Polyethylene doesn't get nearly as much credit as it deserves. People are familiar with other forms of packaging material, such as polyurethane foam and polystyrene. Polystyrene is commonly used in cups, and is widely used because of how soft, yet durable it is. 

However, polyethylene easily outclasses both of these choices in terms of functionality and durability. Unlike those other materials that have very specific uses, polyethylene foam is used in a wide variety of applications, both commercial and residential. It's far more common than most people realize. It's used across the board, from helping devices stay afloat in the water to keeping them safe when they are shipped in the sky.

What Makes Polyethylene Foam Unique?

polyfoam for insulation

It's the cellular structure of the polyethylene foam that makes it unique and useful in different applications. It has what is known as a closed cell structure. This allows it to naturally form millions of small bubbles that have strongly bonded with each other, yet are still sealed apart individually. This closed-cell structure makes the foam completely water resistant and unusually strong.

That's only the beginning of the differences. Polyethylene foam is also resistant to different solvents that can destroy other similar materials. It's also an antimicrobial material and stops the unwanted growth of bacteria and forms of mold. 

The foam is also extremely flexible, yet resilient. Though it can be stretched or compressed to different sizes and shapes, and will still return to its original form. 

While compressed or stretched, it can still provide surrounding materials with a sufficient barrier to prevent damages. This is useful when shipping products that are fragile in nature. The foam absorbs shock and vibration from travel.

This ability to stretch and decompress to different shapes makes polyethylene foam an extremely useful packaging material. So does its ability to resist water and bacteria. 

The Production of Polyethylene Foam

The production of basic closed-cell polyethylene foam requires the repeated heating of small polymer compounds. However, different manufacturers will alter the procedure from this point to get different results. For example, they tend to add different additives to the base to create a kind of foam that has the desired properties. 

Certain additives can give the plastic properties useful for certain applications. Manufacturers can create polyethylene foam that is heat or static resistant. They might be used to ship electronic components that are sensitive to the charge of static electricity. 

Other packaging materials might come close to having the same properties, but they are still different at their core. Other plastic materials usually receive a surface treatment. A simple surface treatment might provide similar effects, but not with the same accuracy and efficiency. 

Low and High Density Foams

Polyethylene foam can also be manufactured to specific density requirements. A high density foam will have much smaller cells with thicker walls, while a low density foam will have the exact opposite. 

Different applications will have their own density requirements depending on the uses of the foam. Higher density foam is generally regarded as safer and of higher quality. Low-density polyethylene foam wrap is used for wrapping and packing materials that aren't considered fragile.

Anti-Static Polyethylene Foam

The anti-static polyethylene foam is usually easily identified by its bright pink color. It's used for packaging and shipping electronic components that are sensitive to static electricity. The plastic actually dissipates any charge accumulated while the material is moved. There are also specialized fire retardant foam wraps.

Fire Retardant Polyethylene Foam Sheets

There are a few different types of fire retardant polyethylene foam sheets. They vary in their value of retardancy. The plastic is designed to resist heat and flames up to a certain threshold. Some specially designed foam sheets can even self-extinguish. This makes the foam a common material used in construction zones where tools can generate a lot of heat. Some jobs even require sheets that are fire retardant and anti-static in nature.

Chemically vs. Physically Crossed Bonds

The manufacturers can alter the polyethylene in other ways as well. The plastic can be further customized at a molecular level; that is where the physically crossed and chemically crossed varieties come into play. While they are both similar, there are some key differences that make them ideal for different jobs.

The bonds of physically crossed polyethylene are created via the natural process. Chemically crossed bonds rely on the introduction of pressure and heat to create the bonds in the plastic. 

The physically crossed plastics are more versatile because they can be easily broken down and then later reformed. However, the chemically crossed plastics are stronger and more durable. Thus, it all depends on the application of the foam.

Putting Color on Polyethylene

Finally, the manufacturer can use a variety of different dyes to alter their polyethylene. The dyes usually only change the visual appearance of the plastic and have no real impact on the application. The color sometimes helps identify the purpose of the plastic. Other times, the color is specifically designated in the order. 

The Many Uses of Polyethylene Foam Wraps

The foam is great, not only because of possible additional attributes, but also because of its versatile nature. It can be manufactured in many different shapes and sizes to fit specific demands of the job. It's most often produced in thin sheets or in a larger plank form. The sheets are then used as insulating materials or as packaging materials. 

The heat resistant nature of polyethylene and the water resistant nature of the closed-cell structure make it an ideal packaging material. The sheets can also be laminated against one another to create thicker sheets for more delicate goods.

Polyethylene foam is also used when molding other products, including those found in automobiles, home plumbing, and toys. There many different attributes make them an in-demand material where there is a lot of heat or electricity present. The physically crossed polyethylene can easily be broken down and remodeled into a new product.

While it might not get the credit it deserves, there is no denying that polyethylene foam is one of the best plastic materials there is. It can be used in creating new products, insulating existing ones, or safely shipping them from one place to another. It can be static resistant, heat resistant, extra durable, or extra flexible.