Do you own a gas mask? Then you need to know how to take care of the rubber seal, or you’re going to have a paperweight for the few minutes after a chemical attack until you’re dead weight.
A large deal of modern equipment relies on products like rubbers, plastics, and similar materials to function. Teflon ™, Kevlar, Nylon, butyl, and neoprene, are some of the space-era polymer/rubber materials that have made our life so comfortable (and safe), and we don’t even notice they are there.
If you have a gas mask, half-face respirator, AR-15, a seal around your vehicle door, a nail gun, or any number of other modern tools and preps, you are heavily reliant on a type of material known as an elastomer.
Imagine you purchased a gas mask eight years ago, but you neglected to take care of it during this time. In the event of a biological attack, you wouldn’t realize the errors of your procrastination until it was too late.
You have to know how to maintain elastomers if you want your gear to function properly for as long as possible.
(Keeping your gear maintained isn’t the only prep you should consider. You also need to have plans for emergency evacuations. Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide on the subject to learn more.)
Which factors promote aging in elastomers?
As with any material, elastomers suffer from degradation over time.
However, factors promoting this degradation are:
- exposure to sunlight
- and oxidizing atmospheres (like the one covering the Earth).
Initially, the materials will suffer damage at a microscopic scale that can be imperceptible to the naked eye. Eventually, this progresses to the point where a simple inspection will reveal cracks, color fading, and loss of flexibility. This guide and this other one will provide a little bit more information about this process.
When elastomers are made, solvents are added to provide the end product with the needed elasticity. If you like your gas mask to seal around your face, then you understand the importance of this.
With time, these products can evaporate, and the air (and ozone) starts to fill the gaps in the elastomer where the solvent used to be. Your gas mask can then end up either hardening or softening, depending on the material, and you end up with a non-functioning tool.
Fortunately, the chemical industry has developed a variety of chemicals to keep elastomers “healthy,” like anti-oxidizers, stabilizers for UV light, and anti-ozone treatments.
These will allow you to stop this deteriorating process and mitigate it enough for a “rejuvenation” of the materials.
So, where do you start?
The first step you should take is to list every rubber part your most important equipment uses.
Generator, harvester, tractor, pick up, ATV, milking machine, feed mills, grain separators – whatever you deem a vital prep, figure out what elastomer components it uses. Then, go one by one and generate a spreadsheet with the part numbers you will possibly need.
Don’t feel you need to go out and buy one of everything right now. It’s enough for you to keep that spreadsheet handy for the moment. This way, you may calculate how much would be the cost of increasing the reliability of your equipment just by having some (hopefully) cheap spares. Rubber parts are typically light; shipping should not be expensive.
You may need to check the compatibility of your material with other substances.
The main properties of every material and substance in our wonderful modern world, filled with information (even more information about ourselves than what we would like to share), are compiled in a document called the MS/DS (Material Sheet/Data Sheet).
This compatibility is especially relevant in the case of rubbers and plastics. It brings to my memory that famous show on TV where the genius anti-hero dissolves a body (well, tries to) in a bathtub with acid…and the tub material was incompatible with the highly concentrated acid. Imagine what happened next.
What motivated me to think seriously about this?
An experience (where most of my inspiration comes) that opened my eyes:
I bought a fine mist machine a few years ago. Loaded it with an anti-bug solution, misted the whole house, and left it to sit by the weekend. Rinsed everything, stored it, and used it like 2-3 times a year for a couple of years. Great to keep all sorts of bugs away.
I then left for Lima and then came back home. When I was getting the machine out to use it, the hose, made of a rubbery plastic material, crumbled in my fingers. Three years of being in a damp, humid, and hot closed bedroom was enough to age it until the failure point.
I was hoping this equipment would last for 10 or 15 years, and it’s unusable now because of a $40 hose. I researched beforehand that the solution I used wasn’t going to attack the material, and I rinsed everything properly before storing it. I can say this was not the cause of the failure.
However, it was a good lesson, and my conclusions were:
- It must be replaced with a much more affordable alternative than importing a $40 piece from the builder, and
- This alternative must withstand heat without even blinking.
(The mist machine is to combat bugs in my cabin and greenhouse soon. Even better, now I know it is a weak point. Side note: the “greenhouse” is not for winter. It is to keep bugs outside and to protect the crops from too much sun!)
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Elastomers will not be the same after 10 or 15 years of leaving the factory.
A point that should be clear is that the “rejuvenation” process of any elastomer is not a fountain of youth. It won’t give the material its original properties: the chemical reactions that originated the deterioration process are not easily reversible.
However, this shouldn’t be a deterrent. Storing new parts properly, and I’m sure a vacuum sealer will work well for this, will take your elastomer spare parts a long way.
If the industry or society collapses entirely, elastomers will disappear for a while until some degree of “normal” is achieved. So, do what you can to take care of what you have already invested in now while you still can.
Take care and keep tuned,
Is the care of rubber something you’ve considered?
