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Rubber Versus Polyurethane Wheels

The world of caster wheels is wide and varied with many products available to meet the needs of consumers. In addition, wheels are made of a variety of materials, depending on the intended use and environment. Rubber and polyurethane wheels are just two types of caster wheels, but which one is better? It turns out the answer is more complicated than it may seem since both have several advantages and disadvantages. Floor protection, smoothness of the wheel roll and expected wear and tear are three areas for consideration before choosing a wheel material.

Floor Protection 

In choosing a castor, two important factors are the material used in the construction of the floor and the importance of keeping the floor looking aesthetically pleasing. In terms of floor integrity, both rubber and polyurethane provide essentially equal protection. Each keeps the floor free of damage from repeated contact, even under load-bearing weight. However, if the aesthetic of the floor is important, rubber wheels may leave black marks where polyurethane wheels do not, regardless of wheel color.

Smooth Roll 

A smooth surface indoors does not make the difference between rubber and polyurethane apparent. Both will perform well in this environment. However, on uneven surfaces or outdoor conditions, the differences become obvious. Rubber is more cushioning and provides more give when moving over imperfections or obstacles on the floor, but on a smooth surface, it causes more resistance to rolling. Polyurethane is harder than rubber and offers little cushioning on uneven floors. On smooth floors, it provides much less resistance than rubber. 

Wear and Tear

Casters made from both rubber and polyurethane are sturdy, durable and stand up to wear and tear. However, rubber is prone to molecular breakdown more so than polyurethane because the chemical bonds between raw rubber and filler compounds are not as strong. As a result, wheels can become damaged when exposed to abrasions in what is known as cutting and chunking. Over time, this can lead to further wheel damage. Because it is harder and stronger, polyurethane wheels often last two or three years longer than rubber wheels.

When comparing rubber wheels to those made of polyurethane, it seems that the latter is better at protecting the aesthetics of floors and stands up to wear and tear better. However, rubber wheels offer more cushioning and equal floor protection. In this case, the decision to choose one caster material over another is dependent on the needs of the consumer.