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Any non-metallic substance used to adhere one surface to another. Adhesives provide a wide selection of properties, solubility, tackiness, bonding time, and bonding strength. They can be used on nearly every kind of surface, such as wood, glass, metal, plastic, paper, fabric, and rubber. Adhesives are usually activated by water, solvents, pressure, heat, cold, or UV radiation. In some cases, surface treatment, abrasion, or an adhesion promoter may be needed to increase the strength or durability of the adhesive bond. Alternative binding techniques include sewing, mechanical fasteners and welding.

Adhesives may be classified as inorganic and organic adhesives:

Please see tables below for more information.

Natural Adhesives

Adhesive Examples Earliest use Composition Properties Applications
Albumin Blood glue, egg glue Ancient times Protein-based made from blood or eggs Dark color, water-soluble powder that dries to a water-resistant film when activated with an alkali Plywood, masonry
Asphalt, Bitumen, Pitch, Tar birch-bark tar, pitch, bitumen asphalt Ancient times Thick hydrocarbon-based liquids distilled from plants, wood or oil/coal deposits Typically dark and viscous, softens with heat, may evolve volatile compounds; water-repellant Boats, water-proofing
Casein Milk glue Ancient times Protein-based made from milk curd mixed with alkalis Water resistant; tensile strength eceeds most woods, non-toxic Woodworking, paper glue, fireproofing; glass bottle labels, gilding leather
Gelatin Hide glue, Rabbitskin glue, Bone glue, Fish glue, Isinglass Ancient times Hydrolyzed collagen made from animal connective tissue and bones; hides are acid-treated, neturalized and repeatedly soaked Hardens when cooled; may be slightly brittle; water-soluble Cabinetmaking, bookbinding, sizing fabrics
Keratin Hoof, Horn Medieval or earlier Partially hydrolyzed keratin; hooves or horns are fragmented then boiled and acidified. Hardens when cooled; does not become brittle Gluing and stiffening textiles, cabinetmaking, glass sealant
Mucilage Agar, Algin Ancient times Polar glycoprotesin and exopolysaccharid etracted from plants and seeds Viscous; soluble in water; edible; low bonding strength; sensitive to moisture, biodegradation and insects postage stamps, labels on metal cans
Starch potato, rice, wheat; Paste 1847 Starch granules swell in water for form a thick tacky gel upon cooling Soluble in cold water; become brittle with age; sensitive to moisture, biodegradation and insects Postage stamps, corrugated board, wallpaper
Tree resins Balsam, Dammar, Gum arabic, Mastic Ancient times Clear to translucent resins soluble in alcohol or turpentine; insoluble in water Darken with age Adhere jewels and beads, repair broken vessels
Wax Insect wax (Beeswax), plant wax (carnauba); Mineral wax (Paraffin) Ancient times Long-chain hydrocarbons Becomes soft with heat Repair broken vessels; adhere pigments and inks
Rubber (natural, vulcanized) Rubber cement; latex 1830 to WWII Natural exudation obtained from plants, usually dissolved in solvent Solvent evaporates as it sets; latex may be an allergen; waterproof, discolors and cracks with time Used prior to synthetics

