Polypropylene or polypropene (PP) is a thermoplastic polymer, made by the chemical industry and used in a wide variety of applications, including packaging, textiles (e.g. ropes, thermal underwear and carpets), stationery, plastic parts and reusable containers of various types, laboratory equipment, loudspeakers, automotive components, and polymer banknotes. An addition polymer made from the monomer propylene, it is rugged and unusually resistant to many chemical solvents, bases and acids.
Melt processing of polypropylene can be achieved via extrusion and molding. Common extrusion methods include production of melt blown and spun bond fibers to form long rolls for future conversion into a wide range of useful products such as face masks, filters, nappies and wipes.
The most common shaping technique is injection molding, which is used for parts such as cups, cutlery, vials, caps, containers, housewares and automotive parts such as batteries. The related techniques of blow molding and injection-stretch blow molding are also used, which involve both extrusion and molding.
The large number of end use applications for PP are often possible because of the ability to tailor grades with specific molecular properties and additives during its manufacture. For example, antistatic additives can be added to help PP surfaces resist dust and dirt. Many physical finishing techniques can also be used on PP, such as machining. Surface treatments can be applied to PP parts in order to promote adhesion of printing ink and paints.
Polypropylene lid of a Tic Tacs box, with a living hinge and the resin identification code under its flapSince polypropylene is resistant to fatigue, most plastic living hinges, such as those on flip-top bottles, are made from this material. However, it is important to ensure that chain molecules are oriented across the hinge to maximize strength.
Very thin sheets of polypropylene are used as a dielectric within certain high performance pulse and low loss RF capacitors.
High-purity piping systems are built using polypropylene. Stronger, more rigid piping systems, intended for use in potable plumbing, hydronic heating and cooling, and reclaimed water applications, are also manufactured using polypropylene. This material is often chosen for its resistance to corrosion and chemical leaching, its resilience against most forms of physical damage, including impact and freezing, and its ability to be joined by heat fusion rather than gluing.
A polypropylene chairMany plastic items for medical or laboratory use can be made from polypropylene because it can withstand the heat in an autoclave. Its heat resistance also enables it to be used as the manufacturing material of consumer-grade kettles. Food containers made from it will not melt in the dishwasher, and do not melt during industrial hot filling processes. For this reason, most plastic tubs for dairy products are polypropylene sealed with aluminum foil (both heat-resistant materials). After the product has cooled, the tubs are often given lids made of a less heat-resistant material, such as LDPE or polystyrene. Such containers provide a good hands-on example of the difference in modulus, since the rubbery (softer, more flexible) feeling of LDPE with respect to PP of the same thickness is readily apparent. Rugged, translucent, reusable plastic containers made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes for consumers from various companies such as Rubbermaid and Sterilite are commonly made of polypropylene, although the lids are often made of somewhat more flexible LDPE so they can snap on to the container to close it. Polypropylene can also be made into disposable bottles to contain liquid, powdered or similar consumer products, although HDPE and polyethylene terephthalate are commonly also used to make bottles. Plastic pails, car batteries, wastebaskets, cooler containers, dishes and pitchers are often made of polypropylene or HDPE, both of which commonly have rather similar appearance, feel, and properties at ambient temperature.