What is Scuba Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

Fabric nameScuba fabric
Fabric also known asNeoprene, polychloroprene, chloroprene rubber, scuba fashion
Fabric compositionSynthetic polymerization of chloropren
Fabric breathabilityZero breathability
Moisture-wicking abilitiesNone
Heat retention abilitiesHigh
Stretch ability (give)High
Prone to pilling/bubblingMedium
Country where fabric was first producedUSA
Biggest exporting/producing country todayUSA and China
Recommended washing temperaturesCold
Commonly used inScuba gear, dresses, skirts, blouses, leggings, swim suits, laptop sleeves, seat covers, camera cases
Scuba Fabric Red 137cm
Scuba Fabric Red 137cm

What Is Scuba Fabric?

The term “scuba fabric” is commonly used to refer to Neoprene, a type of synthetic textile. Neoprene was initially developed by the DuPont Corporation, a major player in the innovation of new products worldwide. In addition to Neoprene, DuPont is responsible for the creation of other iconic products such as nylon. While known for its advancements in the textile industry, DuPont has also developed a range of products outside of this field.

Neoprene was initially created as a substitute for rubber during the 1930s when the global supply of natural rubber was becoming scarce. At the time, rubber could only be obtained by harvesting a particular type of tree, and the onset of World War II increased the demand for rubber, putting a strain on global supplies. This prompted DuPont and other leading corporations to search for a viable substitute, ultimately leading to the development of Neoprene as a synthetic alternative to rubber.

Out of the many synthetic textiles created by DuPont, Neoprene emerged as the most effective substitute for rubber. Neoprene is actually a trademarked name for the synthetic rubber compound polychloroprene, which was developed by DuPont. Due to its ability to replace natural rubber in a variety of contexts, this substance is also commonly known as chloroprene rubber.

Scuba Fabric Designs
Scuba Fabric Designs

After the war, it became evident that Neoprene had a variety of applications beyond military equipment. One such use was in the manufacturing of wetsuits, which quickly gained popularity among surfers and scuba divers due to Neoprene’s excellent insulation and waterproof properties. Since then, Neoprene has become a staple material in the sports industry, particularly in the production of diving suits, gloves, and other protective gear.

One of the main issues with scuba diving gear at the time was the lack of effective waterproof materials. Most fabrics used in scuba suits were permeable to water, which could lead to discomfort and even hypothermia. Neoprene, on the other hand, creates a total water barrier between the skin and the environment, making it an ideal material for scuba diving gear. Its ability to keep the wearer warm and dry in cold water environments has made it a preferred material for wetsuits and other protective gear used in water sports.

While Neoprene is a popular material for scuba diving gear due to its waterproof properties, these same properties can be a drawback in the world of apparel. Neoprene is not breathable, which means that any sweat or moisture that accumulates between the skin and the material will stay trapped until the clothing is removed. This lack of breathability can lead to discomfort and skin irritation, particularly in hot and humid environments. As a result, Neoprene is not an ideal material for everyday apparel, and is mainly used in specialized applications where its unique properties are necessary, such as in water sports and protective gear

The lack of breathability in Neoprene makes it unsuitable for tight-fitting apparel that covers a large portion of the body. The material’s inability to allow air to circulate can lead to discomfort and overheating. While its stretchiness would make it an ideal material for tight-fitting sportswear, the lack of breathability detracts from this benefit significantly. As a result, Neoprene is typically only used in loose-fitting apparel or in specialized applications where its unique properties are necessary, such as in wetsuits or other protective gear.

How Is Scuba Fabric Made?

how is scuba fabric made

Chloroprene, the base material of Neoprene, is a colorless monomer that can be produced in two different ways. In one process, the base compounds used to make chloroprene are reacted with butadiene, which is derived from petroleum oil. In the other process, these base compounds are reacted with a limestone derivative. Both production processes involve several chemical reactions and steps to create the final chloroprene monomer, which is then further processed to create Neoprene.

Both petroleum-derived and limestone-derived chloroprene undergo a process called free radical emulsion polymerization to create the polymer polychloroprene. This process involves adding free radicals to the chloroprene monomer to initiate a chain reaction that results in the formation of a polymer. The resulting polychloroprene polymer is typically in a liquid state and is delivered to textile factories in this form. The liquid polychloroprene can then be used to coat fabrics, or it can be further processed into solid sheets for use in various applications, including the manufacturing of wetsuits, gloves, and other protective gear.

