Thermal Properties of Polyethylene & Polystyrene

Written by holly huntington
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Thermal Properties of Polyethylene & Polystyrene
Thermal properties of plastic can impact when it will melt or bend. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Thermal properties of a product, such as plastic---which includes polythene and polystyrene---influence how the item can be used and what benefits you can enjoy from it. Some products have more than one type of thermal property. Polythene and polystyrene are examples, with each differing in use capabilities. But one unique aspect of both includes these plastic polymer materials' ability to be as strong as some heavier materials, such as metal.

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Polythene and Polystyrene

While both polythene and polystyrene are both plastics---and share some common usages, such as being made into plastic container products for food or drink holding---they have differences, too. Polythene is considered the most popular plastic polymer, used in your grocery bags and your child's toys. Polystyrene, on the other hand, is the most common, used to create hard housing material for your computer, hair dryer or television.


Plastics like polythene and polystyrene are essentially a group of atoms strung together. But when those strung together atoms are heated they form joined strings and become much stronger fibre material---like linear or high-density polythene, which can be used to make bullet proof vests---or they become weaker. Thermal properties of polythene, therefore, vary according to whether the polythene is low-density (LDPE), linear low-density (LLDPE) or high-density (HDPE) polythene. Polystyrene thermal properties are different from polyethylene's LD, LLD and HD.

Polythene Thermal Properties

High-density polythene and linear low-density are rigid solid plastics that do not begin to soften until reaching 100 degrees Celsius. They are insoluble in water and some solvents, but can swell when placed in solvents. Low-density polythene, a soft solid plastic, begins to deform when it is heated above 75 degrees Celsius. It is also insoluble in water, but will soften and swell once exposed to hydrocarbon solvents. It also is easier to stretch than high-density or linear low-density polythene.

Polystyrene Thermal Properties

Polystyrene is a hard, rigid solid, and unlike polyethylene's LD, LLD and HD, the plastic polymer polystyrene does not begin to soften or harden as quickly. In fact, in comparison to polythene, polystyrene does not begin to melt or lose its structure until reaching a temperature as high as 175 degrees Celsius. Likewise, it would have to fall in temp below 90 degrees Celsius to become rigid and hard. Polystyrene is soluble in organic solvents.

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