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Last updated: July 26, T hink of rubber and you probably think of elastic bands, car tires, or pencil erasers. But this super-stretchy material actually finds its way into tens of thousands of different products—everything from rubber stamps and waterproof shoes to surfing wetsuitsswimming caps, and dishwasher hoses.
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Latexcolloidal suspension, either the milky white liquid emulsion found in the cells of flowering plants such as the Para rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis or any of various manufactured water emulsions consisting of synthetic rubber or plastic. The plant product is a complex mixture of substances, including various gum resins, fats, or waxes and, in some instances, poisonous compoundssuspended in a watery medium in which salts, sugars, tannins, alkaloids, enzymes, and other substances are dissolved. It is produced especially by the cells of plants of the family Asclepiadaceae but also by those in the families Apocynaceae, Sapotaceae, EuphorbiaceaePapaveraceaeMoraceaeand Asteraceae Compositae.
Latex and plastic, though similar, are two very different compounds. Latex is formed from a natural chemical reaction in a tree, while plastic is formed from a process using petroleum. Both plastic and latex, however, emerged as important products in the 20th century, and remain so today.
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Chemically speaking, a latex is a dispersion of extremely small particles of an insoluble liquid or solid material in a liquid. The particles are almost always polymeric, and the liquid is usually water. Most latexes also contain a surfactant to keep the dispersion stable. Water-based paint is a latex, and so are the starting materials used to make ordinary rubber gloves.
Latex is a stable dispersion emulsion of polymer microparticles in an aqueous medium. It is found in nature, but synthetic latexes can be made by polymerizing a monomer such as styrene that has been emulsified with surfactants. It is usually exuded after tissue injury.