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What is Polycarbonate?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 21, 2024
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Polycarbonate is a versatile, tough plastic used for a variety of applications, from bulletproof windows to compact disks (CDs). The main advantage of this material over other types of plastic is its great strength combined with light weight. While acrylic is 17% stronger than glass, polycarbonate is nearly unbreakable. Bulletproof windows and enclosures as seen inside banks or at drive-throughs are often made of this plastic. Add to this the advantage that it is just 1/3 the weight of acrylic, or 1/6 as heavy as glass, and the only drawback is that it is more expensive than either.

Compact disks and digital versatile discs (DVDs) are perhaps the most readily recognized examples of polycarbonate. Anyone who has archived files on a writable CD, then later tried to break it before throwing it away, knows just how tough this material can be.

Clear polycarbonate is used to make eyeglasses because of its excellent transparency, durability, and high refractive index. This means that it bends light to a far greater degree than glass or other plastics of equal thickness. Since prescription lenses bend light to correct vision, polycarbonate lenses can be thinner than glass or conventional plastic, making it the ideal material for heavy prescriptions. These thin lenses correct poor vision without distorting the face or the size of the eyes, yet this extremely thin lens is virtual indestructible, an important safety factor for children and active adults.

Polycarbonate lenses are also used in quality sunglasses that incorporate filters to block ultra-violet (UV) rays and near-UV rays. The lenses can also be polarized to block glare, and their high impact resistance makes them perfect for sports. Many sunglasses manufacturers choose this material because it can be easily shaped without problems like cracking or splitting, resulting in extremely lightweight, distortion-free, fashionable glasses that feature all of the health benefits doctors recommend.

The electronics industry also uses polycarbonate. It has been used to create transparent colored computer cases, for example, and many cell phones, pagers, and laptops also use it in their casings.

Other uses for polycarbonate include greenhouse enclosures, automobile headlights, outdoor fixtures, and medical industry applications, though the list is virtually endless. Somewhat less toxic than polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to produce, this plastic nevertheless requires toxic chemicals in its production phase. It is, however, recyclable and environmentally preferable to PVC in applications for which either material can be used.

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Discussion Comments

By anon959634 — On Jul 06, 2014

Is polycarbonate considered a composite material?

By anon337213 — On Jun 03, 2013

Wow. There are -- surprisingly -- a lot of uses for polycarbonate plastics.

By anon328038 — On Apr 01, 2013

I am planning on buying an outdoor portable basketball system. The system I am interested in has a backboard made from polycarbonate. I have read that polycarbonate yellows over time if left in the sun. Should I worry about the yellowing and look at a system made from acrylic?

By anon322577 — On Feb 28, 2013

Polycarbonate can be used for making jars that hold packaged drinking water.

By anon297558 — On Oct 16, 2012

How is polycarbonate manufactured?

By anon284809 — On Aug 12, 2012

@Anon8955: "What can I use to dissolve polycarbonate on my injection moulding machine nozzles?"

A: Bleach or acetone.

By anon246513 — On Feb 09, 2012

Are polycarbons used in making lens implants for cataract surgery?

By anon178984 — On May 22, 2011

What will happen to the polycarbonate sight glass when it reaches its temperature limit?

By anon161667 — On Mar 21, 2011

At what temperature does methanol dissolve in polycarbonate? How long will it take to dissolve?

By izara — On Feb 09, 2011

I buy my drinking water in the 5 gallon polycarbonate bottles that I own. Due to the remoteness of the area they are expensive to buy.

Problem i,s sometimes they develop leaks.

What can I use to repair these five gallon polycarbonate bottles?

By anon146505 — On Jan 26, 2011

what's the highest temp. that can a polycarbonate stand or resist?

By r1234 — On Jan 17, 2011

what are the different products that can be made from polycarbonate? can someone help me with its different applications?

By anon133085 — On Dec 09, 2010

Can a chair made of polycarbonate harm a child who might use it as a desk chair?

By anon131218 — On Dec 01, 2010

In answer to Raw Foods guy (no. 4?) yes. Polycarbonate has been found to leach into water at room temperature. The chemical part that leaches is Bisphenol A, or something like that. And it is lab rat tested as being disruptive or mutational to the endocrine system, especially in female ovaries or something.

By anon117957 — On Oct 12, 2010

what uses does polycarbonate plastic have in a mobile phone?

