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.