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What is the Difference Between Silicon and Silicone?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Although it may appear that the words silicon and silicone can be used interchangeably, there are some significant differences between them. Silicon is a natural chemical element found in great abundance on Earth, primarily as a major component of common sand. Silicon is generally found in a crystalline form. Silicone is a man-made substance derived from silicon and other chemicals, and it may be a liquid or a rubber-like plastic polymer.

One major difference between silicon and silicone is their commercial use. Pure silicon is an ideal semi-conductor, like the more expensive element germanium. It is possible to heat silicon into a molten state and then form it into wafers. These semi-conductive wafers can then be used as a base for the intricate and microscopic electronic circuitry required for computer processing. This relationship between silicon and the technology industry inspired the nickname for the California high-tech region known as Silicon Valley.

Silicone, on the other hand, is used for a number of other industrial applications. Liquid silicone is often used as a lubricant for machine parts, for example. A thicker form of rubberized silicone can also be used as a waterproof sealant around windows and other gaps. Cured silicone is flexible, moisture-resistant and transparent.

Silicon and silicone are both used to create fireproof or heat-resistant products, but silicon is generally used to create ceramic glazes, glass or bricks while silicone is used to create heat-resistant kitchen aids. Many cooks rely on silicone-based oven mitts, tongs, pot holders and pan handles to prevent burns and scalds. Silicone also possesses non-stick qualities, so it can be formed into flexible cookware such as muffin and cake pans.

Silicone is also chemically inert and considered low in toxicity for humans. This makes it an ideal material for medical prosthetics, most notably as the fluid used to fill prosthetic sacs during breast augmentation surgery. This practice of using silicone as an alternative to saline has become quite controversial in recent years, since a number of patients have reported serious medical complications following the rupture of silicone-filled breast implants.

In short, the difference between silicon and silicone is that silicon is a natural chemical element, while silicone is one of several man-made products derived from silicon. Silicon is generally found in solid crystalline form like sand or glass, while silicone may be a liquid lubricant, a semi-solid adhesive or a rubber-like plastic polymer.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to About Mechanics, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon345092 — On Aug 15, 2013

I knew a guy who was part of the palos verdes penn ufo social set. The navy saw their UFO on radar and it landed on Golden Meadow drive. I was there; I saw the outline of it in the dark. Anyway, the guy gets out of jail and gets a woman with breast implants and knocks her out with something, booze and dope. She wakes up with her breast implants gone and she is neatly sewn back up. He calls up my mom and asks to use our Litton floor model microwave for 24 hours. Mom said OK. So he calls me after he does his thing and tells me what he did.

He cut open the silicone breast implants and poured it into a corningware dish. He put the microwave on low, opened the window, didn't walk near the oven, and ran the microwave on low for 12 hours, turned it off for 15 minutes, then ran it for 12 hours more. You now have pulsecode impregnated baked silicon.

The oxygen burned off and the silicon atomically got smaller and recombined to form silicon upwards of 36 electrons, not silicon 14 like it is on the periodic table.

Dissolve it in ether and pipe it out on some glass or a mirror. It will dry in minutes. Then, scape up the flakes with a razor. It is now injectable or smokeable, but not too much. In its solid form, if it is a little chip it will imbed like in your foot and stay there for 22 years until it goes through its half-life.

The side effect, immortality, it is an element from the next diemension and its periodic table. So he said. I would not try it myself. Silicon that is above 14 electrons can be made into fibers too, and some aircraft use it for their seats. It is comfortable for hours without getting tired of sitting.

By lluviaporos — On Oct 18, 2012

@anon144543 - Generally there isn't much that will harm silicone in terms of chemicals. I believe that people using aquariums with silicone caulking on the corners often clean them with substances like vinegar with no problems and I've used household cleaners on silicone without any trouble. I can't speak to every chemical though.

You just have to be careful because it's easy to damage silicone physically, just because it's such a soft material. If you use a scrubber on it, for example, it can eventually start to flake.

Oh an I've heard that silicone products shouldn't be used on silicone surfaces, but I'm not sure about that. Does anyone else know?

By Ana1234 — On Oct 18, 2012

@anon112491 - Silicone is used in so many places, including in medical devices and in cooking implements that there have almost certainly been dozens if not hundreds of studies about its toxicity and reactions with chemicals.

This is only a very short article, an overview which is just answering the question posed. They can't cite every study done on silicone to back up what they are saying. If you want to know more about why it's now considered fairly common knowledge that silicone is inert then find some primary sources.

By anon231887 — On Nov 27, 2011

Each silicon wafer is worth thousands of dollars and contains hundreds of chips that can be used in electronic devices.

By anon206144 — On Aug 15, 2011

Silicone is not chemically inert.

By anon144543 — On Jan 20, 2011

Do silicone have any "enemies"? I mean oily products, silicone liquid products, cleaning products or something?

Things that will tear it down or just damage the surface?

By anon133345 — On Dec 10, 2010

silicon is made from its molten state into wafers!

By anon117921 — On Oct 12, 2010

@anon112491: Silicon is totally insoluble, and only with great effort can be made to combine with oxygen. It isn't even attacked by HF. Can we presume that Neon is safe or would you prefer to be cautious on principle?

By anon112491 — On Sep 20, 2010

Silicone cannot be arguably called "inert" and "low in toxicity", simply because we do not know. There have been no studies, and if there are, please note them here. Is it not right to just assume.

By anon67750 — On Feb 26, 2010

Silicon is not made from its molten state into wafers. It is grown in a big cylinder. It is then cut into thin slices called wafers.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to About Mechanics, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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