Glass: the different types, and which to choose
You may think that buying drinking glasses is purely an aesthetic choice. But if you live in an accident-prone household, or simply don’t fancy replacing your glasses ever again, you may be interested to know that this isn’t the case.
Drinking glasses don’t just come in a variety of designs - the material they’re made from can vary too. And whilst different kinds of glass may certainly look the same, some are much stronger than others. By choosing a trendy or cheap set of glasses, you might be missing out on some extra-strong ones that could last forever - and they won’t even cost you that much more.
So whether it’s your dishwasher, your toddler or your facetious cat who normally tries to smash your glasses, read on. We’ll be taking you through the toughest varieties of glass you’ll encounter in drinkware - and some brands to look out for.
Crystal glass? Make it Tritan Crystal
You probably know that crystal glass is a) sparkly, b) makes a nice ‘chime’ noise and c) is apparently fancier, but what exactly is it? The main difference is that crystal glass has a high mineral content (anywhere from 2-30%), and it’s these minerals that give the material extra strength. It means crystal drinking glasses can be made beautifully thin, but still remain strong.
The minerals in crystal glass can contain lead (yes, actual lead), or they can be lead-free - but both are considered perfectly safe. You should generally wash crystal glass by hand too, because the mineral glass may be slightly porous.
So - crystal glass is strong. But because we’re a little extra, we found super strong crystal glass: the Titan Crystal range. Tritan crystal is a unique, internationally patented material made by German glass manufacturers Schott Zwiesel. It has a complex mineral makeup (using no lead, with titanium and zirconium oxides instead), and it’s incredibly durable.
Schott Zwiesel’s Titan Crystal range is made to a secret recipe. All the elegance of crystal glass, but tough and dishwasher safe.
The glasses are also tempered at weak points (the rim, the stem and the join), so they’re break-resistant to an impressive degree. So much so, that Titan Crystal glasses are a favourite in high-end hotels and restaurants. They get thin, elegant crystal glassware, with durability that can withstand the rigours of a professional kitchen - and a dishwasher.
Speaking of tempering, what does that mean? Tempered glass - also known as toughened glass - usually starts off as regular soda-lime glass. But to improve its strength and resistance to thermal shock, it goes through a form of heat treatment. Tempering compresses the outer surface of the glass, putting the inside into a state of tension.
As well as being resistant to drops and thermal shock, this glass is safer to break. This is because instead of the sharp, jagged shards of untreated glass, it shatters into small granular chunks. Think of the last time you saw a smashed-up phone box, or a broken shower door.
Duralex glasses are all made of tempered glass. Their classic designs have been manufactured in their French factory since 1945.
Our range of glasses by Duralex are fully tempered. To make them, soft soda-lime glass is pressed into a mould and left to cool - and most manufacturers end the process there. But Duralex glasses are then reheated to 700°C, before being rapidly cooled again by jets of air. This creates the inner stress that’s the secret to their strength.
It’s likely you’ve used these elegant French tumblers in all sorts of cafes and restaurants without even realising it. They’re the kind of invisible design icons that we don’t even notice, because they’re so ubiquitous and well-designed.
Pyrex products are also made of tempered glass - at least the ones made after 1980. Before that, they were made of something else…
Borosilicate glass can withstand extreme temperature changes (more than tempered glass) - at differentials of about 165 °C. It’s also stronger and harder than regular soda-lime glass. You’ve probably encountered borosilicate glass before, in the form of Pyrex products.
The secret lies in the boron trioxide content. This ingredient stops the glass from expanding with heat, so it doesn’t crack from thermal shock. This is why you don’t think twice about pouring boiling water into a Pyrex jug, or baking a lasagna in a Pyrex pan.
As well as Pyrex products, borosilicate glass can be found under other brand names in the form of glass teapots, glass mugs and glass cafetieres, as well as bakeware. However, lab equipment (such as test tubes) is the main way borosilicate glass is used today.
Borosilicate glass has even higher resistance to thermal shock. But compared to tempered glass, it’s relatively expensive to produce - and less drop-resistant.
Borosilicate glass is more expensive than regular glass, so you’ll often find that heat-resistant glass products are made of tempered glass instead. Interestingly, in the USA, Pyrex products have been made of tempered glass instead of borosilicate since the 1980s.
But is borosilicate better than tempered soda-lime glass? Well, borosilicate glass can withstand more extreme temperature shocks than tempered glass, but in a normal kitchen setting, tempered glass holds up just fine. Plus, tempered glass is less likely to break than borosilicate glass if you drop it.
Regular glass (soda-lime)
Most of the glass in your home is what’s called soda-lime glass, which accounts for 90% of manufactured glass. And we have to say, even amongst these other glass types, it’s still a pretty amazing material. It looks great, it's hard and scratch-resistant, and if you manage not to drop it, it can last a lifetime. Plus, it’s very cheap.
But there are a couple of things you should bear in mind when buying drinkware made of normal glass. The main one is glass thickness. Whilst very thin-walled glasses may look elegant, they’re going to break very easily. We use drinking glasses multiple times a day, and you don’t want to have to baby them. A fairly thick, sturdy glass is far more likely to survive the odd knock and draining rack tumble.
Be careful with choosing coloured glass - these tumblers are coated in a coloured film that will eventually peel. The colours in our Marine, Sapphire and Grey glasses, on the other hand, are within the glass itself.
The second thing is decoration. If you’ve got your eye on some coloured or patterned drinking glasses, make sure the decoration is intrinsic to the material. By that, we mean the glass itself should be coloured, instead of having a layer printed on top, or a coloured film. Etching, frosting or engraving are also good, permanent decoration methods.
Our top picks - wine glasses
Belfesta Crystal Red Wine Glasses, Pack of 6
Made from Schott Zwiesel's Tritan crystal, these elegant wine glasses bring both durability and clarity. Whilst the shape may look beautifully delicate, the super-strong crystal glass is also tempered at weak points for outstanding strength. Plus, that wide-angled bowl is the perfect shape to aerate a glass of red.
Vina Crystal Stemless Wine Glasses, Pack of 6
We love a stemless wine glass - for the accident-prone, tall wine glasses are just asking for trouble. Also made of Schott Zwiesel’s outstanding Tritan crystal glass, these stemless glasses are light, durable and dishwasher resistant.
Our top picks - tumblers
Manhattan Glass Whisky Tumblers, Pack of 6
Our bestselling Duralex tumblers have a retro design that’s perfect for housing a Manhattan or knocking back a short, neat drink. Made in France from sturdy tempered glass, they can survive knocks, drops and thermal shock.
Belfesta Crystal Hi Ball Glasses, Pack of 6
If you’re after a more contemporary shape, you won’t do better than these crystal tumblers - made of Schott Zwiesel’s Tritan super-tough crystal glass. Durable, sparkling and dishwasher resistant, they’re perfect for sipping any drink, from smoothies to highball cocktails.
Need a new set of drinking glasses? Check out our full range - from wine glasses and champagne flutes, to tumblers and glass mugs.Are you prone to breaking stuff? Read our list of long-lasting alternatives to repeat purchases.