High density polyethylene (HDPE)

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A type of Polyethylene composed primarily of long, linear hydrocarbon chains. This produces a tightly packed crystalline polymer with a density greater than 0.94. High density polyethylene (HDPE) is stiffer, harder and less permeable than low density polyethylene. It also has higher tensile strength and lower impact strength. HDPE is used for containers, packaging films, fibers, pipes, and molded pieces. It is also found in toys, bowls, and milk bottle crates.

Synonyms and Related Terms

HDPE; high-density polyethylene; polietileno de alta densidad (Esp.); polyéthylène haute densité (Fr.); polietilene ad alta densità (It.); polietileno de alta densidade (Port.)


  • Display Deck
  • Display panels
  • Deck

Personal Risks

  • Dust may cause irritation.
  • Dow Chemical: MSDS

Collection Risks

Links to Oddy Test results posted on AIC Wiki Materials Database Pages for individual materials below

AIC Wiki for Oddy tests

  • HDPE (white, 1/2") AMNH, 2019, permanent
  • HDPE (black, 1/2") AMNH, 2019, permanent
  • King Plastic HDPE (white, 1/8") MMA, 2018, permanent
  • King Starboard Marine grade HDPE (black) MMA, 2018, permanent
  • Polystone G PE (white, 3/16") MMA, 2018, permanent

Physical and Chemical Properties

For a 1 mil film: Oxygen transmission =1368-4256 ml/m2d Water vapor transmission = 57-76 g/m2d

Resistant to most solvents except nitric and hydrochloric acids. May swell in oil.

CAS 9002-88-4
Melting Point 150
Density >0.94

Working Properties

Standard wood finishing tools and processes. HDPE panels machine well and hold threads well. The sheets tap easily. Can pressure fit mounts best using US letter drill sizes (or metric bits) a few thousands of an inch smaller than mount stem.

Must store HDPE sheets flat to avoid cupping. Panels need support every 12”. Mechanical fastening of panels only – must pre-drill. Join edges using pilot hole slightly smaller than drywall or zinc coated screws; tap not necessary.

HDPE sheets with matte surface finish works best for painting or covering with fabric. Painting HDPE: need to flame treat surface sheets using propane torch just prior to painting. Exhibit fabric on HDPE: need to flame treat surface sheets using propane torch; prime with lacquer; apply GUDY 831 double sided mounting adhesive; apply exhibit fabric.

Forms and Sizes

  • Standard Thicknesses : 0.063, 0.093, 0.125, 0.250, 0.375, 0.500, 0.625, 0.750, 1.00”, 1.25”, 2.0”, 2.25”, 2.50”, 3.0”
  • Standard Sheet Sizes: 48 x 96, 48 x 120, 60 x 120
  • NOTE: 1.25” is only offered  as a standard in 48 x 96; 48 x 120
  • These thicknesses are stocked as a standard in 48” x 96” ONLY -- 0.063, 0.093, 2.0”, 2.25”, 2.5”, 3.0”


General Characteristics of Polymers

Physical Properties for Selected Thermoplastic Resins

Resources and Citations

  • Plastic technology HDPE
  • Britannica Encyclopedia HDPE
  • Jenifer Bosworth, contributed information, MWG group, 2020.
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Pam Hatchfield, Pollutants in the Museum Environment, Archetype Press, London, 2002
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • Theodore J. Reinhart, 'Glossary of Terms', Engineered Plastics, ASM International, 1988