Synthetic polymers are produced in different types of reactions. Many simple hydrocarbons, such as ethylene and propylene, can be transformed into polymers by adding one monomer after another to the growing chain. Polyethylene, composed of repeating ethylene monomers, is an addition polymer. It may have as many as 10,000 monomers joined in long coiled chains. Polyethylene is crystalline, translucent, and thermoplastic—i.e., it softens when heated. It is used for coatings, packaging, molded parts, and the manufacture of bottles and containers. Polypropylene is also crystalline and thermoplastic but is harder than polyethylene. Its molecules may consist of from 50,000 to 200,000 monomers. This compound is used in the textile industry and to make molded objects.
Other addition polymers include polybutadiene, polyisoprene, and polychloroprene, which are all important in the manufacture of synthetic rubbers. Some polymers, such as polystyrene, are glassy and transparent at room temperature, as well as being thermoplastic. Polystyrene can be coloured any shade and is used in the manufacture of toys and other plastic objects.