Electrical Wire Heat Shrink Tubing: Why Use It?

FACTS CHECKED BY  Jose George​
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Electrical Wire Heat Shrink Tubing, Insulating an electrical wire with heat shrink tubing is becoming very common because it offers more benefits than other insulation methods. In general, it is a vital protective and organizational element in most electrical sets up. 

We’ll dig deeper into this and show why it may be the best option for your project. We also share how you can choose the right one for your project.

Table of Contents

What is Electrical Wire Heat Shrink Tubing?

Electrical wire heat shrink tubing is a hollow plastic tubing that shrinks when exposed to heat. This shrinking characteristic creates a protective layer when placed around an electrical wire. 

Thermoplastic tubing

Thermoplastic tubing

Heat Shrink Tubing Materials

Manufacturers produce this product from a wide range of materials. The material used depends on the intended application. Polyolefin is the most commonly used one.

However, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is increasingly becoming common as an affordable alternative. Other materials that may be used – but very rare, include fabric and Teflon. 

Polyolefin: Most manufacturers prefer polyolefin due to its flexibility, fast shrinking, high Ultraviolet (UV) light resistance, and excellent durability. Its high-temperature operation (125°C – 135°C) makes it a great choice for mechanical and industrial applications. 

PVC is another popular material for heat-shrink tubing if you are on a budget. It is affordable and easy to find but doesn’t have a strong temperature resistance like polyolefin.

Its temperature threshold is only 105°C. However, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) heat has better abrasion resistance and textile strength. 

Fabric: Not commonly used but can be a better option for a lower shrinking temperature than even PVC. It has a shrinking temperature of 80°C and shrinks lengthwise than any other material used in making these tubings. 

Teflon: You can also find some electrical wire tubing made of Teflon.

Especially the ones meant for applications that require a high-temperature operation. It is a great choice for industrial settings than a standard application. 

Fitting heat shrink tubing

Fitting heat shrink tubing

Benefits of Heat Shrink Tubing

Heat Shrink Tubing has a wide range of benefits, including:

Insulation and Protection

Heat shrink tubing insulates your electrical wire from external forces such as abrasion, sharp objects, moisture, and dust that might otherwise cause damage to the wire. It also protects your wire cables from contaminants, such as chemicals that may cause cable corrosion

Bundle Wires

You can also use this tubing in complex wires or cable webbing projects. Bundling wires can be challenging, especially when using a hefty electrical system. Heat shrink tubing is great for organizing cables and wires into easy-to-handle bundles. You can wrap it around individual wires or a group of connected cables. 

Add Aesthetic Value

They come in different colors for cable color coding, offering cosmetic enhancement. They have a smoother texture and finish that add a lot of aesthetic look to the cable. 

How is Heat Shrink Tubing Used?

Cut the heat shrink tubing to the required length first, then slide it over the wire cable to the required position. You should set the nonshrink tubing into the electric wire before you connect it. Then slide it to the area that needs protection once you connect your electric wire.  

Setting electrical wire heat shrink tubing in place

Setting electrical wire heat shrink tubing in place

You can use silicone lubricants to help you position the tubing if the fit is tight. Once in place, heat to shrink it into position firmly. 

They will contract differently depending on the shrink ratio of the material you use. For instance, a 5 mm diameter tubing with a shrink ratio of 2:1 shrinks by half (2.5mm) when sufficiently heated. 

Heating heat shrink tubing

Heating heat shrink tubing

Polyolefin Heat Shrink vs. PVC Heat Shrink

Polyolefin is the preferred material due to its high thermal resistance. It can withstand high temperatures in the 125°C-135°C range. Other advantages of polyolefin are its UV resistance and excellent durability. 

The main advantage of choosing PVC over polyolefin is cost. PVC usually costs 10% up to 60% less than polyolefin. 

PVC material also offers brighter, more vibrant color than polyolefin. So if you want heat-shrinking tubing with an aesthetic feel, those made from PVC are a great option. The best part, PVC offers you an opportunity to customize your color, something you cannot find in polyolefin. 

It can’t withstand temperature as much as polyolefin. However, this can be a great option if you operate in an environment with a continuous temperature of 105°C or less. 

Tips for Selecting the Right Type of Heat Shrink Tubing for Your Needs

Understand the Application

You must understand your application’s necessary needs to have the right pick. Some of the requirements that you need to meet include the following:

The sizing Requirement: The two main aspects you must consider when sizing are the wall’s diameter and thickness. For instance, if the tubing is going to experience abrasion or wear, you will choose the one with a thicker wall. 

Electrical Property Requirements: If you choose tubing to bundle electrical wires or for insulation, there are regulatory guidelines that it has to meet. Ensure you understand all the electrical requirements before you make a purchase. The guidelines usually cover basic electrical requirements such as flame resistance and dielectric length. 

Operating Environment: Understand the environment the tubing is going to operate. Is it going to be installed outdoors or indoors? Will it be in contact with oil, gasses, or fuel? Understanding your operating environment will help you choose the product that will withstand external forces. 

Heat Shrink Material

The common materials used to make these tubings are polyolefin and PVC. Choose the one made from polyolefin if you want a product with high thermal resistance.

PVC offers a great option for those who might be tight on budget. If you operate in an environment with a continuous temperature of 105°C or less, you can go for PVC. 

If you want heat-shrink tubing with more vibrant color, better abrasion resistance, and tensile strength, PVC material is a great choice.

However, there are still other materials, such as fabric and Teflon, each with unique qualities. For instance, the fabric offers the lowest shrinking temperature, while Teflon is good for high-temperature operation. 

Electrical Wire Heat Shrink FAQs

Why Use Heat Shrink Tubing?

Heat shrink tubings offer superior insulation and resistance to abrasion, moisture, and dust. They comprise materials that shrink in diameter on heating to provide a more secure sealing. 

How Much Does Heat Shrink Tubing Contract?

Different tubing has different shrinking capacities depending on the shrink ratio. For instance:

  • 2:1 will contract by half the original when subjected to heat.
  • 3:1 will be one-third the original size when subjected to heat. 
  • 4:1 will be one-quarter the original when subjected to heat. 

Can Heat Shrink Work When Cut?

Yes. To get the appropriate length for your project, sometimes you will have to cut it into pieces. That said, cutting your heat shrink will not cause any problems. 

Pieces of heat shrink tubing

Pieces of heat shrink tubing

Why Use Electrical Wire Heat Shrink Tubing: Final Verdict

Considering all the benefits mentioned above, you have more than enough reason to use electrical wire heat shrink tubing.

Excellent insulating properties, the ability to bundle cables, and aesthetic value are reasons for using this element. It is much better than electrical tape, hot glue, and other alternatives.