Do you have any tips to add to Jose’s advice? How will you update your prep maintenance?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has an old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Jose and his younger kid are currently back in Venezuela, after the intention of setting up a new life in another country didn’t go well. The SARSCOV2 re-shaped the labor market and South American economy so he decided to give it a try to homestead in the mountains, and make a living as best as possible. But this time in his own land, and surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances, with all the gear and equipment collected, as the initial plan was.
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Ive wondered about this- we’ve let our motorcycles set for 8 years (since we started having kids) and I know all the rubber has certainly disintegrated.. ????
Dear Kelly, as a motorcycle lover, that was painful.
A coating of Vaseline protects rubber O-rings from atmospheric damage (oxygen, pollutants) and can help them last longer.
Dear Jackie ow,
You´re right. However it´s a good practice to know what your elastomer is so you can be aware of the chemical compatibility with whatever you want to put it in contact!
The rubber seal in my canner needs to be replaced due to hardening and shrinkage. I was surprised to see the difference between a new one and a 10 year old version. So definitely a topic to consider. Thanks!
First, MSDS does not mean, Material sheet/Data sheet. It stands for Material Safety Data Sheet and they are available for most materials but are not meant to give maintenance information. I was called the respiratory subject matter expert where I worked and was certified to care for all respiratory equipment we used. The first commenter mentioned Vaseline to lubricate and protect rubber parts. That would probably work but is not allowed by the manufacturer for a lot of things. The only lubricant we could use was Cryolube but that is expensive. Never clean rubber parts with a solvent. I was instructed to throw away respirators that had been wiped out with alcohol wipes. The solvent will cause the rubber parts to deteriorate. If you can, try to get neoprene parts rather than rubber. Neoprene lasts decades longer than rubber. By the time I retired we had disposed of all the rubber respirators we had. Neoprene respirators that we purchased at the same time were still in good shape. Store respirators at room temperature or slightly lower. Heat is bad and freezing is bad. Do not vacuum seal a respirator without a form so that it can keep it’s proper shape. Over time the respirator or other rubber parts will assume a deformed shape and not function properly. We stored respirators with a plastic insert to help them keep their shape. If you need to wear a respirator for an extended period, you should evacuate. There is no respirator that stops 100% of the contaminant that you are trying to avoid. Wear the respirator to get to a safe area. Always hope that you won’t need one.
I was checking on some of those “end of the world” preps socked away in my garage and pulled out an old 70’s Soviet era gas mask. The natural rubber mask has almost totally shredded, and needs to be replaced. Fortunately I’ve got a couple newer Israeli masks but must pay more attention to this important topic of material breakdown.
Happy to help.
My bad. Apologies. It´s a mistake I´ve been dragging from my humble start in the industrial world. Thanks for pointing it out!
As Jose has indicated … there are countless examples of rubber seals (many shaped like O-rings) that keep things from leaking to where they shouldn’t. Here’s one that is often ignored by preppers that’s easy to avoid but all too easy to ignore and suffer some ugly consequences. Tiny alcohol burners have been used for generations to heat up quick meals on a jobsite or cook a full meal while camping or during a power outage. In the US during Prohibition (1919 through 1933) alcohol for such purposes was illegal and mostly unavailable. Once that Amendment was abandoned, the use of alcohol burners resumed. One of the best known today is the Swedish made Trangia burner (and its many Asian knockoffs). They come with a cap that lets the user store alcohol inside the burner until needed. To keep that stored alcohol from either leaking or evaporating … there’s a rubber O-ring inside that cap to provide a good seal.
The problem comes when a user wants to shut down a burn (after completing a very brief heat-up of whatever) while there’s still considerable alcohol left in that burner. To do that shutdown correctly, the user should first temporarily remove the rubber O-ring from inside the cap so when the cap is used to snuff out the flame, that rubber O-ring won’t be damaged by the heat. Once things have cooled down then that O-ring should be placed back in the cap to 1) prevent any remaining fuel from leaking all over the user’s possessions (possibly causing a serious fire hazard), and 2) to preserve the remaining alcohol in that burner from loss whether by leaking or even evaporation over time.
One alternative strategy is to carry a spare cap with no rubber O-ring in it .. to use occasionally as a snuffer cap without the need to temporarily remove the O-ring. Another strategy could be to fashion a different cap (for the same purpose) from a small tin can — that the user would also have to carry along. A third strategy could be to always store any left-over alcohol in a separate container instead of inside the burner — so to never rely on a removed O-ring at all. I just use the original strategy to temporarily remove the O-ring before snuffing, and then replacing it after snuffing and after the burner has cooled down.
A final strategy might be to order and carry a spare O-ring in case the user forgets and accidentally heat-destroys the original.
There was no warning about this in either the military or the civilian versions of the Swedish Trangia burners I bought … nor were there any such warnings with the Asian knockoffs.
