A Look Inside: Rubber Boots

It’s breakup season and I think some of us are finally breaking out the spring gear. Which means: rubber boots.

Rubber boots are interesting because they ride the fence between function and fashion. Especially in Alaska. They are used universally, for industry workers and fisherpeople, but also as fashion items and for children playing in puddles. They are made from petroleum products, and worn by oilfield employees. And they come in a while host of sizes shapes and materials. But we are going to focus on two: Neoprene and PVC. 

Now, rubber boots can be made out of natural rubber (think tree sap), but many are now made out of Flexible Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC. It is the world third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer. The rigid form of PVC is often used in pipes and plumbing. However, but adding things that make it flexible during processing, PVC can be made to act more like natural rubber. TL;DR PVC is what often coats the outside of your boot.  

The interior of many high-end boots is Neoprene, a polymer produced, named and trademarked by chemical company DuPont. The process involves polymerizing chloroprene molecules (think of this like making a stack of perfectly in-line, stretchy LEGOs) to make a flexible material. It’s great because it is insulating, mixes well with fabrics (including spandex) and repels oil (and therefore, fish smell).

So next time you pop out to the garden or take a look in the tide pools or head off to the job site, made sure to thank an oil worker (and a crazy amount of science) for keeping your feet warm and dry.


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