I have some old computer case parts made of ABS plastic. Two decades of storage has embrittled the plastic to the point where they easily crack or shatter with the slightest bend.

What is going on chemically that's causing the plastic to become brittle. Is there anything that can be done to reverse it?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is an increasing problem of conservation problem, too. Getty is just one of the collections and museums addressing this (brief overview, or spring 2014 edition about their conservation newsletters) to the non-specialists in the field. $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if it's possible to impregnate plasticizers into plastic under high pressure and possible heat below the melting point of plastic. $\endgroup$
    – user148298
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ I have had many Nalgene water bottles explode because of this brittleness. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, there is not too much to do. The original ABS substance is a copolymer made of acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene. It is rather hard and brittle. To make it softer, some proportion of a plasticizer has to be added when it's hot and malleable. In the last century, the plasticizer was in general dinonylphthalate. It works well, but it is a bit volatile. So after a couple of years, the plasticizer gets evaporated, and the polymer becomes brittle again. This "illness" can only be cured by remelting the plastic and adding some new dinonylphthalate. Today better plasticizers have been discovered that are not so volatile.


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