We hear this a lot. It’s an odd material, looks like plastic, has the strength of cast iron and the absorbency of a nice cotton towel.
You read that right, a cotton towel. A phenolic wheel, or phenolic anything for that matter, is made pretty simply: take shredded denim, add phenolic resin, press and cure. This creates a few problems, most notably the cotton towel thing. Cotton is hydrophilic, meaning, in a literal sense, it loves water. Phenolic is hard and brittle, just like cast iron. So when the wheel rolls across the ground, it cracks a little bit. Expose it to moisture and it will suck up water through the cracks.
This is especially problematic for operations where hygienic conditions are a must, like food production. Phenolic wheels, when they absorb the water, also absorb all the floating microbes. The cotton on the inside becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. So now, as the wheel passes across an unprotected floor, the bacteria come back out, and thus contamination.
So, the question is, how do you get around phenolic? It’s cheap, it’s relatively durable, and carries a heavy load. There is no easy answer.
We still sell a lot of phenolic wheels, but the numbers are fading away. Materials like Nylon and Polypropylene can carry almost as big of a load and do not have the problems with moisture. In heavier duty applications, more focus has been given to longevity than to acquisition cost, so polyurethane tread wheels (iron or aluminum core) have been slowly replacing them in some applications.
To consider your alternatives, check out our selection of casters.