The History of
Rubber Floor Mats
Floor mats. Who thought of those? And where did they come
from? Many people don't think about the humble floor mats, which we routinely
walk on today. In reality, the mats we use every day represent a huge
progression in technology and ingenuity from humans stretching back thousands
of years. Whereas mats started with braided plant fibers on likely earthen
floors, today's mats are highly engineered and constructed out of contoured
hybrid materials like fabric and rubber.
Modern mats are exceptionally efficient at absorbing excess
dirt and water form people walking into buildings as well as keeping workers
safe from workplace hazards. So how did mat technology get this
A Brief History of
Early Floor Mats:
Archaeologists believe that the earliest portable floor
coverings were made as far back as 25,000 years ago in Paleolithic times. The
dwellings of clans used tree bark to create a type of felt which was then made
into floor mats. After all, even primitive people don't like hunters tracking
in dirt and mastodon guts all over the place. It shouldn't be surprising that
humans have always worked hard to improve their internal habitats.
Not long after, humans developed the practice of weaving to
make certain goods. Women would take either straw or plantlike grasses called
rushes and weave them together for clothing, baskets, or other items. The first
recorded use of plaited rush floor mats was in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years
ago. Archaeologists throughout the world have found mats near fire pits at
hundreds of excavation sites.
In biblical times, people who weren't rich lived in houses
with floors made of earth. Instead of using mats to clean footwear like today,
the mats were used as sleeping pads and too create a little bit of warmth from
the cold. These mats were probably constructed of woolen yarn woven together.
These types of floor coverings were popular well into the Middle Ages. Before
all of our modern conveniences like tiles and wood flooring, humans across the
world had many different solutions for staying warm and comfortable.
In Japan, noblemen adopted the tatami mats as far back as
the ninth century. Tatami is made out of straw formed from both rice and soft
rush, and these mats were reserved for the seating areas for aristocrats. It
wasn't until the 17th century that commoners were able to procure tatami mats
for their homes.
In the early 1800s, a new type of floor covering was created
using the waste products from traditional weaving looms. The discarded pieces
of yarn, known as thrums, were collected and pulled through a woven base of
straw or some other sturdy material. The practice, known as rug hooking (whose
roots may extend further back into history), became popular in floor mats found
As the 20th century dawned, the set of materials used to
make floor mats expanded. In America, people used everything from straw and
burlap to canvas and jute in floor mats. It wasn't until the Industrial
Revolution was in full swing that institutional floor coverings were made from
rubber and petroleum-based materials.
Rubber Mats? When
Things Got Exciting
So what makes modern floor mats so exciting? Well for one
they are amazingly efficient. While your average building with as little as 150
people entering and exiting can have over a pound of dirt tracked in every week,
a three stage mat system can actually reduce this by 85-95%. Who knew all the
dust stuck to your shoes could add up that quickly? But how did rubber mats evolve to be so well-constructed and efficient?
The Magic of Rubber
Vulcanization, invented in the 19
makes all the difference when it comes t building a comfortable and flexible
mat. Modern floor mats are so efficient because this process of treating
natural materials makes them more durable for heavy duty applications while
keeping them flexible enough to maintain contours that don't erode.
The usage of flexible plastics is not actually new. As far
back as 1600 BCE, from the Olmecs (1500 BCE to 400 BCE) to the Aztecs (1100 ACE
to 1522 ACE), rubber was cured in a process similar to vulcanization. While the
chemistry involved probably wasn't extremely well understood, when natural
latex was mixed with juice of certain vines, a durable material similar to modern
rubbers could be made.
The modern process of vulcanization was invented sometime in
th century, though the exact inventor isn't fully known. A man
named Thomas Hancock had the first patent on the vulcanization of rubber, but
it was actually Charles Goodyear, of tire company fame, that likely came up
with the underlying mechanism behind its creation. Though the invention of
vulcanization was immensely important, it was likely an accidental discovery.
Today's modern floor mats aren't made through this process.
In fact, the processes that are used today are much faster, stronger, and more reliable than what was originally
thought up by Charles Goodyear almost 200 years ago. The modern creation of
good mats depends on accelerating agents which catalyze the bonding of sulfur
to rubber. This allows for much shorter cure time and significantly less energy
for production. Then first example of this is credited to Goerg Oenslager, who
theorized and proved that thiocarbanilide can catalyze the bonding of sulfur
with rubber. Currently, there are five common systems of curing rubber:
sulfur systems, metallic oxides, metallic oxides, peroxides, urethane
crosslinkers, and acetoxysilane.
The invention that was necessary for today's exceptionally
efficient rubber matting is the bonding of non-woven synthetic fabrics directly
to rubber. The adhesion between fabrics, which absorb liquids and serve as an
abrasive on the bottom of shoes, and rubber ridges, which then allow for
fluid collection, was the last step in efficient entry mats. Somewhere during the
1940's there was a confluence between rubber production and fabric
adhesion. While the science behind this is
quite advanced, it's important to understand that as with every other form of
manufacturing there are now multiple working processes including: hot calendaring,
belt calendaring, through-air thermal bonding, ultrasonic bonding, and radiant-heat
bonding. We've truly come a long way from tree bark and woven fibers.
Why Are Modern
Methods So Efficient?
It all has to do with design, modern
rubber technology, and the bonding of fabric to rubber. There are a few intricacies of the modern floor mat that make it efficient at
keeping buildings clean and people safe (see diagram below). If you look at the top of most mats
you would use in a building, there is a fabric top (A & C) which gives
people a comfortable and familiar surface to walk on. This fabric also serves a
dual purpose as a grip and a slight abrasive to brush off and start drawing in
moisture. All the moisture and mud that
gets brought in from shoes is kept out by the ridges in the mat (B). These
ridges create troughs (E) where water and mud can pool safely. These troughs
(E) throughout the mat serve to keep people from slipping. Coupled with grip on
the bottoms (D), modern floor mats do an incredible job of keeping people safe
and the inside of buildings clean.
Rubber Floor Mats Today
Today, floor mats are not only effective in keeping floors clean, but they are also eco-friendly. Many floor mats are manufactured using recycled materials from plastic beverage bottles and vehicle tires. Modern floor mats can even be visually appealing with colorfast yarns, which maintain their appearance for years. Colorful logos can also be displayed on floor mats thanks to state-of-the-art digital printers and adhesives.
Whether you need a floor mat that's highly
moisture-absorbent, one that aggressively scrapes soil from footwear, or even
one that reduces fatigue levels for those who stand on it, Ultimate Mats is
your one-stop shop for all of your floor mat needs. Contact Ultimate Mats today
and check out their full line of superior floor mats, some of which may end up
in future history books!