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The Proper Use of Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is great fun after we've emptied the shipping container and thrown it away. Endless moments of bubble-popping fun await as we move down each row and squeeze the life out of this innocent piece of packing material. Yet this scenario begs two questions. First, if bubble wrap is so easy to pop, how can it be effective? Second, is there a proper way to use it?

The science of bubble wrap is based on the principles of energy transfer and surface area. We all learned in physics class that energy transfer occurs along the path of least resistance, whether we're talking about electrical current or a shock wave. The greater the area available for the energy to travel along, the faster it's disbursed and the less damaging it will be. With bubble wrap, all those little air-filled bubbles are designed to absorb the energy of a shock wave and disperse it to the other bubbles around it.

With that said, there is a proper way to use bubble wrap. For starters, the bubbles should always be on the inside. This is because the energy from a shock wave comes from the outside. That energy will hit the smooth plastic surface, and spread out quickly into the bubbles where it dissipates. If the bubbles are on the outside, any energy that makes it through a single bubble will transfer very easily through the smooth surface and right to the item its covering.

Lastly, contrary to what you might think, more bubble wrap is not always better. Avoid the temptation of wrapping items in multiple layers of bubble wrap. The effect of doing so is compression of the bubbles with each successive layer. When you compress the bubbles you reduce surface area and increase energy transfer which, in turn, is damaging.

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