Once it arrives at a factory, the production process is the same for both limestone and petroleum polychloroprene. This textile is produced on an assembly line, and it can only be produced with industrial equipment.

Scuba-look Top – Orange
Scuba-look Top – Orange

First, the textile manufacturer adds any additives that are desired to produce a certain result. Additives may be used to increase elasticity, for instance, or they may be added to improve fire resistance.

Once these additives are in place, the substance is moved into a huge mixer. This mixer is placed in an industrial oven, and the substance is then baked. Once it is removed from the mixer, the hardened chloroprene rubber is in the form of a loaf measuring around two feet tall and eight feet wide.

This baked rubber is then allowed to cool, and it is then run through a slicing machine. This slicing machine can slice polychloroprene in various widths; for instance, fabric that’s about 2 millimeters in width can be sewn with a domestic sewing machine, but industrial machines can handle polychloroprene fabric that’s up to 7 millimeters wide. On average, this fabric is cut in widths between 3-5 millimeters.

Each of these thin sheets is about the size of a sheet of plywood, and they are placed on a large conveyor belt one after the other. The sheets are then sprayed with a special epoxy, and they are laminated with a modified form of nylon. Once the nylon has dried, the chloroprene will have increased elasticity.


Scuba dress
Scuba dress

The finished synthetic rubber is then sorted by thickness, and it is loaded onto pallets to be shipped to manufacturers of apparel, scuba gear, or wet suits. Once a pallet of these sheets arrives at a textile factory, the manufacturer creates a stack of about 10-15 sheets. The pattern of a wet suit or a different type of apparel is then traced onto the top sheet with a crayon, and a sawing machine cuts around the pattern. Depending on the type of end product that is being created, this process may be completed multiple times for the same stack.

In the case of scuba gear, the pre-cut templates are then adorned with decals and equipped with zippers, pockets, and any other types of added materials necessary. A special type of cement is used to connect separate pieces of chloroprene rubber, and then the final product is sewn together with an industrial sewing machine. Finally, the finished product is washed, and it is inspected for any defects.

How Is Scuba Fabric Used?

how is scuba fabric used

Polychloroprene fabric is widely used in a variety of consumer and industrial applications. For instance, this type of textile is commonly used in the medical field in a variety of different forms. Neoprene gloves have become more and more common as the medical industry has become more sensitive to the needs of latex-allergic patients, and this fabric is frequently used as cushioning in cases that are used for medical instruments.

This substance is also used in military and transportation applications. Neoprene gaskets are excellent for sealing windows and electrical enclosures, and they are also used as noise isolators in power transformers. In addition, this substance is used to make shock absorber seals, hose covers, and power transmission belts. Neoprene is even used to make various components that are used on the International Space Station (ISS) and in other spacecraft.

ASOS Off The Shoulder Scuba Dress
ASOS Off The Shoulder Scuba Dress

Neoprene’s ability to insulate against heat or cold as well as repel water led to this substance’s early rise as a wet suit material. Before the advent of Neoprene, divers were forced to use complex contraptions that limited movement and the time they could spend underwater. However, this fabric’s success in scuba gear gradually led to its use in wet suits for surfers living in colder climates. Today, almost all wet suits and scuba suits are made with Neoprene or a similar generic fabric.

Interestingly, Neoprene has recently been making waves in the fashion industry. Since this fabric is form-fitting, it is popular among young women, and it has been commended as an ideal summer material by fashion magazines. This fabric is also commonly used in swim suits. Beyond apparel, Neoprene is used in general consumer goods like cases for electronics and covers for car seats.

Where Is Scuba Fabric Produced?

scuba fabric in the world

While the USA is the only producer of Neoprene, China is the biggest producer of chloroprene rubber. Since Neoprene is simply a trade name of chloroprene rubber, it can be safely said that China is the biggest producer of this product, but technically, the United States is the biggest (and only) producer of branded Neoprene.

However, some of the biggest companies that produce this substance aren’t located in either the United States or China. For instance, ARLANXEO Holding B.V. is based in the Netherlands, Deka Co., Ltd. is headquartered in Japan, and Zenith Industrial Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd. is based in India. Though Japan is a country with limited major exports, chloroprene rubber is one of them, and some of the biggest players in this industry are Japanese.

