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Material Toxicity List

Discussion in 'Tarantula Questions & Discussions' started by saminthemiddle, May 30, 2008.

  1. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    About a month ago someone on AB suggested that we should have a thread on safe, and unsafe, materials to put in invertebrate enclosures. It's a work in progress but here goes:

    Known Safe
    Known safe materials are materials that are believed to be safe and have a long history of successful use in the T hobby.

    Also known as Plexiglass this lightweight and clear material has enjoyed a long history of use in aquariums and tarantula enclosures. Used mostly for enclosure walls and water dishes.

    Completely inert as is the silicone sealant used to join them. Used mostly for enclosure walls and water dishes.

    HDPE & LDPE:
    High Density Polyethylene is a ridged, generally white, plastic usually found in sheets or in finished products. Low Density Polyethylene is the same as HDPE but flexible. It is considered food grade and is safe for use in enclosures. Almost all spray bottles are made out of this material.

    The material Rubbermaid containers and plastic shoe boxes ect... are made out of. Has a long history of safe use. Used mostly for enclosure walls.

    Polystyrene is a hard, clear plastic which can also sometimes be foamed to form Styrofoam. A staple plastic that can be found wherever the need for a clear plastic or dense foam can be found.

    Suspected Safe
    Materials in this section are believed to be perfectly safe but lack the long history of safe use that the "known safe" materials possess.

    Chrome, as in chromed steel. Intert and makes good, non-toxic rustproofing for steel. Not used at all in the hobby in any quantity.

    Often sold under the brand name Lexan. Clear thermoplastic that resembles acrylic but is much more impact resistant and much more expensive. Not a good material for use in the hobby as it scratches easily, however. Used mostly for enclosure walls.

    Stainless Steel:
    Stainless steel is an alloy of carbon steel and magnesium. It is inert and believed to be safe, as are it's component metals. Used in bolts and other fixtures. Note that steel and magnesium alone do not make good materials as steel rusts and magnesium burns.

    Vinyl is largely colorless. It and most of it's derivative chemicals are believed to be safe and are used frequently in a wide array of applications. Used in everything from fasteners to hides.

    Too little is known about these substances to make a determination one way or the other.

    Metallic aluminum is a silver colored metal. However, in an oxygen environment aluminum oxidizes and acquires a thin layer of aluminum oxide almost instantaneously rendering the metal anything from silver colored to light gray depending on the oxide crystals' size.

    Aluminum oxide is believed to be mildly insecticidal. However, the bond between the aluminum oxide crystals and the aluminum substrate is extremely strong so it is unlikely that any of the substance would leech into the substrate or the animal, especially if the oxide layer were hardened though anodization.

    Potentially Toxic:
    These are chemicals that are normally considered acceptable for habitat use but can become hazardous under certain circumstances. All of these materials should be soaked in warm distilled water for several days to minimize their risk.

    Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is a black thermoplastic sold primarily as black drain, vent, and sewer pipe. When cut ABS can release noticeable amounts of vapor. Some people use ABS pipes for spider hides but keepers should be advised to buy only pre-molded and uncut sections such as corner fittings, if it is to be used at all. Under no circumstances should this material be sawed or cut.

    Polyvinyl Chloride is a white thermoplastic sold primarily as white piping for irrigation water delivery applications. Normally considered safe, PVC is used widely for hides. However, when heated or cut PVC can potentially release very toxic fumes. Keepers should be advised to purchase pre-molded sections instead of cutting their own.

    Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride is a derivative of vanilla PVC. It is a grey thermoplastic usually sold as gray pipes for use in delivering drinking water. Not traditionally used in the hobby like PVC is, it likely exhibits the same properties and suffers the same faults as does standard PVC. Cutting may or may not release toxic vapor, so keepers are advised to buy their sections pre-molded and ready to use.

    Known Toxic:
    These are known to be toxic and should never be allowed in habitats. Be aware that this is not an extensive list and just because a material does not show up here does not make it safe.

    Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, both of which are extremely poisonous to insects. It is a dull golden color. It's most likely misuse would be as fasteners in the form of brass machine screws.

    Copper is a yellow metal often sold in wire or pipe form. It is extremely poisonous to invertebrates and should never be placed in an enclosure.

    A dull white metal that is poisonous to pretty much anything. Beware of it certain glass joints such as stained glass and glass boxes not meant for use with animals.

    A dull white alloy used in figurines and other knick-knacks. Highly poisonous.

    A shiny white metal that corrodes. Heavy metal toxicity.

