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What Are the Different Types of Fiberglass Materials?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen

Fiberglass is a substance comprised of tiny glass threads, or fibers. These fibers are used to make a number of materials, and fiberglass materials are widely used all over the world in construction, manufacturing, and in service industries. Fiberglass materials are popular for their attributes of high strength compared to relatively light weight. They are often composites of fiberglass and one or more other materials, such as plastic, acrylic, and carbon fiber.

Pure fiberglass fibers are used to make several kinds of materials. One of the most common is fiberglass insulation, a fluffy substance resembling cotton candy or raw cotton, which comes in long, paper backed rolls that are pre-cut to the common widths between wall studs and roof and floor joists. The fiberglass insulation is placed between joists and studs and the fibers trap air, acting as an excellent insulator. This material is notorious for causing skin and respiratory irritation, and should not be handled with bare skin or without a mask.

Carbon fiber weave.
Carbon fiber weave.

Various kinds of cloth made from woven fiberglass fibers comprise another category of fiberglass materials. Fiberglass fibers can be woven into a number of patterns almost like any kind of regular cloth. This cloth is used in a number of ways, but the primary use for such material is in the manufacture of reinforced plastics. These plastics are extremely strong with a high strength-to-weight ratio and are used for things like automobile body panels and numerous other uses, such as fiberglass cloth bonded with marine epoxy, which is used in the making and repair of boat hulls. Fiberglass mats are a type of fiberglass material that is similar to fiberglass cloth and is made from fiberglass fibers bound together in a random pattern.

Fiberglass's toughness and light weight makes it an ideal material for surfboards.
Fiberglass's toughness and light weight makes it an ideal material for surfboards.

Most fiberglass materials are composites. These composites are formed with fiberglass fibers and another material, usually a type of epoxy, plastic, resin, or other type of cloth. Often, fiberglass cloth is layered with another type of cloth such as carbon fiber cloth, along with a bonding agent. These composite materials are used to make a very large array of products, including electrical insulation, pressurized storage tanks, medical casts, and various sporting goods.

Fiberglass is a common type of insulation that can be placed directly on walls.
Fiberglass is a common type of insulation that can be placed directly on walls.

Surfboards, skis and other goods requiring high strength and low weight are often constructed from fiberglass composites. While many composite fiberglass materials are stiff or exhibit low levels of flex, high flexibility is a key feature of some fiberglass materials, making them excellent for things like ski and tent poles, bows, and poles for vaulting.

Discussion Comments


Old timer's trick to avoid fiberglass itch: apply a coat of olive oil directly to all areas of the skin subject to fiberglass exposure. Then shower when you're done. It avoids the itch.


The article is very interesting, but I have some points to be clarified: What is the main difference point between glass fiber and fiberglass? What is the hazardous material in the fiberglass industry?


@jcraig - I just looked it up, and the first fiberglass insulation was made in the 1930s, so I would assume it was created in the 10s or 20s. It wasn't until the problems with asbetos were discovered that fiberglass insulation became popular. I'm not sure when it became a popular material for boats and skiis and other things. I agree, though, fiberglass makes life a lot easier.

The article mentions fiberglass being used in cloth. For some reason, it seems like I have heard fiberglass mentioned as being a material that is used in Kevlar for bulletproof vests and such, but the article doesn't mention it. Do they use fiberglass when they are making Kevlar, or am I possibly thinking of something else?


Does anyone know when approximately fiberglass was invented or came into widespread use? Even though it might be an unpleasant material to handle, I can't imagine having to live without fiberglass. It is so convenient sometimes.

I may be dating myself, but I remember camping when I was younger. We always had to have a huge bag of metal poles and stakes, and setting up the tent was a nightmare. Now tents have fiberglass poles that simply slide together, and one person can set up a tent in a matter of minutes.

This isn't even considering how fiberglass has helped improve the quality of cars and boat bodies. A while back, I inherited an aluminum canoe that my father had. We recently decided to scrap it instead of paying for more repairs. We went out and bought a newer style fiberglass canoe, and it is so much lighter and seems much more durable.


@stl156 - I know what you mean. It's miserable when you have to handle anything with fiberglass. We were installing an electric fence on my property, which required using several fiberglass posts. It wasn't as bad as installing insulation, but my hands were itchy for quite a while after we finished.

As far as I know, the reaction happens when the fiberglass makes its way through a layer of skin and your body reacts to the foreign object. I think the reaction all just depends on the thickness of your skin, literally. When we were installing the fence, my friend who works on a farm and has thicker skin on his hands, didn't have nearly the same problem I had. I've also noticed my arms and legs usually get itchier than my hands, which would also make sense.


I absolutely hate dealing with fiberglass. Whenever we moved into our new house, I decided to replace a lot of the insulation that was in the attic so that we could save a little on our heating bills.

Does anyone know what it is about fiberglass that makes it so extremely itchy? Even though I made sure to wear a long sleeved shirt, long pants, and gloves, the insulation material was still able to get to my skin and make me itch. I'm not sure if it got under my sleeves or went through the shirt. Luckily I was wearing glasses and a dust mask, so I didn't have to worry about any major health problems.

I have always had a bad reaction to fiberglass. Is it possible that certain people have a worse reaction than other people when they come in contact with the fibers?

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    • Carbon fiber weave.
      Carbon fiber weave.
    • Fiberglass's toughness and light weight makes it an ideal material for surfboards.
      By: maxoidos
      Fiberglass's toughness and light weight makes it an ideal material for surfboards.
    • Fiberglass is a common type of insulation that can be placed directly on walls.
      By: mtmmarek
      Fiberglass is a common type of insulation that can be placed directly on walls.
    • Fiberglass is commonly used in boat construction.
      By: RG
      Fiberglass is commonly used in boat construction.
    • Skis are typically constructed of fiberglass composites.
      By: camerawithlegs
      Skis are typically constructed of fiberglass composites.