Countless varieties of dishes and dinnerware sets are available these days. This is an ever-growing market with new brands and product lines constantly emerging. At this point, porcelain, china, earthenware, and plastic are among the most popular. Of course, the latter tends to draw more attention as an affordable everyday alternative to higher-end dinnerware.
That being said, plastic has an increasingly popular and more practical rival in the dinnerware market: melamine. Melamine is an incredibly durable, long-lasting, versatile, and budget-friendly material for dishes. Many companies are trying to cash in its growing acclaim by falsely labeling their products as melamine. That leaves quite a few people wondering if their melamine dinnerware is actually authentic.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Melamine and Plastic?
On the surface, plastic and melamine dishes appear very similar. Both are rigid, and they can have somewhat shiny finishes that resemble some porcelain, china, earthenware, and other types of dishes. Both are available in various colors and patterns as well. Melamine and plastic are also lightweight materials.
Those similarities are the reasons these two materials are difficult to distinguish from one another by the untrained eye. Certain tests can help make matters a bit easier, though. Keep the following points in mind when trying to figure out if dishes are made of melamine or an imposter, like basic plastic.
Weight and Thickness
Though they may look similar, plastic and melamine are very different materials. The processes by which they’re manufactured are different as well. With plastics, the production process results in thinner, lighter dishes. Though melamine dinnerware is also lightweight, it’s slightly heavier and noticeably thicker than its plastic counterparts.
Flexibility is also a factor to take note of. Many plastic dishes are somewhat flexible. With a little elbow grease, the cheaper, lower-quality versions will bend. Other types of plastic are quite as flimsy, so they won’t easily bend. Instead, they’ll just crack under pressure. Melamine dinnerware won’t bend because of its thickness and sturdiness. True melamine won’t snap when moderate force is applied to it, either.
Another way to determine if a dish is made of plastic or melamine is to apply heat to it. That could entail holding a lighter to the edge of the dish or placing a lit candle near it. Please be careful when using this method. It could not only lead to serious burns but potentially damage the dish being tested.
Plastic dishes will inevitably melt when exposed to a flame or even indirect extreme heat. Melamine may appear singed in the area that was tested, but it’ll hold its shape and maintain its structural integrity. By nature, it’s designed to offer heightened heat resistance.
Odor should also be mentioned here. When exposed to extreme heat, such as that produced by a flame, plastic emits a distinct acrid odor. It smells like, well, burning plastic. Melamine dishes don’t produce such a stench in a situation like that.
A safer variation of this test would be to place a dish in boiling water. If it comes out warped or wavy, it’s plastic. On the other hand, if it comes through no worse for wear, it’s melamine. In some cases, testing a dish’s heat resistance is as simple as running it through a cycle in the dishwasher. Many people have unplanned collections of warped plastic dishes at the hands of their dishwashers.
Testing a dish’s heat conduction is also an easy and surefire way to establish whether it’s melamine or another material. This method is as simple as filling a plate or bowl with hot food or pouring fresh coffee into a cup. Then, feel the outside of the dish. Plastic, along with many other dinnerware materials, conducts heat quite quickly and effectively. In fact, you may even inadvertently end up testing the dish’s durability after touching it.
Melamine doesn’t conduct heat so readily. It’s more of an insulator than a conductor. Dishes made of this material will remain cool to the touch. Though you may eventually feel a little warmth radiating through them, they won’t reach the same scorching temperatures as other materials. They can help foods and drinks retain the desired temperatures for a while, though.
Obviously, ascertaining the longevity of different types of dinnerware takes time and patience. Still, it can be a decisive way to determine whether dishes are made of plastic or melamine. Even if they’re not exposed to extreme temperatures or harsh conditions, it doesn’t take plastic dishes long to start showing signs of wear and tear.
Plastic dishes’ protective finishes may start to peel or blister. They may develop small cracks or warp over time due to repeated stints in the microwave or dishwasher. Sometimes, they even begin to lose their shape simply because their molecules start to break down.
Melamine dishes are made to withstand constant use. They won’t peel or chip. They won’t easily scratch, and their surfaces won’t start to look dull after only a few uses. Melamine dinnerware won’t gradually lose its shape and stability after several cycles in the dishwasher. It can be dropped; tossed onto other dishes; battered by utensils and cabinet doors; and subjected to other types of abuse without being damaged.
Furthermore, certain types of dinnerware, including plastic, take on stains over time. Their protective finishes gradually break down, exposing the porous materials underneath. That allows foods and beverages to leech into the dishes. Melamine doesn’t stain, so if the dishes in question maintain their color, they’re most likely authentic.
Getting the Genuine Article
Melamine dinnerware is in high demand right now because of all the benefits it brings to the table. Plenty of imposters are out there, though, and it’s not always easy to distinguish those from the genuine article. Those previously mentioned points can help.
Plastic dishes conduct heat and melt when exposed to flames or extremely high temperatures. They’re thinner than melamine, and they generally bend or snap under pressure. At the same time, they don’t hold up well to repeated use. In contrast, melamine is tough. It doesn’t melt, bend, break, or quickly wear out, and it remains cool to the touch even when holding hot foods or beverages.