    A dull white metal often found in certain cans. Toxic. Potentially misused as enclosure walls in the form of a misappropriated tin can.

    A white metal that is insecticidal to the extreme. Beware of zinc fasteners such as zinc bolts and screws! Unless you specifically buy fasteners made out of a different material the chances are they are made out of zinc.

    Special Caution:
    This section contains warnings about materials that may not be themselves toxic but still possess a risk to your animals.

    Glazed Ceramic:
    Most glazed ceramic is perfectly safe but some glazes are made out of extremely poisonous materials. Make sure the ceramic was designed for food and not ornamentation. Avoid bright colors if possible as these are more likely to contain toxic chemicals. Some glazes are even radioactive such as uranium glaze which is a dull orange.

    Woods are hard to clean so they need to be replaced if they begin to mold. Furthermore, certain woods contain insecticidal oils.

    This is a work in progress, please comment below if you would like to add a chemical or discuss the toxicity of something already on the list. Please, however, structural materials only. I will make a list of cleaning agents and bonding agents soon.
    Last edited: May 30, 2008
  2. Draiman

    Draiman Arachnoking

    I have to disagree with this - "Silver: A shiny white metal that corrodes easily. Heavy metal toxicity."

    As a chemistry student, I very well know that silver does not corrode in air. If it did, then silver jewellery would be worth nothing. Silver is a very unreactive metal. That is why it is found in its free form in nature. In short, silver does not react with gaseous oxygen in the atmosphere. Therefore, the statement "Silver is a shiny white metal that corrodes easily" is clearly inaccurate. Also, would you like to elaborate on the toxicity of silver? If silver was toxic, then we humans would not be wearing silver jewellery.
  3. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Then what do you call silver tarnish then? And it's a heavy metal which means it's poisonous if it gets in your bloodstream.
  4. Draiman

    Draiman Arachnoking

    You win on the toxicity part. But it is a fact that Silver, chemical symbol Ag, does not corrode in air. When you compare silver to other metals, you will realise that silver is one of only a few metals that are found in the free form in nature (2 other examples are gold and platinum).
  5. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Silver doesn't react with oxygen and I never said it DID react with oxygen. It reacts with sulfur in the air to give you silver sulfide.
  6. Draiman

    Draiman Arachnoking

    You said "silver corrodes easily". To corrode a metal is for the metal to react with another element. So to corrode EASILY means to react easily. However, silver does not react easily or readily. Stop making me reiterate my point. Silver does not readily react with other elements; hence it is wrong to state that silver "corrodes easily". Yes, silver can corrode, with sulphur in particular (like you said), but the word "easily" is way too much of an overstatement. SILVER'S LOW REACTIVITY IS THE REASON WHY SILVER IS FOUND IN ITS FREE FORM IN NATURE.
  7. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Does anyone actually have any comments pertaining to the toxicological properties of chemicals or their suitability for spider habitats?

    Honestly, this isn't the place to debate silver's reactivity or lack thereof.

    As for the toxicity of silver it's similar to the toxicity of copper. It's harmless on the outside but once it gets in you or in your water it's quite poisonous. So it stays on the "known toxic" list.
  8. Draiman

    Draiman Arachnoking

    I was simply trying to correct your statement that "silver corrodes easily".
  9. Skullptor

    Skullptor Arachnobaron

    HDPE & LDPE are safe. And the special caution section could run very long if you include the mis-use or mis-understanding of materials like you have.
  10. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Good point, forensics. I'll remove porous materials and foams. But glazed ceramics and wood need to stay.
  11. matthias

    matthias Arachnobaron

    I know copper is a base element in some insecticides. But I though spiders used it in their hemoliph for oxygen transfer like mammals use iron.

    Zink is toxic to most life forms but is fairly corrosion resistant. I would add the major source of zink would be galvanized steel.
  12. I use wood for some of my arboreal species (mostly cedar shingles). Never had problem with it.
  13. BurrowDweller

    BurrowDweller Arachnoknight Old Timer

    Anything made out of plastic will off gas when heated - be it by direct heating or being cut. Some will even off gas at room temp (they all do to some extent). Cut ABS is just as safe as cut PVC if you let it sit a while before putting it into a T cage. Most of my Ts have split ABS pipe for hides and have for years. They are doing fine, growing and reproducing. Just use common sense when using plastic. If it stinks don't put it into a bug cage. And even if it doesn't stink it is still slowly leeching chemicals.
  14. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron


    Copper is sometimes used in it's metallic state as an insecticide as well to which it can be quite effective. I believe the reason it is not used more in this application is simply the extremely high cost of copper.

