This post is the second part of a series on crafting with inner tubes. You can find part 1 here.
Welcome! Today we’re going to talk about our raw material: where to get your hands on inner tubes, what sizes are good for what projects, and how to clean them properly.
On Thursday, we’ll talk about cutting up inner tubes, and Friday I’ll have a craft project to play with over the weekend.
Let’s get started, shall we?
What are inner tubes made of, anyway?
The short answer is butyl rubber, which is a synthetic rubber formed by doing science. (Click the link if you want Wikipedia to tell you the specifics.) It was developed around World War II as an alternative to natural latex rubber, which comes from Amazonian trees.
You can still get latex inner tubes, which apparently have their own special reasons why why you might want them, but nearly all inner tubes these days are made of butyl rubber. (Which is also used in chewing gum to make it nice and rubbery, buen apetito.)
Where do I get inner tubes
Well, beyond the obvious answer of get a bunch of flats yourself (boo!), I recommend checking out your local bike shop. Most of those folks do a brisk business in fixing flats, and they’ve probably got a stash of busted inner tubes in the back.
Some shops recycle them, and if you live in a crafty city like Seattle, a lot of shops might have agreements with companies like Alchemy Goods to supply them with tubes. But if you ask nicely, I’m sure they’ll have some to spare.
What size do I want?
For our crafty purposes, bicycle inner tubes come in 2 sizes: road bike and mountain bike. Road inner tubes are narrower, to fit in those skinny little tires—mtb inner tubes can be almost 2-3 times as wide.
Road inner tubes make long flat strips, and are excellent for crafts like:
When you cut a road inner tube open, you end up with a piece of rubber 2-3″ wide that lays almost perfectly flat. When you cut a mtb inner tube, on the other hand, it’ll have a definite curve. If you try to force it flat, the rubber will show ripples.
Mtb inner tubes are good for crafts where you want short, wide pieces, like:
Essentially, save the mtb inner tubes for times when you need a wide piece that’s either short enough that the curved surface doesn’t show, or when the curve is actually a benefit.
Clean ‘em up
Cleaning inner tubes is pretty simple: just cut out the valve stem, slice the tube open lengthwise, then scrub with dish soap and hot water.
Most inner tubes have a white powder inside them (it’s just crushed fairies*, no worries), so cut the tube open over a trash can. Not, you know, on your sewing table right next to a pile of fancy dress pieces you just cut out like I did. (You would never do that, I’m sure.)
Sometimes you may run across an inner tube that’s had a long, hard life—it’ll look dirty, even rusty. I find that using rubbing alcohol on a rag normally gets rid of anything that soap and water can’t handle.
Questions? Comments? Clarifications? Leave ‘em below—and don’t forget to come back by on Thursday where I’ll dissect the myriad ways of cutting into our newly harvested inner tubes.
* Or talcum powder. Whatever. Don’t breathe it, either way.