What Is Silicone used for and made of?

In the twentieth century, scientists explored the diverse uses of silicone. Its first application was in producing military paste to protect electrical Sparks in aircrafts.

Now silicone-like air can be found all around us. In fact, you are probably reading from one or sitting close to one. Most manufacturing and construction companies use silicone either to enhance their products or as substitute raw material for production.

Silicone is used to enhance products such as baby feeding bottles, electronic devices, bath mats, gaskets in automobile engines and lots more.

Data from various sectors revealed over one million tons of silicone are consumed yearly. What could be so special about ‘silicone’? Why the high rate of consumption?

In this blog post, you will learn about the uses of silicone in our homes, how it is produced, what it is made of. So stay tuned as we discuss the uses of silicone.

What is Silicone?

Silicone is a rubber-like substance composed of different elements. The elements include silicon, hydrogen, carbon, oxygen etc.

In major scientific publications, silicone is defined as a synthetic polymer made from chemical elements like silicon which is viscous and elastic in nature. A synthetic polymer is a substance formed by combining different materials together.

Silicone is used in enhancing lots of products we see around us. It’s application spreads across most industries from breathing tube in medicine to gasket in automobiles.

Silicone is also used in making consumer products like baby feeder, ear plugs, bracelets, rings and baking mats.

In this article, you’ll understand the uses of silicone, what it is made from, how it is produced and the best way to maintain silicone products. However, there’s need to distinguish between silicone, plastic and rubber. We’ll start with the differences between silicone and plastic.

Is Silicone plastic?

Plastic products have great similarities with silicone, however, they are different. It is best to have a head’s knowledge on their differences. This will enable you to make a better choice of material.

The difference include:

  • For one, plastic is derived from petroleum whereas silicone is a synthetic material made up of silicon, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen.
  • Silicone are more soft to touch compared to plastic.
  • Silicone is resistant to temperature with a range -70 percent to over 200 percent. Plastic on the other hand does not have resistance to high temperature.

Grades of Silicone

Silicone is a unique material unlike other substances. It can be used in the manufacturing industry and still in the medical and consumer products. Silicone products are grouped into grades based on their uses. There are three basic grades of silicone, we have the general grade, food grade and medical grade.

General grade Silicone

These are silicone used in automotive applications such as engine gasket, battery caps, aircraft windows seals, electronics insulation, adhesives etc.

Food grade Silicone

These are silicone used in making products which would have contact with food substances. For instance, baking and food storage products, kitchen wares and baby products etc.

Medical grade Silicone

These are silicone used for making medical devices such as condoms, tubing, scars treatment, silicone implants for short and long term use.

How Silicone is produced

Silicone is produced by three major processes. Each successive step creates a different compound closer to the desired end product, Silicone.

The process includes direct synthesis of silicon with chlorine to distillation and finally, hydrolysis and condensation. The process are broken down below:

Direct Synthesis of Silicon and Chlorine

We all know everything ever produced was lying dormant in its host. In the case of silicone the host is Silica. Silica is obtained from the fine sand. I know it seems unbelievable and surprising!

Even more, from the silica we derive silicon powder which mixes with methylchloride at 300 degrees to form chlorosilane. The mixing is carried out in a machine called Fluoridized bed reactor. This process of getting chlorosilane is called direct synthesis of silicon and chlorine.

The chlorosilane has three compounds namely methyltrichlorosilane, dimethylchlorosilane and trimethylchlorosilane.

Silicone products are obtained from its different compounds. As a result, the three compounds need to be separated. This leads to the second stage “Distillation”.

Separating Methylchlorosilane

The idea behind their separation is heating Methylchlorosilane to distill its compound at different boiling points. This process is called “extractive distillation”.

Extractive distillation is a process of heating Methylchlorosilane with sulfolane to distill a lower boiling chlorosilane from a high boiling chlorosilane.

During boiling at 41 degrees celsius the first compound, dimethylchlorosilane distills out. Next is trimethylchlorosilane and lastly methyltrichlorosilane at 66 degrees celsius.

Each compound is stored separately and undergoes the last stage to get the preferred silicone.

Hydrolysis and Condensation

A special characteristic of silicone compounds is that each compound reacts differently when undergoing hydrolysis. At the end of hydrolysis, the needed silicone is produced.

For example, dimethylchlorosilane undergoes hydrolysis to produce a silicone fluid used in cosmetics. Contrary, trimethylchlorosilane would not produce silicone fluid when it undergoes hydrolysis.

What is Silicone used for?

Invented over 70 years ago. It was first used in the military to produce a paste for safe keeping of electrical instruments. The paste prevents sparking among electrical instrument in aircrafts.

Fast forward to present day, there are many uses of silicone across diverse industries. We examined its uses in the transport, construction, medical and consumers’ products.

Silicone uses in Consumer products

In consumer products, Silicone is used for enhancement. The enhancement ranges from increasing the strength of the products, energy saving, temperature resistance, flexible and bacteria resistant etc.

Silicone is used to produce deodorants, hair, skin and sun care products, kitchen wares, laundry detergents, sporting goods etc.

Uses of Silicone in the kitchen

Silicone is a non-toxic and heat resistant material. This characteristics make them suitable for cook wares. Silicone wares would not affect food taste, even if the food is hot.

