What is the difference?
Can Cooler Insulation FAQ:
Beverage insulators were originally made out of out of neoprene in 1982. In the 80’s, primary beverage insulators were the old school fat insulators. Neoprene came out and offered great insulation properties in addition to being compact and offering multi-color imprint options. Neoprene was basically the luxury option of beverage insulators, but discerning consumers were willing to pay the price for a far superior product.
Scuba foam came out more towards the late 1990’s. This material was developed as a more affordable alternative to neoprene for beverage insulators. The material itself was constructed of an “open cell” type polyurethane foam with a polyester fabric on one side and a tricot on the other.
Conversely, neoprene is a “closed cell” rubber-based product with a polyester or nylon fabric on both sides. Scuba’s tricot doesn’t stretch nearly as well as nylon and poly, but guess what, it’s cheaper.
The irony is that the actual suits worn by scuba divers are really neoprene!
You might be asking yourself why we keep saying “open cell” and “closed cell”. Well, take a look at the picture below. You can see air “bubbles” in the foam of the scuba (on the left), whereas you can’t see the bubbles in the neoprene (on the right). When we say “open cell”, we actually mean that we can see the bubbles in the foam, while neoprene is “closed cell” because we can’t. The bubbles in neoprene are still there, but they’re just not visible (“closed-cell” is a bit of a misnomer).
Now for the science of insulation...
Heat is transferred in three ways: conduction (transfer through physical contact), convection (transfer through the movement of air), and radiation (…it’s complicated). The rate at which heat is transferred into your beverage is a function of all three, and when you put an insulator on it, you’re slowing that transfer in all three ways. Any insulator inhibits air flow around the can or bottle, and therefore impedes convection. When you have a neoprene insulator on a can or bottle, heat has to be transferred through a much denser, less conductive, material than scuba. What happens on a small scale is that in scuba foam, the heat is able to transfer through a little bit of polyurethane, and a lot of air (bubbles). So neoprene, which is mostly rubber, is a better insulator than scuba. Now that’s science!
You might have heard about the “R-value” of insulation. That is a measure of the rate at which heat is transferredthrough something. The higher the R-value, the better your insulation in your attic and walls, right? Well, neoprene has a higher R-value than scuba.