AskDefine | Define silicone

Dictionary Definition

silicone n : any of a large class of siloxanes that are unusually stable over a wide range of temperatures; used in lubricants and adhesives and coatings and synthetic rubber and electrical insulation [syn: silicone polymer]

User Contributed Dictionary



silicon + -one


  • /'sIlIkəʊn/


  1. a class of inert, semi-inorganic polymeric compounds of silicon, having a wide range of thermal stability and extreme water repellence, used in a very wide range of industrial applications, and in prosthetic replacements for body parts


Derived terms



silicóne, /siliˈkone/, /sili"kone/


  1. In the context of "chemistry||lang=it": silicone

Extensive Definition

Silicones are largely inert compounds with a wide variety of forms and uses. Typically heat-resistant, nonstick, and rubberlike, they are frequently used in cookware, medical applications, sealants, lubricants, and insulation. Silicones are polymers that include silicon together with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and sometimes other chemical elements.


Some of the most useful properties of silicone include:
  1. Thermal stability (constancy of properties over a wide operating range of −100 to 250 °C).
  2. Though not lipophilic, the ability to repel water and form watertight seals.
  3. Excellent resistance to oxygen, ozone and sunlight.
  4. Flexibility.
  5. Good electrical insulation.
  6. Nonstick.
  7. Low chemical reactivity.
  8. Low toxicity.
  9. High gas permeability: at room temperature (25 °C) the permeability of silicone rubber for gases like oxygen is approximately 400 times that of butyl rubber, making silicone useful for medical applications (though precluding it from applications where gas-tight seals are necessary).

Technical details

More precisely called polymerized siloxanes or polysiloxanes, silicones are mixed inorganic-organic polymers with the chemical formula [R2SiO]n, where R = organic groups such as methyl, ethyl, and phenyl. These materials consist of an inorganic silicon-oxygen backbone (…-Si-O-Si-O-Si-O-…) with organic side groups attached to the silicon atoms, which are four-coordinate.
In some cases organic side groups can be used to link two or more of these -Si-O- backbones together. By varying the -Si-O- chain lengths, side groups, and crosslinking, silicones can be synthesized with a wide variety of properties and compositions. They can vary in consistency from liquid to gel to rubber to hard plastic. The most common siloxane is linear polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicone oil. The second largest group of silicone materials is based on silicone resins, which are formed by branched and cage-like oligosiloxanes.


Silicones are synthesized from chlorosilanes, tetraethoxysilane, and related compounds. In the case of PDMS, the starting material is dimethylchlorosilane, which reacts with water as follows:
n [Si(CH3)2Cl2] + n [H2O] → [Si(CH3)2O]n + 2n HCl
During polymerization, this reaction evolves potentially hazardous hydrogen chloride gas. For medical uses, a process was developed where the chlorine atoms in the silane precursor were replaced with acetate groups, so that the reaction product of the final curing process is nontoxic acetic acid (vinegar). As a side effect, the curing process is also much slower in this case. This is the chemistry used in many consumer applications, such as silicone caulk and adhesives.
Silane precursors with more acid-forming groups and fewer methyl groups, such as methyltrichlorosilane, can be used to introduce branches or cross-links in the polymer chain. Ideally, each molecule of such a compound becomes a branch point. This can be used to produce hard silicone resins. Similarly, precursors with three methyl groups can be used to limit molecular weight, since each such molecule has only one reactive site and so forms the end of a siloxane chain.
Modern silicone resins are made with tetraethoxysilane, which reacts in a more mild and controllable manner than chlorosilanes.

Chemical terminology

Silicone is often mistakenly referred to as "silicon." Although silicones contain silicon atoms, they are not made up exclusively of silicon, and have completely different physical characteristics from elemental silicon.
The word "silicone" is derived from ketone. Dimethylsilicone and dimethyl ketone (a.k.a. acetone) have analogous formulas, thus it was surmised (incorrectly) that they have analogous structures. The same terminology is used for compounds such as silane (an analogue of methane).
A true silicone group with a double bond between oxygen and silicon (see figure) does not exist in nature; chemists find that the silicon atom forms a single bond with each of two oxygen atoms, rather than a double bond to a single atom. Polysiloxanes are called "silicone" due to early mistaken assumptions about their structure.


Aquarium joints

Aquarium manufacturers have used silicone sealant exclusively from its inception in order to join glass plates, making aquariums of every size and shape. Glass joints made with silicone sealant can withstand hundreds of metric tons of pressure, making obsolete the original aquarium construction method using angle-iron and putty.


In the automotive field, silicone grease is typically used as a lubricant for brake components since it is stable at high temperatures, is not water-soluble and is far less likely than other lubricants to foul.
Automotive spark plug wires are often insulated by multiple layers of silicone to prevent sparks from jumping to adjacent wires, causing misfires. The insulation also minimizes RFI, which can interfere with an engine management computer.
Silicone tubing is sometimes used in automotive intake systems (especially for engines with forced-induction) .
Sheet silicone is used to manufacture gaskets used in automotive engines, transmissions and other applications.
Automotive body manufacturing plants and paint shops must avoid the presence of all silicones, as they may cause "fish eyes," small, circular craters that appear in the finish.


Silicone films can be applied to silica-based substrates like glass to form a covalently bonded hydrophobic coating.


Silicone is becoming an important product in the cookware industry, particularly bakeware and kitchen utensils. It is also used as an insulator in heat resistant potholders and similar, however it is more conductive of heat than the less dense fiber-based ones. Silicone oven mitts are able to withstand temperatures up to 675°F (357°C), and allow reaching into boiling water.

