Silicone: The Complete Guide to History, Chemistry & Safety

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 19, 2022
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Silicones are polymers that include any inert, synthetic compound made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a functional group of two silicon atoms and one oxygen atom frequently combined with carbon and/ or hydrogen. They are typically heat-resistant and rubber-like, and are used in sealants, adhesives, lubricants, medicine, cooking utensils, and thermal and electrical insulation.

In this article, we’ll cover the properties of silicone and its manufacturing process.

What is silicone

Everything You Need to Know About Silicone

Silicone is a polymer material made up of molecules called siloxanes. It is a unique material that is composed of silicon, a natural element found in sand and rocks, and oxygen. When these two elements are combined, they form a compound that contains long chains of repeating monomers, which are bonded together to create a final product.

How is Silicone Produced?

Silicone is typically produced by mixing pure silicon with other compounds to create a silicone compound. The compound is then passed through a series of scientific processes to create a final product that is composed of long chains of repeating monomers. These chains are bonded together to create a polymer that is commonly known as silicone.

What are the Primary Uses of Silicone?

Silicone is a popular material that is used in a lot of different products. Some of the most common uses of silicone include:

  • Creating sealants and adhesives that can be used to bond different materials together.
  • Producing lubricants that can be used to reduce friction between moving parts.
  • Creating thermal and electrical insulation that can be used to protect sensitive equipment from heat and electricity.
  • Making cooking utensils and other kitchen products that are non-toxic and resistant to heat.
  • Creating medical devices and implants that are safe and effective for patients.

What is the Difference Between Silicone and Silicones?

Silicone is a single material, while silicones are a group of materials that are composed of silicone. Silicones are typically harder and more durable than silicone, and they are commonly used in products that require a high level of quality and performance.

The Evolution of Silicone: From Crystalline Silicon to Modern Production

In 1854, Henry Sainte-Claire Deville obtained crystalline silicon, which was a significant discovery in the world of materials and compounds. Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard, brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre, and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but it is rarely found in its pure form in nature.

The Birth of Silicones: Hyde’s Research and Kipping’s Naming

In 1930, J.F. Hyde ran the first research to produce commercial silicones. Later, in 1940, the English chemist, Frederich Stanley Kipping, using Hyde’s research, gave the material the name “silicones” because they were “sticky messes”. Kipping was a pioneer in the field of organic chemistry and is best known for his work on the chemistry of silicones. Silicones are a group of synthetic polymers made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms with organic groups attached to the silicon atoms.

The Chemistry of Silicones: Structure and Polymer Chains

Silicones are essentially polymers with a repeating unit of siloxane. The siloxane unit consists of a silicon atom attached to two oxygen atoms, which are in turn attached to organic groups. The organic groups can be methyl, ethyl, phenyl, or other groups. The siloxane units can be joined together to form linear chains or branched chains. The chains can also be cross-linked to form a three-dimensional network. The resulting material is a silicone polymer with a wide variety of properties.

The Modern Production of Silicones: Corning, Dow, and Hydrolysis

The modern production of silicones involves a variety of methods, but the most common method is based on the hydrolysis of silicon compounds. Silicon compounds such as silicon tetrachloride (SiCl4) or dimethyldichlorosilane (CH3)2SiCl2 are reacted with water to produce siloxanes. The siloxanes are then polymerized to form silicone polymers. The process can be carried out using a variety of catalysts, including acids such as HCl or bases such as NaOH.

The Properties of Silicones: Strong, Water-Resistant, and Electrically Insulating

Silicones have a wide range of properties, depending on the organic groups attached to the silicon atoms and the length of the polymer chains. Some of the properties of silicones include:

  • Strong and durable
  • Water-resistant
  • Electrically insulating
  • Resistant to high and low temperatures
  • Chemically inert
  • Biocompatible

Silicones are used in a wide range of applications, including:

  • Sealants and adhesives
  • Lubricants and coatings
  • Medical devices and implants
  • Electrical insulation and circuit boards
  • Automotive and aerospace components
  • Personal care products and cosmetics

The Differences Between Silicones and Other Polymers

Silicones are different from other polymers in several ways:

  • The repeating unit in silicones is siloxane, while other polymers have different repeating units.
  • The silicon-oxygen bond in siloxane is stronger than the carbon-carbon bond in other polymers, which gives silicones their unique properties.
  • Silicones are more resistant to high and low temperatures than other polymers.
  • Silicones are more water-resistant than other polymers.

