The primary ingredient in latex condoms is would you believe it Latex (rubber). Latex is first extracted from the rubber tree and is in the form of a resin a creamy liquid with very similar properties to milk. The raw latex is inspected and goes through very stringent quality control processes to ensure that it meets the necessary standards and specifications before passing to the next stage. Because latex is a natural material it can go off again like milk if left in its natural state. To make sure that this does not happen the latex is compounded with other ingredients (as soon as possible after harvesting) such as vulcanising agents to stabilise the material. Allergies to rubber/latex can vary across brands because each manufacturer will use slightly different quantities and combinations of ingredients in the compounding process.
The next stage in the process is called dipping. A dipping tank is filled with the resulting latex compound. A computer controlled dipping machine ensures that a stable environment is maintained at all times, and that spinning glass formers/moulds (on conveyors) that pass through the latex compound do so at the optimum speed. A very thin layer of latex film is formed on each mould, and after dipping the latex is dried using filtered air. This process is repeated until the desired thickness of latex is obtained. At the end of the dipping process the open end of the newly formed condom is rolled to create a rim or bead. Whilst the condoms are still on the formers they are heated in an oven to vulcanise the latex, the condoms are then removed from the formers by jets of water, they are then dried for the last time.
Now the condoms go through a series of tests designed to find any possible imperfections that may be present.
- Every condom goes through electronic testing which is designed to find imperfections even ones to small for the human eye to detect. The condom is mounted on a metal former and subjected to a high voltage, the latex is then inspected for any deterioration. If any is found the condom is immediately rejected.
- The air inflation or bursting test is designed to test the strength and elasticity of the condom. The condom is filled with air until it reaches bursting point.
- The water leakage test is where the condom is filled with 300ml of water and hung up for 3 minutes, if no leaks are detected the condom is taken down and rolled over blotting paper to check for any minute leaks. If leaks are discovered in more than a few condoms, the entire batch is failed and will not go forward to the next stage.
- Samples are also tested to destruction to assess their physical strength, some are artificially aged/distressed to ascertain their level of quality and ensure that this remains high throughout their 5 year product life.
- Other quality control tests are performed to ensure the correct thickness and size of the condoms.
Each condom is then automatically foiled, this is usually when the lubricant is added if required. Lubricants and packaging materials are also tested to ensure strict quality standards. The foiled condoms are then packaged into boxes ready for shipping.