What are the Advantages of Polystyrene Foam?

B. Turner

Polystyrene foam is a type of plastic made from petroleum-based hydrocarbon particles infused with air. This material can be extruded or molded to form shipping and packing products, food storage containers, or even building insulation. The manufacturing process for making this foam gives this material a uniform, consistent cell structure that makes it very rigid and strong. In addition to its strength and stability, polystyrene foam provides a number of additional advantages, including effective insulating properties, natural resistance to moisture, and the ability to absorb shock or impacts.

Polystyrene foam is used to make the hulls of many rafts and rescue boats, such as the U.S. Coast Guard's Defender class, because it is shock and heat resistant.
Polystyrene foam is used to make the hulls of many rafts and rescue boats, such as the U.S. Coast Guard's Defender class, because it is shock and heat resistant.

One of the primary advantages to this material is its high strength-to-weight ratio. Polystyrene foam is very durable, yet consists primarily of air, resulting in a very low weight. Its light weight and airy consistency allows this material to be easily shaped or molded to form a variety of products. It can be formed into custom packaging or shipping containers, or cut to fit wall cavities on a construction site. Even sheets of polystyrene foam can be cut using only a basic utility knife rather than complex tools or saws.

Polystyrene foam can be molded and carved.
Polystyrene foam can be molded and carved.

The numerous air cavities within polystyrene foam also give it natural shock absorption abilities. This makes this material an effective option for protecting fragile electronics during shipping. Many manufacturers create custom packing containers that reduce the risk of damage to electronics and other gear, and can absorb shock or impacts if the object is dropped during transport. This material is also used to create meat-packing trays and egg crates due to its ability to protect these items from damage.

Polystyrene sheets are easily cut with a utility knife.
Polystyrene sheets are easily cut with a utility knife.

Polystyrene foam also is highly moisture resistant. When used for packing and shipping, this foam protects objects from rain and other sources of moisture. It can be used to hold food or beverages, and won't leak or penetrate the walls of the container. When used as building insulation, the moisture resistance of this foam gives it many advantages over traditional fiberglass insulation. Unlike fiberglass, foam won't rot, mildew, or otherwise lose its effectiveness if exposed to moisture.

Polystyrene foam can be used to make insulation.
Polystyrene foam can be used to make insulation.

Another major advantage associated with polystyrene foam is its ability to act as an effective insulator. When used in food storage, this foam keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold as they are transported from a restaurant to the home. This foam may also be used to insulate a freezer or refrigerator. When used as building insulation, this material offers a much higher level of thermal resistance than standard fiberglass blankets or batts. This helps to maximize the energy efficiency of the structure and keep energy bills as low as possible.

Polystyrene sheets provide excellent insulation properties.
Polystyrene sheets provide excellent insulation properties.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I always save the polystyrene foam blocks from packages that I order online. They may not fit what I need protecting to the exact measurements, but they do offer some degree of protection.

I paint and sell artwork on canvas, so I’m always looking for recyclable shipping supplies. I never throw away a box or any polystyrene products inside of it, because I know that I will get a chance to put it to good use someday.

I once ordered a glass lamp, and it came in a box four times as big as the lamp itself. I was delighted to find it filled with pieces of polystyrene foam. This kept me supplied with packaging material for a whole year!


@lighth0se33 - Some polystyrene foam cups are marked as microwave safe. I’m sure that since your noodles were meant to be cooked inside the cup, it must be safe to do this.

There will probably be a drawing on the bottom of the cup to let you know that it is microwave safe. If not, then you might rather deal with the inconvenience of bringing along an extra container to heat up your lunch in, because you could be exposing yourself to chemicals.

I always bring along a ceramic container for things like this. It is microwave and dishwasher safe, and that is my kind of dish!


I have often wondered how safe it is to put polystyrene in the microwave. There are some foods that come prepackaged in polystyrene cups that are made to be popped right into the microwave, but I’ve heard so many stories about the foam melting and getting into your system that I’m almost scared to do this.

I bought a box of noodles in polystyrene cups to take with me to work for lunch because it seemed so convenient. I loved the fact that I would not have to carry an extra bowl with me, but now, I’m questioning the wisdom of microwaving my lunch in a foam container.


I have seen firsthand how well polystyrene foam resists water. This is what those long skinny flotation devices known as pool noodles are made out of, and they will keep even a hefty person afloat.

The noodle stays dry, though. When you take it out of the water, it all drips off the surface. It’s kind of mind boggling how something that has been soaking in water all day can be instantly dry like that.

I suppose that is the quality that makes it float so well. Even if you sit on it, the noodle will always push up on your body rather than sink all the way down.

Post your comments
Forgot password?