The Future of Silicones: Advanced Research and New Products

The use of silicones continues to grow, and new products are being developed all the time. Some of the areas of advanced research in silicones include:

  • The development of new catalysts for the polymerization of siloxanes
  • The use of silyl acetates and other compounds to modify the properties of silicones
  • The use of acid and base catalyzed reactions to produce new types of silicone polymers
  • The use of silicone polymers in the formation of glass and other materials

The term “silicones” remains a common term used to describe a wide variety of silicone-based materials, and the properties of these materials continue to be explored and understood.

From Sand to Silicone: The Fascinating Process of Producing Silicone

Silicone is a polymer that is widely used in various forms and products. The process of achieving the desired forms of silicone involves a series of steps that require the right materials and building blocks. Here are the components and steps involved in the production process:

  • Silicon: The primary building block of silicone is silicon, which is one of the earth’s most common elements. It is isolated by grinding quartz sand and applying heat to it, reaching temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Celsius.
  • Methyl Chloride: Silicon is mixed with methyl chloride, which is commonly known as chloromethane. This reaction produces chlorosilane, which is a key intermediate in the production of silicone.
  • Heating: The chlorosilane is then heated to form dimethyldichlorosilane, which is a precursor to silicone. This process involves applying heat to the mixture, which activates the reaction and removes hydrochloric acid.
  • Polymer Processing: The dimethyldichlorosilane is then mixed with water to form a polymer. This polymer can be further processed to achieve different forms of silicone, such as elastomers, which are commonly used in the manufacturing of rubber products.

The Importance of Quality Control in the Production of Silicone

The production of silicone requires a high level of quality control to ensure that the final product meets the required standards. Manufacturers need to ensure that the right components are used in the production process and that the process is carried out under the right conditions. Here are some of the factors that manufacturers need to consider:

  • Temperature: The production process requires high temperatures, which can affect the quality of the final product. Manufacturers need to ensure that the temperature is carefully controlled to prevent any damage to the silicone.
  • Isolating the Volume: The production process involves isolating the volume of the reaction to ensure that the right amount of silicone is produced. This requires careful monitoring and control of the reaction.
  • Crosslinking: Some forms of silicone require crosslinking to achieve the desired properties. This involves bonding the polymer chains together to create a stronger material.

The Common Forms of Silicone in the Market

Silicone is commonly found in a range of products, from kitchen utensils to medical devices. Here are some of the most common forms of silicone in the market:

  • Low-Density Silicone: This type of silicone is commonly used in the manufacturing of sealants and adhesives.
  • Elastomers: These are commonly used in the manufacturing of rubber products, such as gaskets and O-rings.
  • High-Temperature Silicone: This type of silicone is used in applications that require high-temperature resistance, such as in the aerospace industry.

The Chemistry of Silicone: Exploring the Properties and Formation of this Versatile Material

Silicone is a synthetic material that is made up of silicon, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen atoms. It is a type of polymer, which means that it is made up of long chains of molecules that are formed through a process called polymerization. Silicone is typically formed through a method called hydrolysis, which involves reacting silicon compounds with water to produce siloxanes.

The Chemistry of Siloxanes and Silicone Polymers

Siloxanes are the building blocks of silicone polymers. They are formed through the reaction of silicon compounds with water, which produces a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. The resulting siloxane chain can be further modified by adding organic groups, such as methyl or phenyl groups, to produce a wide variety of silicone polymers.

One of the most common silicone polymers is polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which is formed by adding methyl groups to the siloxane chain. PDMS is a hard, brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic luster, and is a member of group 14 in the periodic table. It is a type of silicone that is commonly used in the production of electronic circuits and other products that require a strong, water-resistant material.

The Properties of Silicone and its Common Uses

Silicone has a number of unique properties that make it a popular material for a wide variety of applications. Some of the key properties of silicone include:

  • High thermal stability
  • Water resistance
  • Low toxicity
  • Good electrical insulation properties
  • High gas permeability

These properties make silicone a popular material for a wide variety of products, including:

  • Medical devices
  • Automotive parts
  • Electronic components
  • Sealants and adhesives
  • Personal care products

The Future of Silicone Production and Development

Silicone production and development remains an active area of research for chemists and materials scientists. New methods for producing silicone polymers are being proposed and tested, including the use of ketone and silyl acetates in the polymerization process. As new silicone polymers are developed, they are likely to find new applications in a wide variety of industries and products.