Silicone is used in the oven for warming food or used in cookers for boiling without melting. Silocone can withstand high temperature, as a result you do not have to worry about burn compared to metals. Common silicone kitchen wares include:

  • Silicone brush
  • Silicone flask
  • Silicone baby nipple for feeding baby cereal
  • Silicone plates, which can stand hot temperatures
  • Silicone spoon for safe stirring

Silicone is water resistant and last longer. This makes them to be used for bathroom accessories like shower curtains, bath mats etc. They can also be used to seal gaps and cracks, for that protecting water from leaking through other rooms.

Uses of Silicone in Construction

In today’s world of gigantic buildings like skyscrapers, mansions, warehouses and so on. Contractors are very careful in choosing their building materials. The need for a strong and lasting material is very vital.

Choosing a material for building and construction is based on different criterias. The criterias include ability to withstand fire and water without losing shape. Also, the ability to stand against atmospheric actions.

Furthermore, building materials must be elastic because of expansion and contraction of metals. In addition, the most vital property is for a building material to be durable. If a material is durable, it’s used for a long time without losing its strength.

Silicone is chosen because it is flexible. It allows the expansion of building materials without cracking.

In comparison to other similar materials like latex, Silicone lasts three times more than they do. Majorly, silicone is used in sealing of joints, filling gaps and protection against water and air.

Yearly, over 600,000 tons of silicone products are sold to construction companies globally. The Silicone products widely used in construction include silicone sealants, silicone adhesives and protective coatings.

Silicone sealants and adhesives are used in joints and filling. Silicone protective coats are applied making building resistance against water and air. For example, roof caps in building roofing.

Why is Silicone widely used for Construction

Silicone is preferred by contractors for a lot of reasons. Some of the reasons are listed below

  1. They are strong
  2. They are compatible with other building materials like bricks, cement etc.
  3. They retain their strength for a long time
  4. They are tough
  5. They don’t crack as a result of vibration and shocks

All these unique properties of Silicone make them a material of choice for contractors.

Uses of Silicone in Healthcare

Silicone is applied across various ranges of medical equipment to medical kits. It’s used for producing medical gloves for protection against virus and allergy reaction.

The use of silicone in healthcare includes respiratory devices, implants and medical devices.

Why is Silicone used in Medicine

Silicone is chosen because it is non-reactive with most chemicals of the human body. The major chemicals of the human body such as oxygen, nitrogen etc. Do not react with silicone. They are easy to sterilize, which reduces the risk of bacterial infection.

From the angle of allergy reaction, silicone is used because it has little to allergy reaction cases. Allergy is a reaction of the body to external protein detected in substances that come in contact with the human body.

Silicone used for Respiratory devices

For respiratory devices, silicone is used for producing ventilation bags, silicone breathing tubes, silicone respiratory tubing etc. For example, iMASC silicone masks offer a level of protection compared to N95 respirator masks. These masks can be reused without fear of infection.

Silicone used for Medical Implants

Silicone has great stability, durability and high biocompatibility. The biocompatibility of silicone is a property that allows it to be used in Human body without adverse effects or reactions. This property positions it as the best materials for implants in humans.

Nowadays, unimaginable surgical feats are carried out. For instance, silicone is used in breast implants. This is like saying an artificial breast. This boosts the self-esteem and confidence of victims of breast cancer.

Implants are not limited to breast implants. They have application in other parts of the body. These include the nose, jaw, knee etc.

Silicone used for Medical devices

Silicone has been used for developing medical devices like balloon catheters, compression bars, and tubing for feeding, and hearing aids.

Statistics revealed that the medicine industry consumes nearly 40,000 tons of silicone every year. Silicone

Uses of Silicone in Transportation

Silicone is widely used in the transport industry. Its uses range from automotive, aviation and aerospace industries.

In the automotive industry, over 40 percent of vehicle parts are enhanced with silicone. The various parts include:

  • Engine gasket
  • Spark plugs
  • Hydraulic bearing
  • External cooling
  • Textile coatings
  • Sealants in airbags

Silicone also improves safety and reliability. It makes automobile parts lighter and more eco-friendly. The United States survey enlightened that for every 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight, fuel consumption improves between 5-7 percent.

A peep into the aircraft manufacturing process, we discovered silicone is used in aircraft gasket, in the cockpit for protecting electrical components from any dust or ice.

Silicone is used to enhance aircraft parts due to the different temperature conditions in an aircraft. The temperature conditions ranges from low temperature at high altitudes to high temperature at high altitudes.

How to clean Silicone

Silicone requires a high level of cleanness. It gives a sticky surface whenever it is dirty. For easy cleaning, it’s best to soak silicone products in hot water for at least 30 minutes. After soaking, you will scrub the silicone and rinse in hot water.

After soaking, scrubbing and rinsing, you get a clean silicone. In the event the stain remains, you can add baking soda, hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach to remove the discoloration.

Final Thoughts

We have discussed the uses of silicone in producing kitchen wares, automobile and aerospace parts, construction seals, respiratory masks and implants in humans.

Silicone is widely used because of its high stability, temperature resistance, water resistance and compatibility with the human body.

The silicone global market valued at 19.1 billion dollars in 2022 is projected to reach 35.9 billion in 2032. This shows how it is widely used for manufacturing.

Few years back, most kitchen wares exposed to heating like pots are made with metals. Nowadays, silicone is being used to produce silicone pots, cooking spoons and brushes. For one it reduces the weight of such wares and also prevents burns.

To conclude, silicone is a non-reactive, stable and resistant to extreme environment and temperature conditions. It can be molded into various forms and shapes while maintaining its useful properties.

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