Dry cleaning

Liquid silicone can be used as a dry cleaning solvent. Touted as an "environmentally friendly" alternative to the traditional perchloroethylene (or perc) solvent, the decamethylpentacyclosiloxane (D5) process has been patented by the company GreenEarth Cleaning.
The solvent degrades into silica and trace amounts of water and CO2, and waste produced from the D5 drycleaning process is nontoxic and nonhazardous. This significantly reduces the environmental impact of a typically high-polluting industry.
Additionally, liquid silicone is chemically inert, meaning it does not react with fabrics or dyes during the cleaning process. This reduces the amount of fading and shrinking that most dry-cleaned garments experience.


Electronic components are sometimes protected by enclosing them in silicone to increase stability against mechanical and electrical shock, radiation and vibration. This is often called "potting".
Silicones are used when durability and high performance are demanded of components under hard conditions, as in space (satellite technology). They are selected over polyurethane or epoxy encapsulation when a wide operating temperature range is required (−65 to 315 °C). Silicones also have the advantage of little exothermic heat rise during cure, low toxicity, good electrical properties and high purity.
The use of silicones in electronics is not without problems, however. Silicones are relatively expensive and can be attacked by solvents. Silicone easily migrates as either a liquid or vapor onto other components.
Silicone contamination of electrical switch contacts can lead to failures by causing an increase in contact resistance, often late in the life of the contact, well after any testing is completed. Use of silicone-based spray products in electronic devices during maintenance or repairs can cause later failures.


Silicone foams have been used in North American buildings in an attempt to firestop openings within fire-resistance-rated wall and floor assemblies to prevent the spread of flames and smoke from one room to another.
Israeli installations switched to an "elastomer" version, which avoids most safety concerns associated with the foams.
Silicone foam firestops have been the subject of controversy and press attention due to smoke development from pyrolysis of combustible components within the foam, hydrogen gas escape, shrinkage and cracking. These problems have been exposed by whistleblower Gerald W. Brown and have led to a large number or reportable events among licensees (operators of nuclear power plants) of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
When properly installed, silicone-foam firestops can be fabricated for building code compliance. Advantages include flexibility and high dielectric strength. Disadvantages include combustibility (hard to extinguish) and significant smoke development.


Silicone greases are used for many purposes, such as bicycle chains. A dry-set lubricant is delivered with a solvent carrier to penetrate the chain. The solvent evaporates, leaving a clear film that lubricates but does not attract dirt and grit as much as a traditional "wet" lubricant.
Silicone spray is one lubricant well suited for a Rubik's Cube.


Silicone, particularly the gel form, is used in bandages and dressings, in breast implants and a variety of other medical uses.


Two-part silicone systems are used to create rubber molds which can be used for production casting of resins, foams, rubber and low-temp alloys.
A mold made of silicone generally requires little or no mold release or surface preparation as most materials do not adhere to moldmaking silicone.
For experimental uses, ordinary one-part silicone can also be used, either to make molds, or to mold into shapes. Common vegetable cooking oils and petroleum jelly can be used on mating surfaces as a mold release agent. Silicone Caulk Molds RTV SILICONE RUBBER MOLD

Personal care

Silicones are ingredients in some leave-in hair conditioner products. These lessen frizz by using silicone's water resistance to prevent humidity from entering a dry hair shaft.
Silicones are also used in some shaving products and personal lubricants. Menstrual cups are often made of silicone for its durability and reusability. Silicone is also material of choice for soft sex toys, due to its durability, cleanability and lack of pthalates, chemicals suspected of having carcinogenic and mutagenic effects on the skin and mucus membranes. One review of the health risks of phthalates advocated moving away from medical devices containing phthalates because of their toxicity.

Plumbing and building construction

The strength and reliability of silicone rubber is widely acknowledged in the construction industry.
One-part silicone sealants and caulks are in common use to seal gaps, joints and crevices in buildings. One-part silicones cure by absorbing atmospheric moisture, which helps in the professional installation.
In plumbing, silicone grease is typically applied to O-rings in faucets and valves. Whist the film is extant it prevents lime from sticking to the brasswork.


Silicone balls have become a juggler's favorite due to the high bounce back, and are used as a response system in many low response yo-yos.

Versatile applications

"foamfixer" pump used to apply silicone foam firestop materials.

Silicone Industry Trade Organizations

The leading global manufacturers of silicone base materials belong to three regional organizations: the European Silicone Center(CES) in Brussels, Belgium; the Silicone Environment Health and Safety Council(SEHSC) in Washington, USA; and the Silicone Industry Association of Japan (SIAJ) in Tokyo, Japan. A fourth organization, the Global Silicone Council (GSC) acts as an umbrella structure over the regional organizations. All four are nonprofit making and have no commercial role. Their primary mission is to promote the safety of silicones from a health, safety and environmental perspective. As the European chemical industry is getting prepared to implement the REACH legislation, CES is leading the formation of a consortium of silicones, silanes and siloxanes producers and importers to facilitate data and cost sharing.

See also


External links

silicone in Arabic: سيليكون
silicone in Bulgarian: Силикон
silicone in Catalan: Silicona
silicone in Czech: Silikon
silicone in Danish: Silikone
silicone in German: Silikone
silicone in Spanish: Silicona
silicone in French: Silicone
silicone in Korean: 실리콘 (중합체)
silicone in Indonesian: Silikone
silicone in Italian: Siliconi
silicone in Hebrew: סיליקון (תרכובת)
silicone in Dutch: Silicone
silicone in Japanese: シリコーン
silicone in Norwegian: Silikon
silicone in Polish: Silikony
silicone in Portuguese: Silicone
silicone in Russian: Силиконы
silicone in Serbian: Силикон
silicone in Finnish: Silikoni
silicone in Swedish: Silikon
silicone in Turkish: Silikon
silicone in Chinese: 矽氧樹脂
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