When it comes to gasket material hardness the general advice is that softer is better, providing it seals the joint. Elastomeric gaskets used for sealing enclosures are a good example. When the enclosure door is closed there’s often a large and uneven gap remaining, (especially in the case of light-duty plastic enclosures.) A soft gasket compresses easily where the gap is smaller while filling the larger gaps, providing a seal all the way around the opening.
Many softer gasket materials, such as silicone, urethane and neoprene, are available with a cellular structure that makes them very soft. These cells are easily seen in cross-section. What gasket material buyers may not appreciate though is that these cells may be open or closed. This matters because it gives the gasket material different performance characteristics.
In a closed cell material, each cell is completely sealed off from its neighbors. That makes it feel harder because when compressed the air inside has no place to go. In an open material the cells are interconnected, so under compression the air moves through and out of the material, making it feel softer.
Closed cell materials take on a compression set more readily than do open materials. This is because, under load the air inside permeates slowly through the cell walls. When the load is removed, although the material tries to spring-back it can’t draw air in, leaving the gasket material permanently deformed. In contrast, an open cell material “breathes,” drawing air back in to each cell as the material rebounds.
The weakness of open cell gasket materials is a lack of water-resistance. Just as in a sponge, the interconnected cells let water move through the structure. Although a load may close up the openings and provide some resistance, open cell gasket materials are not recommended for situations where water exposure is possible.
Consider the application
An open cell structure makes for a softer gasket, and one less likely to take a compression set. However, a closed cell material provides better water resistance. Select your gasket material based on the application.