    Zinc is more corrosion resistant then carbon steel but that's not saying much in the environment of a T enclosure. Buried in the ground or in 100% humidity it will almost certainly be leaching harmful levels of zinc into the environment that can, though chronic exposure, prove detrimental to the health of Ts. Fortunately you can buy stainless steel bolts for only an insignificant amount more money.


    Cedar is one of the woods that I'm warning against. In fact, it's so insecticidal that it's used commercially for control of moths.

    That section isn't there to say "all wood is bad" or "all glazed ceramic" is bad. It's just there to say that within that class of products there are some that are very dangerous.

    Please remove the cedar from your tanks.


    I changed the title of the section from "suspected toxic" to "possibly toxic." I just went into my storage bin and got a piece of ABS I cut for a hide almost a month ago and it still smells faintly. I think the fact remains that ABS leeches vapor above and beyond the levels of the other plastics on the list. Unless the ABS vapor can be conclusively established as safe I'm not comfortable with moving it into the safe category.


    Thanks for the input on HDPE and LDPE. Could you give me an example or two on where it is used it the hobby?
  15. Skullptor

    Skullptor Arachnobaron

    The only way I can think of it being used is for enclosures & water bottles.
    LDPE & HDPE both meet food handling guidelines; which are the same guidelines we determine it safe for humans.

    I don't use these. It is an example of the safe use of this plastic. I have used other blow-molded LDPE/HDPE for temporary enclosures.
  16. BurrowDweller

    BurrowDweller Arachnoknight Old Timer

    ABS definately does smell. PVC can be just as bad though, especially if cut with a power tool or heated. If you get PVC to the point of smoking (doesn't take much) it releases dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals on earth. Many consumer groups have even gone so far as to label PVC as the most harmful consumer product ever released into commerce (I don't think I would go that far).

    Cedar is definately bad for bugs, but it comes in varying degrees depending on the species of cedar. The cedar used for moth control and hope chests is mainly aromatic red cedar, the cedar found in the southeastern US. The post about using cedar shingles in arboreal enclosures came from Canada so it is most likely the cedar used was Northern White. Still very rot resistant but not near as aromatic as red cedar. I still wouldn't use it in a critter enclosure however!
  17. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Thanks BurrowDweller. I'll be updating the list to reflect the new information.

    About the PVC thing: I did not know that! What about CPVC? does that do the same thing when sawed? Also, does PVC release the toxens when cut with those bolt cutter like PVC pipe cutters?

    Edit: I just want everyone to know I really appreciate all the comments!
  18. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    I just checked around my house and found that all my squirt bottles are made out of HDPE and it hasn't poisoned my water yet! :p
  19. Thoth

    Thoth Arachnoprince Old Timer

    Few corrections. Polycarbonate's is sold as Lexan. Lucite is acrylic (PMMA).

    You will rarely find styrene (unreacted monomer of polystyrene) outside of a lab or industrial setting. Its a vicous liquid. So not really used in an enclosure at all. Polystyrene can come as clear hard plastic which some tupperware containers are made of (also petri dishes et c.); not only as styrofoam.

    Zinc is too soft to be used as fasteners, it used to coat nails and screws that are used for outdoor use to prevent rust (aka galvanized). Most fasteners for the most part are steel or iron.

    For woods, a general rule is to avoid pine and other softwoods and you should be relatively safe.

    Yes most heavy metals are toxic but there toxicity is based when they are ingested/inhaled and not necessarily in contact with them. So the warning while technically correct a little extreme.

    if you are extremely paranoid about compounds off gassing from plastics you can leach out these volatile compounds by soaking them in warm distilled water for several days. This will remove a majority of them (it is how in the lab they test for levels of these compounds)

    @ Matthias, yes copper is used as the core of their oxygen transport molecule. But that does not mean it can't be toxic as well. IT depends on the oxidization state of the copper.
  20. saminthemiddle

    saminthemiddle Arachnobaron

    Oooh, I knew it started with an L and I got my brand names mixed up. :eek:

    I probably should have been more clear about styrene referring to it's derivatives rather than styrene itself. I think I'm just going to remove it entirely form the list.

    All I know about zinc fasteners is that the one's that I usually buy at the hardware store say "zinc" on the little baggy they come in. They must be coated. It still serves to be very cautious and not just use fasteners that you just find laying around the garage.

    And thanks a million for that cleaning tip! I will certainly use that in the future.