Difference Between Bakelite and Plastic

Key Difference – Bakelite vs Plastic

Plastic and Bakelite are both organic polymers, having a very large molecular weight though there exists a difference between the two based on their properties and usage. Bakelite is the first synthetic plastic and is known as a “material of thousand uses” due to its versatile applications. There are so many varieties of plastic materials with unique properties and applications. In the modern society, plastic materials replace traditional materials such as wood, glass, ceramics. Bakelite is different from other plastics due to its unique properties. The key difference between Bakelite and plastic is, Bakelite is the first synthetically produced thermosetting plastic with heat resistant and non-conductivity of electricity.   

What is Bakelite?

Bakelite is a special type of plastic with its unique properties. It is a phenol-formaldehyde resin; it was first synthetically produced in 1907 by Belgian-born American chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland. The invention of Bakelite is considered as a landmark in Chemistry because it is the first synthetically produced plastic with properties such as electric non-conductivity and thermosetting material. It is used in many applications ranging from telephones, electrical gadgets and jewelry to cooking equipment.

Difference Between Bakelite and Plastic

What is Plastic?

Plastic is the most abundant polymeric material that contains a wide range of varieties including synthetic and semi-synthetic varieties. Plastics are very convenient to use and are economical. In the modern world, plastic has replaced many traditional materials; for example cotton, ceramic, wood, stone, leather, born, paper, metal, and glass.

Key Difference - Bakelite vs Plastic

The plastic manufacturers, based on the properties and usage, have categorized plastics as Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET 1), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE 2), Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE 4), Polyvinyl Chloride (V3), Polypropylene (PP 5), Polystyrene (PS 6), Miscellaneous types of Plastic (Other 7). Each category has been assigned a unique code number.

difference between Bakelite and Plastic -table

What is the difference between Bakelite and Plastic?

Properties of Bakelite and Plastic:

Bakelite: It is a thermosetting plastic material, does not conduct electricity, therefore, it can be used in insulating materials. Bakelite is resistant to heat and chemical actions and also it is non-flammable. The dielectric constant of Bakelite ranges from 4.4 to 5.4. This is a cheap material and more versatile than other plastics.

Plastic: The word “Plastic” is a Greek word, meaning “capable of being molded and shaped.” The ability to mold and shape easily into desired shapes is the general property of plastics. But, there are so many varieties of plastics with some advanced properties.

Uses of Bakelite and Plastic:

Bakelite: Bakelite is used in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators due to its non-conductive and heat resistant properties. Various colors are added, to get different shades for the final product. In addition, it is mostly used in saucepan handles, parts of electrical irons, electrical plugs and switches, jewelry, pipe stems, children’s toys and firearms.

Bakelite is available in sheet, rod and tube form for various applications under various commercial brand names.

 Plastic: Various types of plastic materials are available for different applications.

Plastic category Common uses
Polyethylene (PE) Supermarket bags, plastic bottles (Inexpensive)
Polyester (PES) Fibers, textiles
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) Detergent bottles, milk jugs, and molded plastic cases
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Plumbing pipes, shower curtains, window frames, flooring
Polypropylene (PP) Bottle caps, drinking straws, yogurt containers
Polystyrene (PS) Packaging and food containers, plastic tableware, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, CD and cassette boxes.
High impact polystyrene (HIPS) Refrigerator liners, food packaging, vending cups.

Chemical Structure of Bakelite and Plastic:

Bakelite: Bakelite is an organic polymer, synthesized using benzene and formaldehyde. The repeating unit in Bakelite polymer is (C6H6O·CH2O)n. Its chemical name is “polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride”. difference between Bakelite and Plastic -bakelite structure

Plastic: All the plastic materials are organic polymers with a repeating unit called monomer. Some of the plastic structures are drawn below.

difference between Bakelite and Plastic -table 2

Image Courtesy:
“Bakelite Buttons 2007.068 (66948)” by Chemical Heritage Foundation.(CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons
“Plastic beads2″. (CC BY 2.5) via Wikimedia Commons