to help them dry naturally.
Is neoprene safe to wear?
Neoprene is generally safe to wear. It isn't considered toxic and skin sensitivity to neoprene is very rare. Neoprene is chemically stable and inert and isn't an allergen to most people.
However, the manufacturing of neoprene is very harmful to the human environment and nature. One of the biggest issues our planet is facing is plastic pollution. And neoprene is part of the problem.
Many manufacturers also add chemical additives to everyday neoprene synthetic rubber products, including shoes, wetsuits, mousepads, braces, rubber masks, swim goggles, wrist rests, and more.
Even if neoprene isn't toxic per se, neoprene products can contain several hazardous chemicals and allergens. Many cases of hypersensitivity to the allergens in neoprene products have been reported.
Is neoprene eco-friendly?
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber made of petroleum-based polymers and isn't eco-friendly. The biggest drawback of neoprene is its severely negative environmental impact.
Neoprene manufacturing isn't environmentally friendly and has disastrous effects on the environment and human health. Synthetic fabrics like neoprene have raised deep environmental concerns.
Neoprene production requires a lot of energy and several petroleum-based chemicals to bind all the molecules into polychloroprene during a chemical reaction. It increases our consumption of fossil fuels and dependency.
Neoprene fabric isn't biodegradable or compostable. It takes hundreds of years to decompose. As neoprene breaks down, it releases chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Synthetic fabrics like neoprene destroy ecosystems and nature. They contribute to the high amount of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in landfills every year.
Neoprene fabric also releases plastic microfibers into the environment that pollute entire food chains, kill land and marine wildlife, and endanger human health.
These plastic microfibers are consumed by fish and birds and end up in our food, lungs, and stomachs. Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced.
8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans annually. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled. If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.
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