High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a high molecular weight polyolefin material. Like all polyolefins, HDPE is nontoxic, non-contaminating, and exhibits a high degree of break resistance. It is lighter than water, easily withstands exposure to a wide variety of common lab chemicals, and has a milky white translucent appearance. 

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The polymerization of polyethylene results in an essentially straight chain, high molecular weight hydrocarbon. The polyethylenes are classified according to the relative degree of branching (side chain formation) in their molecular structures, which can be controlled with selective catalysts. HDPE has less side branching than LDPE resulting in a denser 3-D structure. As a result, HDPE is less flexible than LDPE and melts at a higher temperature (120°C). 

Like other polyolefins, HDPE is chemically inert. Strong oxidizing agents will eventually cause oxidation and embrittlement. HDPE has no solvent at room temperature. Aggressive solvents will cause softening or swelling, but these effects are normally reversible. HDPE can be damaged by long-term exposure to UV light.   

High density polyethylene is used to make Nalgene bottles, carboys, and other items where impact strength and long-term chemical compatibility are key requirements. HDPE is lower cost than many labware materials making it a good choice where economic savings and product value are appreciated. A wide variety of Nalgene bottles are made from HDPE. Use the Nalgene Bottle and Carboy Selection Guide to quickly find the bottle shape, size, and packaging configuration you’re looking for.

Popular Products Made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Physical properties






HDT[1]: 65℃

Max Use[2]: 120℃

Brittleness[3]: -100℃

UV light: poor resistance



Microwave[12]: No

Specific gravity: 0.95

cc.-mil/ 100in2-24hr.-atm
N2: 42
O2: 185
CO2: 580

cc.-mm/ m2-24 hr.-Bar
N2: 16.32
O2: 71.88
CO2: 225.36

Autoclave: no

EtO: yes

Dry heat: no

Radiation: yes

Disinfectants: yes

Non-Cytotoxic[6]: Yes

Suitable for food & bev use[7]: Yes[8]

Regulation Part 21 CFR: 177.1520

Chemical compatibility

The following table contains general use exposure ratings at 20oC. The ability of plastic materials to resist chemical attack and damage is dependent also on temperature, length of exposure to the chemical and added stresses such as centrifugation. For more detailed chemical resistance ratings for Nalgene products and materials, please consult the resources referenced at the bottom of this page.

ClassGeneral rating
Acids, dilute or weakE
Acids*, strong and concentrated G
Alcohols, aliphaticE
Hydrocarbons, aliphaticG
Hydrocarbons, aromaticN
Hydrocarbons, halogenatedN
Ketones, aromaticN
Oxidizing agents, strongF

*Except for oxidizing acids; for oxidizing acids, see "Oxidizing agents, strong."

 E  30 days of constant exposure causes no damage. Plastic may even tolerate for years.
  Little or no damage after 30 days of constant exposure to the reagent.
  Some effect after 7 days of constant exposure to the reagent. Depending on the plastic, the effect may be crazing, cracking, loss of strength, or discoloration.
 N  Not recommended for continuous use. Immediate damage may occur including severe crazing, cracking, loss of strength, discoloration, deformation, dissolution, or permeation loss.

Nalgene products made from high density polyethylene (HDPE)

Application tips for Nalgene HDPE products

Material identification
HDPE is not autoclavable, even though the maximum use temperature (120°C) is very close to the typical autoclave temperature (121°C). Many Nalgene products have the material identification molded into the product to help you determine the material of construction. For example, most Nalgene bottles have the material code (“HDPE”) molded into the bottom of the bottle. By knowing what plastic material your product is made from, you can make choices regarding appropriate applications for use.

Plastic aging
HDPE labware will age over time. If labware pieces are permanently discolored (yellow, brown, pink, etc.), if you see cracks or spiderweb-like “crazing” beginning to occur, it’s probably time to replace your old labware. A squeeze of your Nalgene HDPE bottle should feel stiff but pliable; if you instead hear or feel crackling, immediately retire your bottle and replace it to prevent failure in use. To slow the aging process and prolong the life of your HDPE labware, store products in a cabinet out of direct exposure with UV light (including overhead indoor lighting), use only with compatible chemicals, and wash with a pH-neutral detergent like Nalgene L900.