The Versatile Applications of Silicone

Silicone is an essential ingredient in a variety of products and materials used in the construction and industrial sectors. Its ability to withstand high and low temperatures, resist chemicals and oils, and remain stable under extreme conditions make it an excellent material for a range of applications, including:

Electronics and Aerospace Industries

Silicones are also commonly used in the electronics and aerospace industries due to their unique properties, including:

  • Effective insulation and resistance to high temperatures and chemicals
  • Ability to fill gaps and provide cushioning for delicate components
  • Stable and long-lasting performance in extreme environments

Medical and Cosmetics Applications

Silicone gel is an important ingredient in medical and cosmetic products due to its high biocompatibility and ability to mimic the properties of human tissue. Some specific uses include:

  • Breast implants, testicle implants, and pectoral implants
  • Bandages and dressings
  • Contact lenses
  • Scar treatments and wound care products

Specialty Applications

Silicone is also used in a variety of specialty applications, including:

  • Rubber and resin production
  • Microfluidics and other high-precision components
  • Oil and gas industry products
  • Effective and long-lasting adhesives

The Future of Silicone Applications

As technology and processing techniques continue to advance, the range of silicone applications will only continue to grow. From developing new materials and compounds to designing specific parts and structures, silicone will remain an essential ingredient in a wide variety of products and industries.

Why Silicone is a Safe and Environmentally-Friendly Choice

Silicone is a popular choice for many products due to its safety features. Here are some reasons why:

  • No Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals that are commonly found in plastics and can be harmful to human health. Silicone does not contain phthalates, making it a safer alternative to plastic.
  • No BPA: Bisphenol A (BPA) is another chemical found in plastics that can have negative health effects. Silicone is free from BPA, making it a healthier option for food storage and cooking.
  • Health Canada Approved: Health Canada has deemed food-grade silicone safe for cooking and storing food. It does not react with food or beverages, making it a safe choice for kitchen use.

Environmental Considerations

Silicone is not only safe for humans, but it is also an environmentally-friendly choice. Here’s why:

  • Durable: Silicone is a durable material that can last for years, reducing the need for frequent replacements and waste.
  • Recyclable: Silicone can be recycled, reducing its impact on the environment.
  • Low Toxicity: Silicone is a low-toxicity material, meaning it does not release harmful chemicals into the environment during production or disposal.

Silicone vs Plastic: Which is the Better Alternative?

Silicone and plastic are two types of materials that are commonly used in various industries. Plastic is a traditional material that has been used for decades, while silicone is a relatively new compound that has gained popularity in recent years. Both materials have their own unique properties and uses, but there are some important differences between them.

Difference in Properties

One of the main differences between silicone and plastic is the way they are produced. Silicone is produced from silicon, a naturally occurring stable element, while plastic is made from synthetic compounds. This means that silicone has some properties that plastic does not have, such as being more durable and heat-resistant. Silicone can withstand higher temperatures than plastic, making it ideal for use in cooking and baking equipment.

Similarities and Differences in Shape and Moldability

While silicone is more durable than plastic, it’s not as flexible. It can’t be molded into different shapes like plastic can. However, silicone can be molded into a variety of shapes, making it a popular choice for utensils and kitchen equipment. Plastic is also commonly used for utensils and kitchen equipment, but it’s not as durable as silicone.

Safety and Electrical Properties

Silicone is also known for its safety and electrical properties. It’s a non-toxic material that doesn’t release harmful chemicals when heated, making it safe for use in cooking and baking. It’s also a good electrical insulator, making it ideal for use in electrical equipment. Plastic, on the other hand, can release harmful chemicals when heated, making it a less safe option for cooking and baking.

Cleaning and Maintenance

When it comes to cleaning and maintenance, silicone and plastic have some similarities and differences. Both materials can be cleaned in a dishwasher, but silicone is more durable and can withstand higher temperatures. Plastic can warp and melt in high temperatures, making it less durable than silicone.


So, silicone is a material made of silicon and oxygen, and it’s used for lots of things. 

You can see why it’s so popular now, can’t you? So, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure about something. You can always ask a friend for help. 

And don’t forget to check out our guide for more information on silicone.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.