How Much Does Scuba Fabric Cost?

In general, Neoprene and other polychloroprene fabrics are somewhat more expensive than other types of synthetic materials. When sold in bulk, this material is less expensive; an average price per sheet for ten sheets or less is around $50-60, but this price drops down to $20-30 when 100 or more sheets are purchased.

Different types of polychloroprene fabrics also cost different amounts. Due to the prestige and high quality standards demanded by this corporation, Neoprene made by DuPont is generally more expensive than generic forms of chloroprene rubber that are made by different corporations.

In addition, limestone-based chloroprene fabrics may be more expensive than petroleum-based fabrics due to their perceived environmental benefits. However, the cost to produce limestone-based polychloroprene will drop as more companies switch to this method to produce their fabrics.

At the level of the end consumer, polychloroprene products are significantly more expensive than products made with other synthetic materials like nylon or polyester. This increased price is partially attributable to the fact that wet suits and scuba gear are generally considered to be niche equipment.

It’s relatively costly to sew, glue, and otherwise prepare these types of products for consumer use, and many companies that make these products enjoy relatively high margins due to the steep prices that aquatic hobbyists are willing to pay for this type of apparel. Other types of apparel that are made with Neoprene or similar substances, however, may be close to the same price as polyester or nylon at the consumer level.


What Different Types of Scuba Fabric Are There?

different types of scuba fabric

There are two major variants of this type of fabric:

• Petroleum-based polychloroprene: This type of chloroprene rubber is the original form that was created by DuPont in the 1930s, and all scuba fabric that’s labeled “Neoprene” is petroleum-based polychloroprene. Its chloroprene is created with butadiene, which is a fossil fuel-derivative. This form of polychloroprene is unsustainable since it is derived from petroleum, and it is also inferior to limestone-derived polychloroprene.

• Limestone-based polychloroprene: This form of polychloroprene was only developed recently. Unlike butadiene-based polychloroprene, the chloroprene used to make this polymer is manufactured with the use of a chemical that’s derived from limestone, which makes limestone based polychloroprene more sustainable than Neoprene.

While it will take the Earth millions and millions of years to produce more petroleum, it is constantly producing more limestone, which means that deriving chloroprene rubber using this method is more environmentally-friendly. In addition, surfers and scuba divers report that limestone-derived chloroprene rubber is more comfortable than petroleum-derived chloroprene rubber due to its higher-density closed cell structure.

How Does Scuba Fabric Impact the Environment?

The degree to which scuba fabric impacts the environment depends on the type of Neoprene that is made. The production of petroleum-based chloroprene rubber, for instance, uses up a limited resource, and it produces waste that frequently isn’t disposed of properly.

Clearance Champagne 5304 Scuba Fabric Dress With Ruffle Trim
Clearance Champagne 5304 Scuba Fabric Dress With Ruffle Trim

The production of limestone-based chloroprene rubber, however, is somewhat better for the environment. Limestone isn’t in as short supply as petroleum, and it can be acquired more easily than this fossil fuel.

Both types of polychloroprene, however, are not biodegradable. Therefore, once Neoprene or limestone-based chloroprene is discarded, it remains in the environment as a pollutant. It may take thousands or millions of years for chloroprene rubber to be reabsorbed into the environment, and in the meantime, this fabric will have blocked waterways, filled up forests, and impacted many other ecosystems around the world.

Various pollutants are also created during the process of making polychloroprene. If the correct manufacturing processes are followed, however, it’s possible to mitigate the impact that these toxic chemicals have on the environment.

Scuba Fabric Certifications Available

scuba fabric certifications

A variety of certifications can be awarded to polychloroprene fabric. Since this type of textile is synthetic, it is not possible for chloroprene rubber to be certified as organic, but certain certifications are offered if this textile meets the general standards of polychloroprene production.

If polychloroprene fabric meets some basic manufacturing standards, for instance, it is eligible for ISO 9001 certification, which is offered by the International Organization for Standardization. This organization also offers ISO 13485 certification for chloroprene rubber textiles that are used for medical equipment.

Author's Bio:
Sherry Lin

Sherry Lin

Sales Director of fabricstrades.com, a GRS-certified manufacturer of sustainable stretch fabrics. She love sharing fabrics procurement insights.

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