How to Safely Disinfect and Sanitize Plastics

Plastics offer many benefits over other materials: they can last longer, be more durable, and possibly more cost effective than glass, wood, or metals. However, the integrity of some plastic materials can become compromised when in constant contact with an incompatible chemical solution or solvent. 

When it comes to sanitizing your plastics, the right disinfectant or cleaning agent can keep plastics looking new while also observing hygienic practices. 

We collected a few of the most common disinfecting methods for some of our most popular plastics to help keep your plastics looking their best and maintaining their structural integrity. 

When Disinfecting Plastics

Sterilizing Plastics - Be Sure to Use the Right Disinfectant. Learn more at Curbell Plastics.The first step to sterilizing plastics is to clean the surface. Cleaning refers to removing dirt or impurities from the surface of the plastic (Cleaning and Disinfection for Households, CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19). In doing so, it’s likely to remove some germs, however this will not kill all germs. In order to properly disinfect, you’ll need to use specific chemicals to kill the remaining germs. 

There are many different types of gloves available, but nitrile disposable gloves are impervious to chemicals and recommended when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your facility. The CDC offers general disinfecting guidelines in (Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility, CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019, COVID-19). 

Disinfecting Acrylic, Polycarbonate and PETG

Often used as transparent materials in many applications, it’s vital to use compatible disinfectants to prevent cracking or crazing in the plastic. Incompatible disinfectants release stress in the material, forming tiny cracks commonly referred to as crazing or stress cracking. 

For the most effective disinfecting outcome, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the chemical application and contact time. Here are some of the most common and easy to come by cleaning solutions for transparent plastics.

Always use a soft cotton cloth or chamois when cleaning transparent plastics. Paper towels are abrasive and will cause surface scratches.

Compatible Acrylic Disinfectants

  • Hydrogen peroxide 3%-5%
  • Bleach – household laundry grade
  • Isopropyl alcohol – diluted with water to 30% strength
  • Mild dish washing soap solution

Compatible Polycarbonate Disinfectants

  • Hydrogen peroxide 30%
  • Mild dish washing soap solution
  • PeridoxRTU®
  • Steriplex® SD
  • Safetex® Surface Wipes

Compatible PETG Disinfectants

  • Hydrogen peroxide 28%
  • Isopropyl alcohol 70%
  • Mild dish washing soap solution

These products can be found on the EPA List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, (EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency). The List N also includes the recommended contact time to be most effective against emerging viral pathogens (like the coronavirus) based on their effectiveness against other virus strains. 

Product brochures may provide a list of chemicals that a specific brand or grade is compatible with, however, this may not be specific to disinfectants. See a complete list of compatible disinfectants to use and disinfectants to avoid for TUFFAK® Polycarbonate, OPTIX® Acrylic, and VIVAK® PETG brands.

Disinfecting KYDEX® Thermoplastics and Other Performance Plastics

Disinfecting KYDEX® Thermoplastics (KYDEX® is used for medical devices and high touch surfaces like digital kiosks and cashier stations). View a complete list of approved cleaners and disinfectants for KYDEX® sheet.KYDEX® Thermoplastics are formulated to be highly robust and tolerate exposure to harsh chemicals. For these reasons, they’re excellent for medical devices and high touch surfaces like digital kiosks and cashier stations. 

Our partners at SEKISUI KYDEX® perform extensive chemical and cleaning reagents testing to confirm the chemical resistance of their products. Testing using the ASTM D543 standard showed that over a 28-day trial, KYDEX® T, KYDEX® 100, and KYDEX® 430 showed no adverse effects to a variety of cleaning agents in a series of contact variables. Common disinfecting agents such as Virex® Tb, Professional Lysol® Disinfectant Spray, and several PDI Sani-Cloth® and related cleaning products did not show any noticeable effect on the KYDEX® Thermoplastics. 

See a complete list of approved cleaners and disinfectants for KYDEX® sheet.

Other manufacturers of thermoplastics, such as Röchling Engineering Plastics and Ensinger Inc. are also conscientious of the need to sterilize high-performance polymers. They offer medical grade plastics that are designed to withstand various medical sterilization methods.

Even more manufacturers, like VYCOM Plastics, manufacture plastics with clean room applications in mind, such as Flametec® Cleanroom PVC-C. These plastics are designed to tolerate clean room protocols and procedures.

Sterilizing Plastics for Medical Equipment Applications

Medical equipment can be sterilized via a number of methods including autoclaving (steam or dry heat), ethylene oxide, and radiation (gamma or e-beam). Certain plastic materials can withstand sterilization via one or more of these methods and some plastics can tolerate more sterilization cycles than others.

It is important to note that manufacturing methods, part geometry, and fit with mating parts all have significant influence on the degree to which plastic parts can withstand repeated sterilization cycles. Excessive loads or impact, stress concentrations from fasteners, the presence of sharp internal corners, and/or degradation from thermal processing can all reduce a plastic material's ability to withstand medical sterilization processes.

The chart below shows the tolerance for some of the commonly used engineering plastics for various sterilization methods under laboratory conditions.
 

medical sterilization of polymers
  Steam Dry Heat Ethylene
Oxide
Gamma
Radiation
E-Beam
Radiation
Polypropylene (medical grade) Fair Fair Good Fair Fair
PSU (polysulfone) Fair Fair Good Good Good
Ultem® (polyetherimide) Good Good Good Good Good
PPSU (polyphenylsufone) (Radel® R) Good Good Good Good Good
PEEK (polyetheretherketone) Good Good Good Good Good

It’s important that the right plastics—and grades—are selected for applications that involve sterilization. Otherwise the plastic may melt or degrade during the process. Identifying the best plastics for sterilizable medical applications is an example of how we lend our technical expertise toward solving problems for customers. 

Didn’t Find the Answer You Were Looking For? 

If you didn’t find the information you were looking for, ask a plastics expert. We want your plastics to look great while meeting your sanitation standards. If you have plastics that have already cracked or crazed and are diminished in appearance or functionality, get a quote.

This article provides general guidelines and is intended for informational purposes only. Because every situation is unique, many factors must be considered when selecting a material. It is the reader’s responsibility to conduct his or her own research and make his or her own determination regarding the suitability of specific products for any given application.