Choosing the Right Plastic Materials for Laboratory Applications: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to laboratory applications, selecting the appropriate plastic materials is crucial. Different experiments and research require specific properties, such as chemical resistance, durability, and transparency. This comprehensive guide aims to help you make informed decisions and choose the right plastic materials for your laboratory needs. From common options like polypropylene and polycarbonate to more specialized choices, we'll explore their characteristics, applications, and compatibility with various chemicals.

Before diving into the different plastic options available, it's essential to understand the properties and characteristics of plastic materials. Plastics are polymers, composed of long chains of repeating molecules. They offer several advantages, such as lightweight, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. However, not all plastics are suitable for laboratory applications due to their varying properties and chemical resistance.

Key Properties of Plastic Materials

Plastic materials can differ significantly in their properties, making it essential to evaluate them carefully before selecting the right option for your laboratory. Here are some key properties to consider:

  1. Chemical Resistance: Plastics should be resistant to the chemicals present in the laboratory to prevent degradation and ensure the safety of experiments.

  2. Transparency: Transparent plastics allow visual monitoring of processes and samples without compromising the integrity of the experiment.

  3. Durability: The durability of plastic materials is crucial, especially for long-term experiments and applications requiring repeated use or exposure to harsh conditions. Read more on the Durability of Plastic Labwares.

  4. Temperature Resistance: Some laboratory processes involve extreme temperatures, and selecting plastic materials that can withstand these conditions is vital.

  5. Sterilizability: Depending on the research or experiment, the plastic material may need to be sterilized without affecting its properties.

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Common Plastic Materials for Laboratory Applications

Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene (PP) is a widely used plastic material in laboratory settings. It offers excellent chemical resistance, making it suitable for storing and transporting a wide range of substances. Additionally, PP is lightweight, durable, and relatively inexpensive, making it a cost-effective choice for many applications. It can be used at temperatures up to 135 degrees centigrade and is autoclavable.

Polycarbonate (PC)

Polycarbonate (PC) is another popular choice for laboratory applications, especially when transparency and impact resistance are crucial. PC offers exceptional clarity, allowing for visual monitoring of processes, and it can withstand rough handling and accidental impacts without shattering, thus, a robust material used for manufacturing safety shields, vacuum desiccators, and centrifuge tubes.

Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene (PE) is a versatile plastic material with excellent chemical resistance and a low coefficient of friction, making it suitable for various laboratory applications. It is available in different forms, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE), each with its unique properties.

  • HDPE: Rigid and resilient High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a rigid variant known for its excellent impact resistance and resistance to acids, alkalis, alcohols, hydrocarbons, ketones, and oils. It can withstand high temperatures up to 120°C and is commonly used for bottles, large containers, and pipes. However, HDPE articles should not be autoclaved.

  • LDPE: Flexible and functional Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE) offers more flexibility compared to HDPE. It is used to create wash bottles, dispensing bottles, tube caps, and lab trays. LDPE can tolerate temperatures up to approximately 80 degrees centigrade, but it cannot be autoclaved. While it resists dilute acids and alcohols, it can be vulnerable to oxidizing agents, halogenated hydrocarbons, aromatics, and mineral oils.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

Clear and resistant Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is a clear plastic material commonly used in media bottles, water bottles, dispensable pipettes, and face protection shields. Autoclaving PET items is not recommended.

Polymethylpentene (PMP or TPX)

Rigid and resistant Polymethylpentene (PMP or TPX) is a favored plastic material due to its rigidity, impact resistance, and temperature resistance up to 120°C. It can be autoclaved and is commonly used for making volumetric flasks, beakers, measuring cylinders, and optical windows.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)

Inert and temperature-stable Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, is a highly inert material with exceptional temperature stability and non-adhesive properties. It is widely used for magnetic stirrers, stop-cocks, valves, tube connectors, beakers, and centrifuge tubes.

PMMA Plastic or Acrylic

Clarity and fragility Acrylic, also known as PMMA plastic, is commonly used for safety shields and transparent tabletops. It has low resistance to most chemicals and limited heat resistance. Optical cuvettes are among the common items made from PMMA plastics.

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Compatibility with Chemicals

Choosing plastic materials that are compatible with the chemicals used in the laboratory is crucial to prevent contamination and ensure the accuracy of experiments. Not all plastics exhibit the same level of chemical resistance, so it's essential to evaluate their compatibility before making a selection.

Here are some examples of plastic materials and their compatibility with common laboratory chemicals:

Plastic Material Chemical Compatibility
Polypropylene (PP) Acids, alcohols, and most solvents
Polycarbonate (PC) Alcohols, water, and weak acids
Polyethylene (PE) Most chemicals, except strong oxidants
High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) Acids, alkalis, alcohols, hydrocarbons, ketones, and oils
Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE) Oxidizing agents, halogenated hydrocarbons, aromatics, and mineral oils
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Weak acids, alcohols, and aliphatic hydrocarbons
Polymethylpentene (PMP or TPX) Acids, bases, alcohols, mineral oils, and aldehydes


It's crucial to consult chemical compatibility charts or contact the plastic manufacturer to confirm the suitability of a specific plastic material for your intended use.

Choosing the right plastic materials for laboratory applications is crucial for ensuring the safety, efficiency, and accuracy of experiments and research. By considering properties such as chemical resistance, transparency, and durability, you can make informed decisions and select the most suitable plastics for your specific needs. Remember to evaluate the compatibility of plastics with the chemicals used in your laboratory and consult chemical compatibility charts or manufacturers when in doubt. With the right plastic materials, you can enhance the effectiveness of your laboratory work and contribute to successful scientific endeavors.

At FC-BIOS, we provide an extensive selection of laboratory plasticware, encompassing a diverse range of materials to suit various scientific applications. Contact us for consultation, as our knowledgeable team of professionals is prepared to guide you throughout the entire process, from beginning to end.