Which Soles are Best for Work Boots: PVC vs Rubber

When it comes to soles for boots or shoes, there are several materials in common use, such as rubber, PVC, leather and even some types of wood. However, by far, rubber and PVC are the ones that are most commonly used. Let’s take a look at what they are and how they’re different, so you can decide which is best for your work boots.


What qualities do work boots’ soles need?

When we’re talking about work boots, let’s assume we don’t mean that 9 to 5 in the office – we mean active work for tough jobs or work that involves a lot of outdoor walking. The features you need most are:

  • Waterproof – all-weather wear means rain, snow, puddles and mud

  • Comfortable – long days on your feet require shock absorption but a steady step

  • Chemical resistance – a degree of resistance to corrosive substances might be necessary

  • Insulating – standing on cold ground for long periods is better with a dense layer

  • Electrical insulation – stopping you from earthing electric current

  • Tough – for walking on stones, broken glass, nails, splinters and such like

  • Grip – slip protection is important in many workplaces, especially around water and ice


What is PVC?

PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, and it’s a synthetic polymer, one of the most used plastics in the world. You’ll see window frames, cable insulation, pipes, clothing, medical equipment, the list goes on. It can be made hard or soft, and it’s the soft type that’s used in soles.


What is rubber?

Rubber is a material that is made from latex, a liquid found under the bark of rubber trees. It has been harvested for hundreds of years and used industrially for about two centuries. Like PVC, at the molecular level, it resembles strands bound together, but this has organic origins.


Is PVC rubber or plastic?

PVC is a type of plastic. It’s completely synthetic – it doesn’t occur in nature, unlike latex, from which rubber is made. However, rubber itself isn’t a natural substance – liquid latex goes through several stages of heat and chemical processing to produce the blocky material used in soles, tyres and erasers. 


Is a PVC sole good?

PVC soles do have some uses in the workplace, particularly around chemicals, as they are good at resisting corrosion and oil spillages. As far as comfort is concerned, they can be as shock-absorbent as rubber, and the insoles can help with comfort too. It is a good electrical insulator and is also tough and waterproof. All in all, it is a decent replacement for rubber in many circumstances but can lack the grip, heat insulation and comfort of the more natural material.

Can rubber soles be resoled? 

Yes – it’s relatively easy for a cobbler to repair a pair of rubber-soled shoes, although because work boots have such thick, chunky rubber soles, it can often take years to wear them down enough to justify resoling. Do note that not all shoe repairers will only carry black soles and not yellow or white rubber soles, so if you have something like the classic Timberland 6-inch yellow, you might need to seek out a specialist re-soler rather than a high street kiosk. It’s always worth asking, however.


Are PVC or rubber soles best for work?

On balance, PVC and rubber have similar performance, although some characteristics do make them different. Rubber is generally a better heat and electrical insulator and has superior grip and comfort, but there isn’t much between them in these respects.

Rubber is a natural product, however, and is easily recycled. In fact, there’s a good chance you are already wearing boots with recycled rubber soles, especially if they are Timberland Earthkeepers®. PVC is synthetic, with quite an intensive process, and it’s not as easy to recycle.

Where PVC does perform better than rubber is in its resistance to oils and many chemicals. If your work is in a garage or chemical yard, or if you are working around foods, your PVC soles will stay looking and performing as new for longer with prolonged contact. Again though, rubber, too, has some resistance to many chemicals, so the difference might not be so stark.  

Given a choice, we will always go for rubber thanks to its environmental credentials and also its comfort, grip, durability, waterproofing and also its aesthetic qualities. PVC is usually cheaper, but there’s a wide range of quality, so it is often an inferior product, so make sure you’re buying from a reputable supplier.

Find your perfect pair of women’s boots or men’s boots from Timberland.

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