Why Are Chemicals Stored In Plastic Containers?

Have you ever wondered why plastic containers are most commonly used for storing chemicals? It goes well beyond the variety of shapes and sizes they come in, or the environmental benefits they offer, although these are major bonuses.

Plastic Chemical Storage

Storing a chemical in the right container is the first way to ensure safety when handling strong acids and bases. A material that is likely to react with the chemical it holds, like a metal container, or break easily when dropped, like a glass container, isn’t going to be suitable for a substance like nitric acid, for example.

This is why there are a variety of plastic materials used for storing acids and bases – so that each container can accommodate the unique properties of individual chemicals. For example, the plastic polypropylene can be used to store corrosive chemicals.

Plastic vials of deionised water

Three Types of Plastic Containers

  1. Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene was first synthesised in Germany in 1898 when chemist Hans von Pechmann prepared it by complete accident. Since then, PE has become the most common and widely produced plastic in the world. It can be used in three forms, which demonstrate its versatility and ability to be incorporated into a wide range of applications.

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) is used to produce grocery bags. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) has a higher crystalline structure, and can be recognised in your garbage bins and drainpipes. Ultrahigh Molecular Weight PE has higher performance applications, and is even used to produce bulletproof vests. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why PE is an ideal material to store chemicals in.

High Density Polyethylene creates corrosion resistant plastic containers, and its thermoplastic properties means that it can withstand temperatures, be cooled, and reheated again without any significant degradation.

The diversity of PE variants means that it is compatible with most strong acids and bases. Like with the bulletproof vests, PE is noted for its high impact strength. This makes it perfect for storing chemicals as it is very difficult to break, and therefore decreases the risk of chemical spills.

Find out more about what Polyethylene is capable of here!

  1. Polymethylpentene (PMP)

PMP is a transparent, thermoplastic polymer with high chemical resistance. But this complex polyolefin is actually the backbone to a very familiar object: beakers.

We’ve all used beakers in Science class, and have at some time or another dropped one on the floor. Often, they do not break, and this is because classrooms have made the shift from glass beakers to Polymethylpentene beakers.

While PMP is more brittle than its cousin, Polyethylene, it can be designed to be shatterproof. Its clear material means that substances can be seen easily, and it’s also highly resistant to corrosion. PMP makes perfect plastic containers for storing both acids and bases of different strengths.

  1. Teflon

Another accidental discovery by Roy Plunkett in 1938, Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the fluoropolymer behind Teflon. It is characterised by its hydrophobic properties, which means that most substances are unable to stick to Teflon. This is why it is able to resist corrosion from many chemicals, such as sulphuric acid and nitric acid.

The slippery material means that PTFE will not absorb the chemicals it comes into contact with, and the strength of its carbon-fluorine bonds makes it non-reactive. For these reasons, Teflon-coated plastic containers are ideal for storing a wide variety of acids and bases.

Can Acid Be Stored In Plastic?

The short answer is that it depends on both the acid and the type of plastic the container is made from. Very strong acids are typically not suitable to store in plastic containers, but you should always look at the unique properties of the chemical you’re handling, check the MSDS or ask for advice from the manufacturer to be sure.

Where Should Cleaning Chemicals Be Stored?

Cleaning chemicals should be stored in a clean, cool, and dry place away from sunlight. As some cleaning chemical products are hazardous, it’s important that they’re not exposed to extreme conditions. In this way, you’ll avoid any potentially dangerous reactions.

Make sure that you keep cleaning chemicals in their original containers. These containers have been used because they meet safety guidelines and are appropriate for the chemical they contain.

You should also always follow any manufacturer’s guidance on the label – and of course, keep cleaning chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.

What About Glass Containers?

While glass containers do have their advantages, such as being nonporous and chemically inert, they have a major drawback in the fact that they break easily. Not only does this create sharp glass fragments, but it would also expose potentially harmful and corrosive chemicals.

In addition, not all acids and bases are safe to store in glass containers, meaning that their versatility is very limited. Hydrofluoric acid, for example, has the propensity to eat through glass (SiO2). It contains the element fluorine which can dislodge oxygen from its bond. It can, however, be stored in polyethylene, polymethylpentene, and Teflon containers, showing how plastic containers are the ideal material for containing chemicals like this.

How to Store Hazardous Substances

It’s important to store hazardous substances safely, as an accident could potentially be very dangerous. In the home, hazardous substances should be stored according to guidance on the manufacturer’s label, and out of the reach of children and pets.

In the workplace, storing hazardous substances requires some care. They must be securely stored in order to protect workers from any hazardous effects. Some things to consider are:

  • Keep hazardous substances away from any food and drink
  • Always read and follow the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
  • Ensure there’s adequate ventilation
  • Don’t expose hazardous substances to heat or sunlight
  • Make sure all chemicals are labelled correctly
  • Separate and segregate hazardous chemicals so they don’t react with each other

Why Are Hazard Symbols Used on Chemical Containers?

Hazard symbols are placed on chemical containers to clearly and immediately show the type of hazard and dangers of the chemical they contain, whether that’s to people or to the environment. They should be immediately recognisable and also show how to use the chemical safely.

The types of hazards a symbol may show are that the chemical is corrosive, flammable, oxidising, explosive, toxic or harmful.

Chemical hazard symbols

Chemical Storage & Packaging at ReAgent

At ReAgent, we consider the packaging of our products as an important part of the manufacturing process.  We have a wide range of containers to suit every unique chemical, including:

  • Glass ampoules and bottles (coated with plastic to retain the product should the glass break)
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) bottles and jerrycans
  • Opaque HDPE containers to protect chemicals sensitive to light
  • Industrial bulk containers
Ampoule glass and plastic containers

ReAgent now supplies ampoule containers for medical training. To see how we do this, watch the video on our blog!

By having a diverse range of containers, ReAgent can accommodate the unique blends of chemicals we manufacture. Find out more about our first-class packaging materials.

In the packaging business since 1977, our expertise and customer-centred approach mean that we are dedicated to providing the packaging that is right for the job, and right for you.

Disclaimer

All content published on the ReAgent.co.uk blog is for information only. The blog, its authors, and affiliates cannot be held responsible for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from using the information provided. Additionally, we do not recommend using any chemical without reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which can be obtained from the manufacturer. You should also follow any safety advice and precautions listed on the product label. If you have health and safety related questions, visit HSE.gov.uk.

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