HDPE vs. UHMW

Quickly identify the differences between HDPE and UHMW plastic materials to select the best option for your project

When it comes to selecting the right plastic material for various applications, two commonly considered options are high density polyethylene (HDPE) and ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW). Both are popular for their versatility, durability, and cost.

While they share similarities, they possess distinct properties suitable for different purposes. Let's dive into the characteristics, applications, and industries where HDPE and UHMW plastics are used to help you determine which might be a better fit for your project.

What is HDPE?

High density polyethylene (HDPE) is a strong, durable, lightweight, and chemically resistant plastic material popular for a variety of applications. HDPE is easy to fabricate and weld using thermoplastic welding equipment making it an excellent choice for fabricated water tanks and chemical tanks. It is also perfect for outdoor applications and orthotic and prosthetic AFOs and KAFOs.

HDPE is available in a variety of grades that offer additional properties for specific applications such as grades for orthotic and prosthetic devices, FDA compliant for cutting boards, and UV resistant formulations for a variety of outdoor and marine applications.

What is UHMW?

UHMW or UHMW-PE (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene) is an extremely tough plastic with high abrasion and wear resistance. The versatility of polyethylene has made it a popular plastic for countless industrial applications like packaging and food processing machinery parts, chute and hopper liners, wear strips, and starwheels that require durability, low friction, and chemical resistance. UHMW is also easy to fabricate and machine.

Outside of virgin UHMW a variety of grades are available that offer enhanced properties for specific applications such as metal and x-ray detectable and FDA compliant grades for food processing and packaging equipment manufacturers, or bearing and wear grades for increased part life in conveying and material handling applications.

The Differences Between HDPE and UHMW

This side-by-side comparison of HDPE and UHMW will help you to quickly identify the differences between the two materials and assist with your selection process.

HDPE Material Characteristics

UHMW Material Characteristics

• Easy to machine and fabricate
• Good chemical resistance
• Impact resistant
• Easy to weld
• Good for orthotics and prosthetics
• Easy to machine and fabricate
• Good chemical resistance
• Impact resistant
• Good for friction and wear
• Good for bearings

HDPE Applications

UHMW Applications

• Chemical tanks
• Cutting boards for food preparation
• Water pipe flanges (HDPE pipe grade)
• Outdoor and indoor playground systems
• Marine construction (pile guards, bumpers, anti-skid surfaces)
• Orthotics and prosthetics – AFOs, KAFOs
• Light-duty tank, chute, and bin linings
• Outdoor cabinetry and furniture
• Duct bank spacers and bore spacers
• Chute, hopper, and truck bed liners
• Wear strips and guide rails
• Star wheels and idler sprockets
• High-speed conveyors
• Packaging machinery parts
• Food processing machinery parts
• Material handling machinery parts
• Bumpers, pile guards, and dock fenders

HDPE Common Brands

UHMW Common Brands

Polystone® G, Sanatec®, Orthoform®,
Sanalite®, Seaboard®, StarLite® XL, King StarBoard®, Playboard®, SIMOLIFE, Hitec®
Polystone® M, GUR®, Tivar®, LubX® C

Typical Properties of HDPE vs. UHMW

Compare the typical properties of HDPE and UHMW to assist with material selection based on the properties that are most important to your application. For information about each property shown, view our plastic property descriptions list.

TABLE: COMPARE TYPICAL PROPERTIES OF HDPE AND UHMW

 

Property Units ASTM Test
HDPE UHMW-PE
Specific gravity (73°F) - D792 0.96 0.93
Tensile strength (73°F) psi D638 4,000 3,100
Tensile elongation (73°F) % D638 600 350
Flexural modulus of elasticity (73°F) psi D790 200,000 110,000
Hardness
Rockwell M&R, Durometer Shore D (73°F)
scale as noted D785,
D2240
Shore D 69 Shore D 64
Izod impact (notched, 73°F) ft-lbs/in D256 - 18.0*
Coefficient of friction - Dynamic - 0.10 - 0.20
Coefficient of linear thermal expansion in/in/°Fx10-5 D696 7.0 11.1
Heat deflection temperature @ 66 psi/264 psi °F D648 172 -
Maximum continuous service temperature in air °F - - 180
Water absorption (immersion 24 hours) % D570 0.10 slight

Values may vary according to brand name. Please ask your Curbell Plastics representative for more specific information about an individual brand. *Double-15° notch.

 

HDPE and UHMW are both great options for many industrial applications. Whether it's the robustness of HDPE in construction or the wear resistance of UHMW in manufacturing, both materials offer valuable solutions across multiple applications.

While HDPE shines with its ease of fabrication and weldability, chemical resistance, and versatility, UHMW excels in wear-intensive environments with its exceptional abrasion resistance and low friction properties along with good chemical and impact resistance. Understanding their differences will assist you with material selection, providing optimal performance and durability for your application.

Know what you need? Shop our HDPE and UHMW plastics online, or Contact Us with questions about these plastic materials.

Not sure which materials best fit your needs?

Our experienced sales and technical teams are available to assist you with material selection challenges.

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