Synthetic Adhesives

Adhesive Examples Documented use Composition Properties Applications
Acrylic (solvent-based) UHU All Purpose clear adhesive; Bostik All Purpose clear adhesive; 3M Brand PSA backing adhesive 1940s Solvent cured acrylic resin often containing fillers like calcium carbonate, silica, and plasticizer. Clear, strong, fast setting glue that adhere to a wide range of materials
Acrylic latex Flugger; Weld-On acrylic cement; Trinseo 1950s Butyl methacrylate, calcium carbonate, water inexpensive, fast-drying, and paintable; minimal shrinkage; used indoors Popular white glue commonly used in houses and schools
Arylic (pressure-sensitive) most 3M brand tapers Methacrylate copolymers on polyethylene or polypropylene substrates; may contain tackifiers Low cost, thermally and oxidatively stable, optically clear. Used for plastic, paper, fabric, tapes and labels
Acrylonitrile polymers Acrylonitrile -butadiene,; acrylonitrile-butadiene Styrene (ABS); Styrene-Acrylonitrile (SAN); Nitrile rubber; Permabond Solvent borne adhesive composed of acrylonitrile -polymer combinations along with solvent, tackifier and plasticizer Bonds vinyl, other elastomers and fabrics; provides good wear, oil and water resistance; may be used for under watr applications
Butyl rubber (synthetic) Butyl mastic, Buna-N rubber 1950s Isobutylene-isoprene, talc calcium carbonate, mineral spirits, adhesion promoters Elastomeric with excellent peel strecngth but low shear strength; sticky and messy; more resistant to sunlight than natural rubbers; combustible; paintable Primarily used outdoors for metal and masonry joints that may expand and contract (gutters)
Cyanoacrylate Krazy glue, Superglue, Zap, ELFY, Eastman 910 1941 Thermosetting adhesive without heat or added catalyst Difficult to remove; degraded by UV light and alkalis Bonds metals to non-metals; used for glass, ceramic, and suturing skin
Epoxies Ablebond, Araldite AY103; Hxtal Nyl-1, Phiilyseal, CM Nond, Epotek, UHU 1939 A famil y of thermosetting resins that polymerize with themseolves or with co-reactants. Th reaction is exothermix High strength, good abrasion and chemical resistance, low water absorption; used for paint,coating, hard-plastics as well as adhesives; may cause allergic reactions Bonds wood, metal, glass , stone and some plastics
Ethylene vinyl acetate hot-melt glues, Elvax, A-C copolymer, Vinamul, Mowilith, Elvace 1874, Jade 834 polyethylene mixed with about 10-40% vinyl acetate thermosetting polymer with rubber-like characteristics; soft, flexible material is waterproof, tough and stress-crack resistant; it has high cohesive strength and fast-setting speed Bond textiles, paper, glass; used as carpet backing adhesive
Phenol formaldehyde phenolic resin, resorcinol, Bakelite 1907 Temperature and UV resistant; off gases phenol and formaldehyde; water soluble until set; low cost; darkens in sunlight Used for laminating plywood especially for outdoor use
Urea formaldehyde 1896 Water-soluble resin Off-gases urea, ammonia and formaldehyde, thermosetting; degraded by hear, acids, alkalis Used for laminating plywood; particleboard
Polysulfide Neoprene, Thiokol 1950s Any synthetic rubber vulcanized with sulfur (Neoprene, styrene-butadiene, polyisoprene). Some polusulfide elastomers are used with epoxies to provide flexibility will melt acrylic, polycarbonate, ABS and PVC plastics; can be used on nylon, epoxy, polyoxymethylene; may release sulfur; may contain PCBs; poor tensile strength; abrade easily; replaced in 1980s by silicone and urethane sealants still used for chemically resistant tapes and gaskets in aircraft because of their vibration durability
Silicone Silastic, Clear Museum gel, Dowsil RTV 1960s Silicone resin cured with moisture or peroxides; may contain fumed silica, calcium cabonate, ground quartz, carbon black, talc, plasticizers, acetone, methylene chloride. May be clear, white, or colored water-repellent; long-life; wide temperature range; mold/mildew resistant; not paintable; poor adhesion; may release acetic acid or methanol on cure; may have residual curing compounds and silicone oils; may stain porous materials Sealants are often used in outdoors settings; Pressure sensitive adhesives are used on skin for medical devices and drug delivery
Polyurethane Gorilla glue 1937 Available and one- or two-component adhesives, solvent -free; may be bulked with limestone and/or quartz shrink free; very durable; abrasion resistant; flexible at low temperatures; combustible producing toxic fumes; may release acetic acid on curing, aging, or deterioration; susceptiple to hydrolysis that may decrease adhesion Strong adhesive for metal and glue; laying carpets and wood floor board; may dissolve some plastics
Vinyl latex Vinyl emulsion; vinyl acrylic emulsion; white latex late 1960s Polyvinyl acetate as an emulsion in water usually with calcium carbonate, plasticizers and dispersing agents. Vinyl acrylic latex contains a co-polymer of vinyl acetate and butyl acrylate. inexpensive; high stability; water-resistant when dry; may be used as a liquid or solid (for heat sealing); may evolve trace acetic acid as it cures; Used for paper, textile, packaging, mounting photographs, laying carpets and floor tiles; also used as sealants and paints

Synonyms and Related Terms

kleefstof (Ned.); adhésif (Fr.); colle (Fr.); Klebstoff (Deut.); adesivo (It.); adhesivo (Esp.); adesivo (Port.); adhesiv (Sven.); bindemedel (Sven.); mastic; cement; glue; mucilage; paste;

Resources and Citations

  • AIC Conservation Wiki: Adhesives for Use Inside Exhibit Cases
  • Irving Skeist, Handbook of Adhesives, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, 1977
  • Matte Paint: Its history and technology, analysis, properties and conservation treatment, Eric Hansen, Sue Walston, Mitchell Bishop (ed.), J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, Vol. 30 of AATA, 1993
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Theodore J. Reinhart, 'Glossary of Terms', Engineered Plastics, ASM International, 1988
  • Wikipedia: Adhesive (Accessed Feb. 2, 2006 and Feb 2023)
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 14
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • Multilingual Glossary for Art Librarians at
  • Art and Architecture Thesaurus Online,, J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 2000