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Silicone Silicone Vs. Vinyl hose comparison
Date Posted: Oct 22 2001
Author: Unaclocker
Posting Type: Article
Category: H2O and Evap
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Silicone Vs. Vinyl hose comparison By: Unaclocker

Silicone / Vinyl Hose Comparison

By: UnaClocker 10/22/01

I've done this article in an effort to make clear any real performance differences that exist between silicone and vinyl hose.  This should also be very informative for anyone new to watercooling or just starting to consider the idea.  When you go to build your watercooling system, one of the many decisions you'll need to make is, do you want to use silicone or vinyl hose? A lot of times, your budget will make this choice for you since the price is up 10x higher for silicone hose.

Let's start with the basic's.  Vinyl hose is made of PVC plastic (PolyVinylChloride).  It's flexible, clear, and very cheap; as low as 20 cents a foot in most places.  Silicone hose is made of silicone rubber and normally has a milky translucent white color; although, it is available in several colors. Both hose materials work well for watercooling, but vinyl hose does have some drawbacks.  I'll cover these details later on.

Before I move into the tests I ran, I want to mention that I did use thick wall silicone hose, and thin wall vinyl hose.  It's what I had available to work with. If I had used both thin or both thick wall, it may have changed the outcome of one or two of my tests.  You may want to keep that in mind.  The wall thickness of the tests only affects the hose's OD.  The silicone hose has a 5/8" OD and the vinyl has a 1/2" OD.  Bottom line, the ID is the same for BOTH hose types....3/8".

My first test concerns price and availability. You cannot buy silicone hose in your local hardware store and will have to order it online. DangerDen was nice enough to provide me with 4 feet of silicone hose for NanoCube and this article (2 for 1 deal, or is it 1 for 2?).  Depending on where you buy the silicone hose, it will cost you between $1.60 and $2.25 per foot from most online sources. Vinyl hose can be had for 20-30 cents a foot in a big roll from pretty much any local hardware store.  Score 1 for Vinyl.

The next test is a UV light test. I filled both hose types with coolant containing dye-lite.  I then laid each tube on top of a 5" fluorescent blacklight and took a picture. Have a look.

On the left is vinyl and on the right is silicone. The silicone actually did a lot better than I had expected. You wouldn't think that the milky white silicone tube material would allow UV light in very well, but it does.  As you can see, the vinyl does light up brighter. Although it's hard to tell in this picture, with the vinyl hose, the glowing fluid extends farther away down the tube from the UV light source.  Score 2 for Vinyl.

Now for the flexibility test.  It's very hard to describe how different these two types of hoses feel.  The vinyl hose feels like plastic, while the silicone hose feels like sticky rubber.  That's really the best I can do.  The vinyl hose has almost no ability to be stretched, while the silicone hose can be stretched quite a bit.  You could, if you wanted to, build a slingshot out of the silicone hose, albeit a monstrous one.  The flexibility test was done in two parts.  First, I wrapped both hoses around a tool.  Thinking that some might cry foul, I also wrapped both hose types into a 7cm diameter coil.  First test:

I tried to be as fair as I could when wrapping the hoses.  It was an even 10" of hose both times. The vinyl hose just flat out folded, and the silicone did not.  Now this is where the thickwall-thinwall may come into play.  Personally, I doubt it, but you can decide for yourself.  And now for the coil test.

Nice, smooth, well rounded curves here, no creases or folding going on.

A little blurry.  I had trouble getting it to stay coiled long enough to take the picture.  It may be hard to tell, but the vinyl hose is starting to flatten out and almost folding in some places.  It really didn't want to coil up this tight.  I'd bet that if left it in this coil long enough, it would have folded somewhere or would've become very flat and ended up restricting water flow.  The silicone is flexible enough to make a 90 degree turn, whereas with vinyl, you have to either widen the turn out, or use 90 degree fittings like I did repeatedly in TheRock.

Next test, The Freezer!  I placed both hose types in the freezer, which had a temperature of around 20F (-5C), for just under an hour and a half.  I then removed them to check flexibility.

As you can see, it was in there for a while right on top of the peas and tater-tots.  I was shocked at the difference between the two hoses when I removed them.  I grabbed a hammer to see if I could shatter the vinyl hose.  It turned out it wasn't THAT stiff, but it sure felt like it. The silicone hose, other than being very cold, felt exactly the same as when I put it in there; extremely flexible.  I was able to do this with it immediately after removing it from the freezer..

Not bad at all.  Try as I might, I couldn't get the vinyl to do that.  I have my doubts as to whether it'd do it at room temp, let alone frozen.  So, anyone considering running chilled water would be well advised to run silicone hose rather than vinyl.  Cold vinyl gets hard and hard vinyl is going to be very prone to leaking.  Moving your computer at all while the hose material is like this could put stress on the waterblock which would directly affect the CPU.  Score 1 for silicone in this test.

Final test.  Hose barb tension.

Yup, they both fit on the hose barbs.  Now, you'd think that from what I had said earlier about stretching, that the vinyl wouldn't grip a hose barb very well because of its inability to stretch very much.  But it does stretch just enough to do a wonderful job of grabbing the hose barb. I've actually run 90% of my connections without clamps because vinyl grips so well.  The problem is that as vinyl ages, it stiffens up.  So if you pull it off the fitting, and put it back on, it's very likely to leak.  It's also EXTREMELY hard to pull the hose off the fitting, fresh or not. The silicone hose slid on nice and easy, as you'd expect from such a stretchy material.  It

seemed to have a good seal, but it pulled off almost too easily, so I wouldn't feel safe without hose barbs on every fitting when using silicone.  I'm going to have to show my bias here, and call this a score for silicone.

That wraps up my comparison.  Let's add up the scores.  2 for vinyl and 3 for silicone. Obviously, vinyl is good enough.  But for a long lasting system, you'd be well advised to make the investment in silicone hose.  Maybe run vinyl for awhile, and when you decide that watercooling is something your going to stick with, move up to silicone hose.  I'm still running vinyl in TheRock, but when I build NanoCube over the next couple months, it will be plumbed using silicone tubing.  I'd like to thankDangerDen for hooking us up with the silicone tubing.  Swing on over there to buy some if you want it.

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