Latex is the stable dispersion (emulsion) of polymer microparticles in an aqueous medium. Latexes may be natural or synthetic.
Latex as found in nature is a milky sap-like fluid found in 10% of all flowering plants. It is a complex emulsion consisting of proteins, alkaloids, starches, sugars, oils, tannins, resins, and gums that coagulates on exposure to air. It is usually exuded after tissue injury. In most plants, latex is white, but some have yellow, orange, or scarlet latex. Since the 1600s, latex has been used as a term for the fluid substance in plants. It serves mainly as defense against herbivorous insects. Many people are allergic to latex.
The word is also used to refer to natural latex rubber; particularly for non-vulcanized rubber. Such is the case in products like latex gloves, latex condoms and latex clothing.
The latex of many species can be processed to produce other materials.
Natural rubber is the most important product obtained from latex; more than 12,000 plant species yield latex containing rubber, though in the vast majority of those species the rubber is not suitable for commercial use. This latex is used to make many other products as well, including Mattresses, gloves, swim caps, condoms, catheters and balloons.
Latex rubber is used in many types of clothing. Rubber has traditionally been used in protective clothing, including gas masks and Wellington boots. Rubber is now generally being replaced in these application by plastics. Mackintoshes have traditionally been made from rubberized cloth.
Latex has been used to make leotards, bodysuits, stockings and gloves, besides other garments. Latex is also often used to make specialist fetishistic garments like hoods and rubber cloaks.
Latex clothing is generally made from large sheets of latex which are delivered in rolls. The "classic" colour for fetishistic latex clothing is black, but latex is naturally translucent, and may be dyed any colour, including metallic shades or white. It can come in thicknesses which generally range from about 0.18 mm to 0.5 mm. Instead of being sewn, latex clothing is generally glued along its seams.
Because latex sheet is relatively weak, latex clothing needs special care to avoid tearing. Whilst latex can be repaired using materials similar to those provided in a bicycle repair kit, the result is rarely as attractive as the original appearance of the garment.
Latex clothing is often polished to preserve and improve its shiny appearance.Putting on latex clothing can be difficult, because latex has high friction against dry skin. To make it easier to put on, wearers often use talc to reduce friction against the skin when putting the clothes on; then, because stray talc is very visible against the rubber, wearers generally polish off any visible talc. Another method of dressing is using lubricant (or 'lube') which provides a slippy surface for the latex to glide over. A third method of reducing or eliminating the high friction of latex when dressing is to chlorinate the rubber. Chlorine in gaseous form is generated by the reaction of hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite. This chlorine bonds to the first few molecules on the surface of the isoprene (latex) and transforms them into neoprene. This process affects metallic colours, but does not affect strength.