Tires. Brighteon mentioned that cars will only be useable a few years after a total collapse because the tire degrades. Of course, tractors, trucks, bikes, etc. same thing.
Interesting to know neoprene lasts decades longer. Would be nice to learn whether one could get neoprene spares and how expensive that could be.
Thankfully Technology is coming to help us.
There are already plans to launch airless tires in the next few years.
All we have to do is to ask for their shelf life, and see if they will hold on.
Regular tires can´t be shelved for too long. I bought some tires from Romania once and they were 8 years old. Had to get rid of them as they got incredibly hard and wouldn´t grip on wet road.
Rubber seals are also a necessity with pneumatic BB guns and pellet rifles. If you have the knowledge and tools to repair air guns, a storage of rubbers seals and BB’s, you could feed your family by trading repairs and BB’s for some of the squirrel’s/rabbits/etc. that local kids hunt.
Exactly. I´d suggest a couple of Benjamin .357 or some other big bore for stealth defense and hunting in every homestead, as well as a .45 Carlisle replica.
I do have about twenty bottles of 6000 standard BB’s that I’ve bought over the years, or about 120,000 BB’s reserved for trading. This strategy would be especially good for people who live in states with strict gun laws and in small towns that have lots of kids and lots of green space. If you live in the countryside, you can probably hunt/fish/farm enough without relying on anyone else.
A subject many don’t consider. Since O-Rings and Seals were essential to my work, I keep a supply on hand, even though I’m retired. Other Specialty Parts one should consider keeping on hand are Specialty Screws and Fasteners (especially if guns are a part of your preps). There are kits with the most common screws used in gunsmithing that are available to buy, and I keep a kit on hand.
When it comes to tools, if you’re a gun owner, I recommend investing in a set of Gunsmith screwdrivers or bits. The tips of these screwdrivers or bits, is specific to each size screw used on a Firearm. Using a typical hardware store screwdriver will damage the head of the screw, and make insertion/removal difficult if not impossible. Several manufacturers offer sets for sale at various price points, and they run the range from owner/hobbyist to professional sets.
If you’re an AR owner, as the AR is a very popular rifle with Preppers, there are spare part kits one should keep on hand. They often contain a spare firing pin, extractor, springs, detents and gas rings. Most of these parts are ones that wear down/break with use, and without them, the gun becomes a paperweight. These Field Repair Kits, as they’re often called typically run under $20 for the basics, but will go up in price as more parts are added. As these parts do not require hand fitting by a gunsmith, they are considered user/operator parts.
This is a really good article Jose, and it really points out the need for keeping spare parts on hand for Preppers. Sometimes one can focus on the large issues, and lose sight of the little details that could be disastrous. I appreciate your reminder, and I’m sure others will as well.
Dear Bemused Berserker,
As a matter of fact, in the scarcity years (not so much nowadays, thankfully, but that could change any day), the little details made us crazy, indeed.
Write this down, all of you, and don´t forget it.
I’ve used silicone grease for protection of rubber parts in car brakes. Would probably work some other applications as well. No so sure about them respirators…
Something I have stocked pretty heavily is hand drive nails. Screws are great but if you batteries for screw guns fail your hosed. With a good hammer you can build/repair a lot of stuff. I’ve been a carpenter for over 50 years. We didn’t have the options many are used to now when I started. Also cordage of all kinds and sizes. Clothes pins have many uses outside of drying clothes. Although not the best, screw assortments, o-ring assortments, etc. at harbor freight are cheap and can get you out of a pinch. Spools of copper wire in different sizes for machinery repair with appropriate wire end connectors too.
My dad has been an electrician his entire life. He stockpiles cable and electric wires. You´re right: we use to stash materials for our business.
one way to stock for O ring usage is to go “bulk” – you can superglue the ends together to make any diameter size O-ring necessary – then all you need is to buy large size O-rings for the stock material – different polys and diameter (thickness) ….
works for the larger size needs but make sure to stock the tiny tots you’ll encounter – buy and make your own organized stockpile or buy a set(s) from outlets like Harbor Freight and home improvement stores …..
Yep, I repaired a 60 year old Nagra tape recorder with some of that bulk o-ring material, worked like a charm.
Would storing an elastomer in CO2 ie carbon dioxide prevent deterioration?
… or any hydrocarbon based gas, like propane or butane (so I’ve heard, never tried it myself). Or nitrogen, which isn’t flammable and doesn’t impart a smell but forces the oxygen out of your container.
Hey there Phil.
Sorry for these late response; for some reason the algorithm is not informing me of responses to my articles.
The deterioration of a polymer, or rubber in our case, comes from the dissolution into the surrounding atmosphere of the components that provide flexibility; these elements will permeate slowly through the surface, and it is a natural process. No matter what there is in such an atmosphere, the compounds are volatile enough to get out of the material core.
Perhaps depending on the type of material there will be some treatments or compounds to restore partially some properties, but this would have to be properly researched.