HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is a widely used thermoplastic that possesses numerous advantageous properties, such as rigidity and excellent chemical resistance. Although part of the polyethylene family, HDPE has a molecular density that is much higher than that of its standard counterpart, which gives it unique mechanical properties. In this article, we will discuss the main advantages of HDPE and explore the various industries that make the most of this impressive polymer.
The main advantages of HDPE
Resistant to chemicals
Characterized by a high resistance to corrosion, HDPE is an ideal material for manufacturing storage containers for liquids, food and chemical products with varying pH levels. Thanks to this feature, it can maintain its properties when in contact with chemicals, thus remaining safe and effective.
Certified food grade
Many industries choose HDPE for food and beverage storage because it meets FDA sanitary standards. Safe for contact with foodstuffs and easy to clean, HDPE is a wise choice for food environments where safety standards are an important issue.
Durable and lightweight
The density of HDPE ranges from 941 kg/m3 to 965 kg/m3 depending on its formulation. By comparison, although aluminum is considered extremely light, it has a density of 2699 kg/m3, nearly 2.8 times heavier than HDPE. For many applications where weight reduction is crucial, the light weight of high-density polyethylene is a decisive advantage.
UV resistance is an essential property that ensures the optimum service life of parts and components that are primarily used outside. Unlike other plastics, HDPE has several UV-resistant formulations. This makes it ideal for outdoor applications, such as playground equipment made of HDPE that contains a UV stabilizer mixed with its resin.
Easily machinable and weldable
High-density polyethylene can easily be machined or welded. These durable, strong welds make it possible to design larger projects, such as large watertight tank liners used to store important volumes of liquids.
Does not absorb moisture
Zero moisture absorption is an essential property for materials used for liquid and food storage. For this reason, HDPE is an excellent choice when designing storage tanks and other products intended for outdoor use because it does not absorb moisture even when subjected to prolonged contact with fluids.
The main areas of use for HPDE
Several HDPE formulations comply with FDA and European standards and are therefore approved for direct contact with food. For example, SANALITE®, an HDPE designed specifically for the food industry, is used almost exclusively in the manufacturing of rigid, durable and easy-to-clean cutting boards. It is food safe and does not damage knife blades.
HDPE is also an excellent option for environments regulated by strict sanitary standards. For example, AGROMUR, an HDPE formulation approved by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is used primarily in the design of wall panels.
Medical and pharmaceutical
High-density polyethylene is often used in the medical field, as it does not absorb moisture and offers excellent chemical resistance. Nontoxic and food grade, HDPE is ideal for work surfaces or storage units such as medical containers. Some formulations that contain certain plastic additives also have antibacterial properties.
Because of its high chemical resistance and weldability, HDPE is a material of choice for the design of bottles, containers and tanks intended for chemical products. It is also used to produce corrosion-resistant liners. High-density polyethylene is compatible with many products including
- Low concentration acids
- Certain concentrated acids (pH 1–3)
- Several alcohols
- Bases and alkalis (pH 11–14)
As mentioned earlier, HDPE does not absorb water and can be easily welded. This explains its popularity with pipe manufacturers. Several properties of HDPE make it a perfect material for designing lightweight, rigid and durable piping systems.
HDPE is also used in the maritime industry. For example, SEABOARD™, a formulation of HDPE, is used to design boat components and pool equipment (benches, seats, doors, handles, etc.). This HDPE formulation also possesses effective UV resistance.
What are the limitations of HDPE?
HDPE is not well suited for applications subjected to high levels of mechanical stress—friction, compression, impacts; UHMW may be a better choice for these types of environments. Nylons could also be considered since they have excellent mechanical properties and are especially known for their superior compressive strength.
To determine which plastic range is best suited to your needs, consult our articles:
To learn more about the differences between HDPE and UHMW: What is the difference between UHMW and HDPE?
To learn about the benefits and applications of high performance nylons: The Applications and Advantages of High-Performance Nylons
HDPE is unsuitable for high heat applications, as it can only withstand continuous temperatures of up to 180 °F (82.2 °C). Fortunately, a few specialized polymers do offer excellent heat resistance: PTFE, PVDF, PEI and PAI.
To learn more, take a look at our top 5 heat resistant plastics by clicking here!