What is Silicone?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

As a product that has worked its way into our lives in many different ways, silicone is a substance that is composed of both organic and inorganic polymers, and is created by the application of a specific chemical formula. Often incorrectly referred to as "silicon," silicone is more correctly identified as polysiloxanes. The word itself is a derivative of ketone, based on the incorrect assumption that dimethylsilicon and dimethylketone would have similar chemical structures, since the formulas shared a number of characteristics.

Silicone sealant in a caulk gun.
Silicone sealant in a caulk gun.

Essentially, silicone is produced by the combination of an inorganic silicon and oxygen backbone with organic side groups that attach to the silicon atoms. The number of links or attachments between the organic and inorganic components is what determines the final consistency of the product. Various forms are usually categorized into two different groups, known as silicone oils and resins. With this family of materials, the end products may take on such diverse consistencies as hard plastic, rubber, gels, and liquids. There are many examples of silicone products that most of us have in our homes.

A tube of dielectric grease, which is made from silicone.
A tube of dielectric grease, which is made from silicone.

One example of how this material is used is as a sealant in building construction and maintenance. The sealants are used to take care of joints that are not quite flush, as well as crevices in older buildings where settling has occurred. Silicone sealants are produced in both professional and retail formulas, with silicone caulking compound being a common tool kept on hand by the home owner who prefers to take care of his or her space personally.

Silicone is used in the manufacturing of wide array of products, such as molds for cupcakes.
Silicone is used in the manufacturing of wide array of products, such as molds for cupcakes.

Another household use is as grease that is used in plumbing. Silicone grease acts as a lubricant that is often applied to O-rings that are used in kitchen and bathroom faucets, as well as with plumbing valves at junctions where the plumbing runs into the house from the main supply system. The grease helps prevent the rings from drying out and cracking, which would result in costly leaks in the equipment.

Silicone kitchenware is heat resistant, yet soft and flexible.
Silicone kitchenware is heat resistant, yet soft and flexible.

Silicone also makes an appearance when it comes to cooking. As a component that is often found in parchment paper, the silicone prevents foods that are baked or broiled on the paper from sticking, such as with cookies, slices of bacon, or chicken breasts. In addition, a number of the non-stick sprays used today have silicone as one of the ingredients, allowing the cook to not have to use oils or shortening to prevent sticking. This type of rubber also shows up in the kitchen in the form of spatulas, serving and stirring spoons, and even plastic cheese knives.

This material also has a number of uses outside the home, such as in breast implants, menstrual cups, enclosures for electrical equipment, and also fire stops used in the process of fire retardation. As time goes on, the number of ways this valuable compound can be used will no doubt continue to expand.

Silicone is used in some breast implant surgeries.
Silicone is used in some breast implant surgeries.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I have severe allergic reaction to dimethicone, which is the silicone ingredient in mostly everything we put on our bodies. Silicone affects me severely, as well - baking cookies on a silicone baking sheet is a guaranteed reaction for a month.

Is this a problem? Yes, it is! Maybe not for the majority of people, but ask yourself this question, does my reaction to goods baked on silicone sheets make you feel good about what you are eating when baking with silicone sheets?


@BioNerd: There is no scientific basis, or it's paranoia and conspiracy theories! Tell that to women contaminated with silicone implants. Tell them their health problems are a figment of their imagination.

The proof is in the pudding. As soon as the ladies have their implants removed, their health improves, including those diagnosed with autoimmune deficiencies like psoriasis, MS, thyroid issues, etc. These diseases are not "curable," but yet they miraculously disappear when their implants are removed.

Give me a break. Stop following the sheep and think outside the box. There is corruption, greed and stupidity in the FDA, big pharma, agriculture, etc.


For surface sealant purposes, which one is better: silicone or acrylic? We are applying both on sandwash around our pool, but we don't know which is better in term of strength and duration. Acrylic is cheaper.


Well, silicone can not be broken down by micro-organisms like plastic, so it is killing the planet. We should step back and with moderation find a way to use more of the organic component of this substances, so that it will be planet-friendly.


Silicone may one day be used to make detachable headgear which would have various enhancing technological function such as audio translation. We may soon find ourselves traveling around in automatic vehicles while video chatting with friends from around the world who have no common language with ourselves, on comfortable silicone headsets.


Many silicone molds are used in novelty and hobby items or models. With access to silicone and a good artistic capacity for creating models, some have learned to make a good living off of designing and selling silicone molds.


I recall having a lot of fun in the pool when I was younger using a silicone torpedo. It was just the perfect consistency that it could travel rapidly through the water and not cause damage when it hit something. My brother was not pleased, however, when I secretly hurled it at him from underwater.


There is still considerable paranoia concerning conspiracy theories having to do with silicone and its alleged hormonal effects. People with silicone implants were sometimes alarmed to read on the news or on the internet that their health and hormone levels could be affected by silicone. Products made of silicone were also scrutinized, and I recall being in college when a friend remarked that he thought our society was being feminized by estrogen hormones in plastic and silicone products. These rumors spread like wildfire and have no scientific basis.

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