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I'm wondering if there's a practical method of recognizing what kind of plastic a given thing is made of. This is a recurring issue I face when trying to fix/glue/work-with plastic stuff around the house.

More specifically, I was trying to fix the connection of a garden hose reel. I thought that the black, carbon-like, hard plastic was ABS and used some ABS-compatible glue, but the bonding came off almost immediately after put under pressure. So, before I try again, I'd like a way to identify the material and use the right kind of products for it.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Most products you purchase will have the information on the label. If no information is provided you can look for a marking similar to the following that will help you identify the type of plastic it was made with.

Plastic Identification Chart

ABS does not have a symbol, but is often marked >ABS<.

In your case, I'd look around the base of the hose reel you should be able to find it. If not consult the manufacturers website.

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@Bryce thanks for the addition, completely missed that one! – Handy Man Aug 4 '14 at 18:37

After 30+ years in the plastics industry, my tried and true method is to take a scraping of the plastic piece and burn it, extinguish the flame and smell the smoke.

Polyolefins will catch fire, smell like candles (a paraffin based plastic); PVC won't usually ignite, smells like chlorine and will burn your nose - BE CAREFUL; ABS has a sweet smell and burns with a very black smoke; styrene isn't as sweet and burns black also; nylon takes more flame to ignite and has a smell like burning hair and also burns your nose; epoxies smell like a burned out electric motor.

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Aren't some of the combustion by products really bad for you? Styrofoam in particular I remember lots of people yelling when someone threw a styro cup into the campfire that the toxic fumes it created required us to retreat immediately. – wallyk Jul 29 '14 at 9:05
Perhaps as someone who worked in the field of plastic for 30+ years would be qualified to identify the type of plastic by burning and smelling - suggesting it to the average joe with no experience on what to look for is irresponsible. Yes it's possible to identify plastic by burning it, however, if you don't know what you're doing you can seriously harm yourself. – Handy Man Jul 29 '14 at 11:38
PVC fumes are not nice. – DA01 Aug 4 '14 at 18:43

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