Tempered or toughened glass is a type of safety glass processed by controlled thermal or chemical treatments to increase its strength compared with normal glass. Tempering puts the outer surfaces into compression and the interior into tension. Such stresses cause the glass, when broken, to crumble into small granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards as plate glass (a.k.a. annealed glass) does. The granular chunks are less likely to cause injury.
As a result of its safety and strength, tempered glass is used in a variety of demanding applications, including passenger vehicle windows, shower doors, architectural glass doors and tables, refrigerator trays, mobile screen protectors, as a component of bulletproof glass, for diving masks, and various types of plates and cookware.
Tempered glass is physically and thermally stronger than normal glass. The greater contraction of the inner layer during manufacturing induces compressive stresses in the surface of the glass balanced by tensile stresses in the body of the glass. For glass to be considered tempered, this compressive stress on the surface of the glass should be a minimum of 69 megapascals (10,000 psi). For it to be considered safety glass, the surface compressive stress should exceed 100 megapascals (15,000 psi). As a result of the increased surface stress, if the glass is ever broken it only breaks into small circular pieces as opposed to sharp jagged shards. This characteristic makes tempered glass safe for high-pressure and explosion proof applications.
It is this compressive stress that gives the tempered glass increased strength. This is because annealed glass, which has almost no internal stress, usually forms microscopic surface cracks, and in the absence of surface compression, any applied tension to the glass causes tension at the surface, which can drive crack propagation. Once a crack starts propagating, tension is further concentrated at the tip of the crack, causing it to propagate at the speed of sound in the material. Consequently, annealed glass is fragile and breaks into irregular and sharp pieces.
Any cutting or grinding must be done prior to tempering. Cutting, grinding, and sharp impacts after tempering will cause the glass to fracture.
The strain pattern resulting from tempering can be observed by viewing through an optical polarizer, such as a pair of polarizing sunglasses.
Police van with screen protector
Tempered glass is used when strength, thermal resistance, and safety are important considerations. Passenger vehicles, for example, have all three requirements. Since they are stored outdoors, they are subject to constant heating and cooling as well as dramatic temperature changes throughout the year. Moreover, they must withstand small impacts from road debris such as stones as well as automobile accidents. Because large, sharp glass shards would present additional and unacceptable danger to passengers, tempered glass is used so that if broken, the pieces are blunt and mostly harmless. The windscreen or windshield is instead made of laminated glass, which will not shatter into pieces when broken while side windows and the rear windshield are typically tempered glass.
Other typical applications of tempered glass include:
Tempered glass is also used in buildings for unframed assemblies (such as frameless glass doors), structurally loaded applications, and any other application that would become dangerous in the event of human impact. Tempered and heat strengthened glass can be three to seven times stronger than annealed glass. Building codes in the United States require tempered or laminated glass in several situations including some skylights, near doorways and stairways, large windows, windows which extend close to floor level, sliding doors, elevators, fire department access panels, and near swimming pools.
Tempered glass is also used in the home. Some common household furniture and appliances that use tempered glass are frameless shower doors, glass table tops, replacement glass, glass shelves, cabinet glass and glass for fireplaces.