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Polycarbonate, Polyethylene & Polyurethane

When making PPE (personal protective equipment) it is easy to get lost in the acronyms and abbreviations, so we thought we’d write up a quick primer guide on some of the best polymers to be used in making them.

Polycarbonate 

The toughest. As the name suggests it has carbonate groups in its structure. This is great for protecting fragile areas of the face like the eyes and can also be used in industrial settings or sport where impact is a risk.

Pros

Durable, Hard to Scratch, Washable and Reusable

Cons

Rigid, Excessive for some PPE items

Polyethylene

This is the best middle ground. It is flexible, yet pretty durable. For face shields this is a great choice since it can conform to the shape of a wearers face, requiring less materials. It has most the same benefits as Polycarbonate polymers, but is not suited for impact risk protection.

Pros

Flexible, Durable, Reusable

Cons

Easier to Scratch, Short Lifespan, Not Suited for Eye protection

Polyurethane

This is the lightest item and is best suited for items directly touching skin, due to its highly flexible nature it can make a tight seal with skin, this makes for great seals when making masks. However it is not rated for long term alcohol exposure so they have to be disinfected at 70c1 or in a dehumidified environment.2 Also due to it being a thermoset resin,3 two chemicals, mixed together to form a chain, it is much hard to recycle.4

Pros

Lightweight, Extremely Flexible, Comfortable, Biodegradable5

Cons

Not rated for Long Term Alcohol Exposure, Not suited for repeated UV exposure, Limited Recycling Application

Conclusion

Ultimately it depends on picking a material that is best suited for scenario but also picking materials that can be easily reused6 to help reduce waste and decrease shortages.

Citations:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3078131/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5638397/

3. https://sciencing.com/differences-between-polyethylene-polyurethane-8514564.html

4. https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=7963

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165411/6. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hcwcontrols/recommendedguidanceextuse.html

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