How to get a Rough Idea of a Plastic Material Type When you Don’t Know

Here’s a Helpful Hint if you Don’t Know the Plastic you Have…

There are literally thousands of plastics on the market today and figuring out what type of plastic you have when there is no label to tell you what you have can be a daunting prospect. The best way to learn is by working with known samples. But, when a known sample isn’t available you can sometimes determine the basics of what type of plastic you have on hand by using your nose and an open flame. Carefully hold a small sample of the plastic material to the edge of a flame until it ignites. Be sure to use safety precautions. (Give it about 10 second if it doesn’t start right away). Carefully take note of what happens to the material.

  • Does the material burn?
  • What is the smoke like?
  • Is there soot in the air?
  • Does it drip?

Extinguish the flame and carefully take note of any smell and refer to the table below to narrow down the possibilities as to what type of plastic you have.

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a Flame retardant   b Nondescript   c Inorganic filler   d Organic filler Ref: Materials Engineering, Penton/IPC, Cleveland, Ohio

It is important to note that the look and smell can vary based on a lot of factors like additives, colors, etc. which is why determining a type of plastic material can be tricky and why the table above is a basic guide only, but it can be a good starting point for determining what type of plastic material you have on hand when you don’t have any other information.

For more information about types of plastics you can also visit We have Technical data, MSDS sheets, and other information that may also help in determining what type of plastic material you have or need.