PDMS is optically clear, and is generally considered to be inert, non-toxic and non-flammable. It is occasionally called dimethicone and is one of several types of silicone oil (polymerized siloxane).
During polymerization, this reaction evolves potentially hazardous hydrogen chloride gas. For medical uses, a process was developed where the chlorine atoms in the silane precursor were replaced with acetate groups, so that the reaction product of the final curing process is nontoxic acetic acid (vinegar). As a side effect, the curing process is also much slower in this case. This is the chemistry used in consumer applications, such as silicone caulk and adhesives.
Silane precursors with more acid-forming groups and fewer methyl groups, such as methyltrichlorosilane, can be used to introduce branches or cross-links in the polymer chain. Ideally, each molecule of such a compound becomes a branch point. This can be used to produce hard silicone resins. Similarly, precursors with three methyl groups can be used to limit molecular weight, since each such molecule has only one reactive site and so forms the end of a siloxane chain.
The polymer is manufactured in multiple viscosities, ranging from a thin pourable liquid (when n is very low), to a thick rubbery semi-solid (when n is very high). PDMS molecules have quite flexible polymer backbones (or chains) due to their siloxane linkages, which are analogous to the ether linkages used to impart rubberiness to polyurethanes. Such flexible chains become loosely entangled when molecular weight is high, which results in PDMS having an unusually high level of viscoelasticity.
Although the viscoelastic properties of PDMS can be intuitively observed using the simple experiment described above, they can be more accurately measured using dynamic mechanical analysis. This involves using a specialized instrument to determine the material's flow characteristics over a wide range of temperatures, flow rates, and deformations. Because of PDMS's chemical stability, it is often used as a calibration fluid for this type of experiment.
Solid PDMS samples (whether surface oxidized or not) will not allow aqueous solvents to infiltrate and swell the material. Thus PDMS structures can be used in combination with water and alcohol solvents without material deformation. However most organic solvents will diffuse into the material and cause it to swell, making them incompatible with PDMS devices. Despite this, some organic solvents lead to sufficiently small swelling that they can be used with PDMS, for instance within the channels of PDMS microfluidic devices. The swelling ratio is roughly inversely related to the solubility parameter of the solvent. Diisopropylamine swells PDMS to the greatest extent, solvents such as chloroform, ether, and THF swell the material to a large extent. Solvents such as acetone, 1-propanol, and pyridine swell the material to a small extent. Alcohols and polar solvents such as methanol, glycerol and water do not swell the material appreciably.
PDMS is commonly used as a stamp resin in the procedure of soft lithography, making it one of the most common materials used for flow delivery in microfluidics chips. The process of soft lithography consists of creating an elastic stamp which enables the transfer of patterns of only a few nanometers in size onto glass, silicon or polymer surfaces. With this type of technique it is possible to produce devices which can be used in the areas of optic telecommunications or biomedical research. However, this process still can not be used for the industrial production of electronic components. In fact, the patterns are obtained by the process of stamping thanks to a shape (or stamp). This stamp is produced from the normal techniques of photolithography or electron-beam technology. The resolution depends on the mask used and can reach 6 nm.
PDMS can be cross-linked into networks and is a commonly used system for studying the elasticity of polymer networks.
PDMS can be used in the treatment of head lice.
Dimethicone is also used widely in skin moisturizing lotions, listed as an active ingredient whose purpose is "skin protectant." Some cosmetic formulations use dimethicone and related siloxane polymers in concentrations of use up to 15%. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review's (CIR) Expert Panel, has concluded that dimethicone and related polymers are "safe as used in cosmetic formulations"