HDPE products are recyclable in most communities (recycle code 2). Most Nalgene HDPE products are reusable and will last a long time under typical lab conditions if used appropriately, but you can recycle them at the end of their lifetime as long as they are thoroughly cleaned for safe handling.  

[1]. Heat Deflection Temperature is the temperature at which an injection molded bar deflects 0.1” when placed under 66 psig (ASTM D648) of pressure. Materials may be used above Heat Deflection Temperatures in non-stress applications; see Max. Use Temp.
[2]. Max. Use Temp. °C: this is related to the maximum continuous use temperature, ductile/brittle temperature and glass transition temperature, and represents the highest temperature at which the polymer can be exposed for the matter of minutes to 2 hours where there is little or no loss of strength.
[3]. The brittleness temperature is the temperature at which an item made from the resin may break or cracked if dropped. This is not the lowest-use temperature if care is exercised in use and handling.
[4]. STERILIZATION: Autoclaving (121°C, 15 psig for 20 minutes)—Clean and rinse items with distilled before autoclaving. (Always completely disengage thread before autoclaving.) Certain chemicals which have no appreciable effect on resins at room temperature may cause deterioration at autoclaving temperatures unless removed with distilled water before hand.
     EtO Gas—Ethylene Oxide: 100% EtO, EtO:Nitrogen mixture, EtO:HCFC mixture
     Dry Heat—exposure to 160°C for 120 minutes without stress/load on the polymer parts
     Disinfectants—Benzalkonium chloride, formalin/formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, etc.
     Radiation—gamma or beta irradiation at 25 kGy (2.5 MRad) with unstabilized plastic.
[6]. “Yes” indicates the resin has been determined to be non-cytotoxic, based on USP and ASTM biocompatibility testing standards utilizing an MEM elution technique with WI38 human diploid lung cell line.
[7]. Resins meet requirements of CFR21 section of Food Additives Amendment of the Federal Food and Drug Act. End users are responsible for validation of compliance for specific containers used in conjunction with their particular applications.
[8]. Acceptable for:
   - Nonacid, aqueous products; may contain salt, sugar, or both (pH above 5.0)
   - Dairy products and modifications; oil-in-water emulsions, high or low fat
   - Moist bakery products with surface containing no free fat or oil
   - Dry solids with the surfaces containing no free fat or oil (no end-test required) and under all conditions as described in Table 2 of FDA Regulation 177.1520 except condition A—high-temperature sterilization (e.g. over 100°C/212°F)
[12]. Ratings based on 5-minute tests using 600 watts of power on exposed, empty labware. CAUTION: Do not exceed Max. Use Temp., or expose labware to chemicals which heating will cause to attack the plastic or be rapidly absorbed.


Technical support

For assistance choosing products appropriate for your application, please speak with a Nalgene Technical Support Representative team by phone at +1-585-586-8800 or (1-800-625-4327 US toll free), or email your request to technicalsupport@thermofisher.com.

In Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom please contact technical support by phone at +800-1234-9696 (toll free) or +49-6184-90-6321, or email your request to techsupport.labproducts.eu@thermofisher.com.

Regulatory support: For regulatory documentation of product or material claims, please contact Nalgene Regulatory Support at RocRegSupport@thermofisher.com.


For chemical compatibility ratings by chemical, temperature, and length of exposure, use the Nalgene General Labware Chemical Compatibility Guide

For centrifugeware chemical compatibility ratings, please use ONLY the Centrifuge Ware Chemical Resistance

Request printed resources

  • Break the Glass Habit Brochure
  • Bottle and Carboy Selection Guide
  • Plastic Properties Reference Magnet
  • Plastic Labware Chemical Resistance Wall Poster

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California Proposition 65 Warning: Products manufactured with polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) or polystyrene (PS) contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.