Common Plastic Materials Used in Laboratories

News 3 7 月, 2024


Laboratory consumables come in various types, and aside from glassware, plastic consumables are the most commonly used. Understanding the materials these plastic consumables are made of, their characteristics, and how to choose the right one is essential for efficient lab operations. This article provides a detailed overview of common plastic consumables, their properties, and best use cases.

Common Plastic Consumables

The main plastic consumables used in laboratories include pipette tips, centrifuge tubes, PCR plates, cell culture dishes, plates, bottles, cryogenic vials, and more. The most common materials for these consumables are polypropylene (PP)polystyrene (PS)polycarbonate (PC), and polyethylene (PE).

Polystyrene (PS)


Good Transparency and Non-Toxic: PS has a transparency rate of 90%, making it ideal for applications where visual clarity is essential.

Chemical Resistance: Excellent resistance to aqueous solutions but poor solvent resistance.

Cost-Effective: PS is more affordable compared to other plastics.

High Transparency and Hardness: This material offers high clarity and durability.

Brittle at Room Temperature: Prone to cracking or breaking when dropped.

Temperature Tolerance: Continuous use temperature is around 60°C, with a maximum use temperature of 80°C.

Sterilization: Cannot be sterilized at 121°C high temperature and high pressure; electronic beam sterilization or chemical sterilization is preferred.

Polypropylene (PP)


Thermoplastic Resin: Made by polymerizing propylene, usually translucent, colorless, odorless, and non-toxic.

Sterilization: Can be sterilized at 121°C high temperature and high pressure.

Mechanical Properties: Good mechanical strength and chemical resistance.

Chemical Resistance: Resistant to acids, bases, saline solutions, and various organic solvents below 80°C.

Rigidity and Strength: Better rigidity, strength, and heat resistance compared to PE.

Ideal Use: Suitable for consumables that require light transmittance, higher compressive strength, or higher temperature resistance.

Polycarbonate (PC)


Toughness and Rigidity: PC is not easily breakable and has good toughness.

Heat and Radiation Resistance: Suitable for high-temperature, high-pressure sterilization, and high-energy radiation treatments.

Applications: Commonly used in cryogenic boxes and Erlenmeyer flasks.

Polyethylene (PE)


Thermoplastic Resin: Odorless, non-toxic, with a waxy texture.

Low-Temperature Performance: Excellent performance at low temperatures (minimum use temperature can reach -100~-70°C).

High-Temperature Softening: Softens at high temperatures.

Chemical Stability: Good chemical stability, resistant to most acids and bases (not resistant to oxidizing acids).

Choosing the Right Material

When selecting plastic consumables for laboratory use, consider the following factors:

Temperature Requirements

  • High-Temperature Resistance: Choose PP for applications requiring high-temperature resistance and high-pressure sterilization.
  • Low-Temperature Performance: Opt for PE for applications that require excellent performance at low temperatures.

Chemical Resistance

  • Acid and Base Resistance: Both PP and PE offer good resistance to acids and bases, but PP provides better overall mechanical properties.
  • Solvent Resistance: PS is suitable for aqueous solutions but not for solvents.

Transparency Needs

  • High Transparency: PS provides excellent transparency, making it ideal for applications where visual clarity is crucial.

Sterilization Methods

  • High-Temperature Sterilization: PP and PC can withstand high-temperature sterilization, while PS requires alternative methods like electronic beam or chemical sterilization.


Polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) are the most common types of plastics used in laboratories. Generally, these materials can be chosen if there are no special requirements. For high-temperature resistance and high-temperature, high-pressure sterilization, PP material is recommended. For low-temperature performance requirements, PE material is suitable. Most cell culture consumables are made of polystyrene (PS) due to its excellent transparency and hardness.

By understanding the characteristics and best use cases for each plastic material, you can optimize your laboratory operations and ensure the best outcomes for your experiments.


What are the common plastic materials used in laboratories? 
Common plastic materials include polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polycarbonate (PC), and polyethylene (PE).

What is the best plastic for high-temperature applications? 
Polypropylene (PP) is ideal for high-temperature applications and can be sterilized at 121°C high temperature and high pressure.

Which plastic material is suitable for low-temperature applications? 
Polyethylene (PE) is suitable for low-temperature applications, with excellent performance down to -100°C.

Can polystyrene (PS) be used for solvent resistance? 
Polystyrene (PS) has excellent resistance to aqueous solutions but poor solvent resistance, making it unsuitable for solvent applications.

Why is transparency important in laboratory consumables? 
Transparency allows for visual clarity, which is essential for applications like cell culture and other visual inspections.

What are the sterilization methods for polystyrene (PS)? 
Polystyrene (PS) cannot be sterilized at high temperatures and high pressure. Instead, electronic beam sterilization or chemical sterilization is used.