Is Plastic an Insulator or Conductor? (And Why?)

Generally, plastics are considered to be insulators or non-conductors of electricity. 1 This is because most plastics are composed of long chains of polymers with covalent bonds, which restrict the movement of electrons and hinder the flow of electric current. 2

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: Is Plastic an Insulator or Conductor?

  • Plastic is generally an insulator due to its high electrical resistance, which hinders the flow of electrons.
  • Plastics have tightly bound electrons, making it difficult for them to move freely and conduct electricity.
  • Plastic is used as an insulator in various applications, including electrical insulation, thermal insulation, automotive insulation, construction insulation, and electronic devices.

Why is plastic an insulator?

Plastic is generally considered an insulator because of its high electrical resistance. 3 Insulators have high resistance, which means they do not allow the easy passage of electrons through them.

Plastics are composed of long chains of organic molecules, typically derived from petroleum or natural gas. These molecules are made up of atoms such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which form strong covalent bonds. 4

The covalent bonds within the plastic molecules hold the atoms together tightly, making it difficult for electrons to move freely.

In contrast, conductive materials like metals have loosely bound electrons that are able to move more easily. Metals have a “sea” of delocalized electrons that can carry an electric current. 5 The presence of free electrons in metals allows for efficient transfer of electrical charge.

Due to the tightly bound electrons in plastic molecules, when an electric field is applied to a plastic material, the electrons are not able to move easily through the structure. Instead, they remain localized within their respective molecules.

As a result, plastics exhibit high electrical resistance and do not conduct electricity as effectively as metals or other conductive materials.

It’s important to note that not all plastics are equally good insulators. Some plastic materials, such as those used in electronics, may be engineered to have certain levels of conductivity by adding conductive fillers or coatings. 6

However, in their pure form, most plastics exhibit insulating properties.

Are there any temperature or environmental conditions that can influence the insulating properties of plastic?

Yes, temperature and environmental conditions can influence the insulating properties of plastic. High temperatures can cause plastic to soften, which can reduce its insulating ability. Additionally, exposure to certain environmental factors such as moisture, UV radiation, and chemicals can degrade the structure of the plastic, leading to a decrease in its insulation performance.

Plastics are commonly used as insulating materials due to their ability to impede the flow of heat and electricity. However, their insulating properties can be affected by temperature variations.

When exposed to high temperatures, such as in industrial or outdoor applications, plastic materials can soften or even melt. This softening can result in a decrease in their ability to block heat transfer, compromising their insulating properties.

Moreover, environmental conditions can also impact the insulating properties of plastics. Moisture can seep into the plastic and disrupt its structure, affecting its insulation performance.

UV radiation from the sun can degrade the molecular structure of the plastic, leading to a reduction in its insulating ability over time. 7 Additionally, exposure to certain chemicals can cause plastic to deteriorate, further compromising its insulation properties.

Therefore, it is important to consider the temperature and environmental conditions when selecting and using plastic materials for insulation purposes.

Uses of plastic as an insulator

Plastic is widely used as an insulator in various applications due to its desirable properties. Here are some common uses of plastic as an insulator:

  • Electrical Insulation: Plastic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE), and polypropylene (PP) are extensively employed as electrical insulators. They help prevent the flow of electricity and are used in the insulation of wires, cables, and electrical components. 8
  • Thermal Insulation: Plastic foams, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) and polyurethane foam, are commonly utilized for thermal insulation purposes. 9 These materials have low thermal conductivity and are employed in buildings, refrigeration systems, and packaging to reduce heat transfer.
  • Automotive Insulation: Plastics play a crucial role in insulating automotive components. They are used in wiring harnesses, connectors, and electrical systems to provide electrical insulation. Plastic foam materials are also used for sound insulation to reduce noise and vibrations inside vehicles.
  • Construction Insulation: Plastic insulation materials, such as extruded polystyrene (XPS) and polyisocyanurate (polyiso) foam boards, are used in construction for insulating walls, roofs, and floors. These materials help regulate temperature, improve energy efficiency, and enhance the overall thermal performance of buildings. 10
  • Electronic Devices: Plastics are employed in the insulation of electronic devices to prevent electrical short circuits and ensure safety. They are used in the manufacturing of circuit boards, connectors, and housings for various electronic components.
  • Industrial Applications: Plastic insulators find applications in various industrial settings. They are used in equipment and machinery to insulate electrical connections, control panels, and other components to ensure electrical safety and prevent accidents.

Plastic’s versatility, electrical insulation properties, thermal resistance, and ease of manufacturing make it a widely utilized material in numerous industries for insulation purposes.

Further reading

Is Metal an Insulator?
Is Rubber a Conductor?
Why is Silver a Conductor?
Why is Gold a Conductor?
Why is Brass a Conductor? 

About author

Jay is an educator and has helped more than 100,000 students in their studies by providing simple and easy explanations on different science-related topics. He is a founder of Pediabay and is passionate about helping students through his easily digestible explanations.

Read more about our Editorial process.


  1. Insulator (electricity) – Wikipedia. (2021, June 1). Insulator (Electricity) – Wikipedia.
  3. Blythe, A. (1984). Electrical resistivity measurements of polymer materials. Polymer Testing, 4(2–4), 195–209.
  4. CH103 – Chapter 5: Covalent Bonds and Introduction to Organic Molecules – Chemistry. (n.d.). CH103 – Chapter 5: Covalent Bonds and Introduction to Organic Molecules – Chemistry.
  5. Lang, P. F. (2018, August 22). Is a Metal “Ions in a Sea of Delocalized Electrons?” Journal of Chemical Education, 95(10), 1787–1793.
  6. Shrivastava, A. (2018). Additives for Plastics. Introduction to Plastics Engineering, 111–141.
  7. Yousif, E., & Haddad, R. (2013, August 23). Photodegradation and photostabilization of polymers, especially polystyrene: review. SpringerPlus, 2(1).
  8. Ahmed Dabbak, S., Illias, H., Ang, B., Abdul Latiff, N., & Makmud, M. (2018, June 4). Electrical Properties of Polyethylene/Polypropylene Compounds for High-Voltage Insulation. Energies, 11(6), 1448.
  9. Insulation Materials. (n.d.).
  10. Rigid panel – Wikipedia. (2015, October 1). Rigid Panel – Wikipedia.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top