By anon109826 — On Sep 09, 2010

can polycarbonate be used in chocolate moldmaking?

By anon88367 — On Jun 04, 2010

Is polycarbonate if made into a face shield is it chemically resistant? Thanks.

By anon80976 — On Apr 29, 2010

how do I recycle these lenses? 24" diameter.

By anon75655 — On Apr 07, 2010

Are polycarbonate sunglasses laser engraveable? eywu

By anon68578 — On Mar 03, 2010

Another fine post. We do injection moulding and I can safely say you answered that question well.

By anon67638 — On Feb 25, 2010

Polycarbonate plastics are sometimes used to make rulers, but rulers are easily snapped, so how are they nearly unbreakable?

By anon62154 — On Jan 25, 2010

I was told one time that the best way to clean your glasses is to just run the tap water on hot at full blast, then wipe dry with a clean, soft cotton towel. If I do this with polycarbonate lenses, will they melt? Will they lose their various coatings (like anti-glare)?

By anon60760 — On Jan 15, 2010

is polycarbonate a safe product for drink bottles to be made of?

By anon56572 — On Dec 15, 2009

What is Polycarbonate made of?

By anon43490 — On Aug 29, 2009

Is a polycarb lens easier to "see through" than a plastic lens, assuming that a glass lens would be the gold-standard of clarity? For instance, "seeing through" a glass window is always clear and easier than a plastic window. How does it compare? Dale in Humble, Texas

By anon43109 — On Aug 25, 2009

Does polycarbonate get more brittle with age? If so what causes that aging? (UV breaking the polymer chain /temperature, etc.)

By anon42129 — On Aug 19, 2009

Is it safe to clean the goggles with percept wipes (hydrogen peroxide)?

By anon40160 — On Aug 06, 2009

I am noticing that the lenses on my car headlights are turning yellow and dull. How can i fix this? What can i use to clean? Can i make my own cleaning solution with ordinary products?

By yaserfarouq — On Jul 18, 2009

hi. can you help?

What are the names of companies specialized in the production of plates polycarbonate in the world and what is the machines used in the industry plates polycarbonate used in the manufacture of cards.

thank you

By anon35853 — On Jul 08, 2009

How do you differentiate between PET (Polyurethene Terapthalate used to make mineral water bottles) and polycarbonate

By anon35435 — On Jul 05, 2009

what can i use to dissolve polycarbonate on my injection moulding machine

By anon28628 — On Mar 19, 2009

Does polycarbonate outgased when it is used in food industry as food containers and drink dispensers?

By anon26350 — On Feb 11, 2009

I want to build semi-acoustic panels for a home theater. I have the fabric and foam. What is a good lightweight rigid substrate to use for the backing?

By GrandmaSandi — On Oct 04, 2008

Is polycarbonate stain free or stain resistant? I want to buy a blender with the cup made out of this material. I will be using it to blend red chile for making tamales and want to know if it will stain.

By anon16498 — On Aug 07, 2008


There are optical quality grades of polycarbonate available. Sabic Innovative Plastics has multiple polycarbonate optical quality grades available depending upon the melt flow requirements of your application. One such grade is Lexan (tradename) OQ3820.

You can reduce scratches by having a silicone hardcoat applied over the top of the Lexan. This is typically done in as a secondary step after molding. You may want to reconsider who is molding your application, doesn't sound like they are very knowledgeable with regards to polycarbonate!

By rmoratti — On Aug 03, 2008

I'm looking to buy a food dehydrator for what is called "living Food" or "Raw Foods". My concern is one company that is recommended uses polycarbonate on their device. Does anyone know if there is Toxins being release into the food as you dehydrate? I believe the highest temp set is 145. We've been told the whole ordeal about heating plastics (microwave)....I understand that's a higher temp/ and works differently.

I'm buy a dehydrator to get the most benefits of my health......not hinder it.

By ernestpino — On Jun 10, 2008

I have invented a safety product that is made of polycarbonate I need it to be polished so it is clear as my glasses. what specification should I ask for? Also the molder cannot answer my question of how to make it scratch resistant, is there something that can be added to the mix? last question: how to achieve the polarized effect on the lens.

Thanks Ernest

By anon8955 — On Feb 25, 2008

What can I use to dissolve polycarbonate on my injection moulding machine nozzles?

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