A roll of aluminium foil

Aluminium foil (or aluminum foil in American English; occasionally called tin foil) is aluminium prepared in thin metal leaves. The foil is pliable and can be readily bent or wrapped around objects. Thin foils are fragile and are sometimes laminated with other materials such as plastics or paper to make them stronger and more useful.

Annual production of aluminium foil was approximately 850,000 tonnes (940,000 tons) in Europe in 2014,[1] and 600,000 tonnes (660,000 tons) in the U.S. in 2003.[2] Approximately 75% of aluminium foil is used for packaging of foods, cosmetics, and chemical products, and 25% is used for industrial applications (e.g., thermal insulation, electrical cables, and electronics).[2] It can be easily recycled.

Aluminium foil supplanted tin foil in the mid 20th century. In the United Kingdom and United States it is often informally called "tin foil", just as steel cans are often still called "tin cans". Metallised films are sometimes mistaken for aluminium foil, but are actually polymer films coated with a thin layer of aluminium.



Foil made from a thin leaf of tin was commercially available before its aluminium counterpart. Tin foil was marketed commercially from the late nineteenth into the early twentieth century. The term "tin foil" survives in the English language as a term for the newer aluminium foil. Tin foil is less malleable than aluminium foil and tends to give a slight tin taste to food wrapped in it. Tin foil has been supplanted by aluminium and other materials for wrapping food.[3]

The first audio recordings on phonograph cylinders were made on tin foil.[4]


Tin was first replaced by aluminium in 1910, when the first aluminium foil rolling plant, Dr. Lauber, Neher & Cie. was opened in Emmishofen, Switzerland. The plant, owned by J. G. Neher & Sons, the aluminium manufacturers, was founded in 1886 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, at the foot of the Rhine Falls, whose energy powered the process. In December 1907, Neher's sons, along with Dr. Lauber, had invented the endless rolling process, by which they discovered that aluminium foil could be used as a protective barrier.[5]

In 1911, Bern-based Tobler began wrapping its chocolate bars in aluminium foil, including the unique triangular chocolate bar, Toblerone.[6]

The first use of foil in the United States was in 1913 for wrapping Life Savers, candy bars, and gum.[7]


Microscopic close-up of aluminium foil on the back of an intumescent rubber strip

Aluminium foil has a thickness less than 0.2 mm (7.9 mils); thinner gauges down to 6 micrometres (0.24 mils) are also commonly used.[8] Standard household foil is typically 0.016 mm (0.63 mils) thick, and heavy-duty household foil is typically 0.024 mm (0.94 mils)

Foil may have a non-stick coating on only one side.[9]

Although aluminium is non-magnetic, it is a good conductor, so even a thin sheet reflects almost all of an incident electric wave. At frequencies more than 100 MHz, the transmitted electric field is attenuated by more than 80 decibels (dB), that is less than 10−8 = 0.00000001 of the power gets through.[10]

Thin sheets of aluminium are not very effective at attenuating low-frequency magnetic fields. The shielding effectiveness is dependent upon the skin depth. A field travelling through one skin depth will lose about 63% of its energy (it is attenuated to 1/e = 1/2.718... of its original energy). Thin shields also have internal reflections that reduce the shielding effectiveness.[11]


A roll of aluminium foil, with micrometer showing a thickness of 13 μm (0.5 mils)

See also: Rolling (metalworking)

The continuous casting method is much less energy-intensive and has become the preferred process.[12] It is difficult to produce rollers with a gap fine enough to cope with the foil gauge, and to avoid this, as well as reducing tearing, increasing production rates, and controlling thickness,[13] for the final pass when producing thicknesses below 0.025 mm (1 mil), two sheets are rolled at the same time, doubling the thickness of the gauge at entry to the rollers. After the rollers, the two sheets are separated, which produces foil with one shiny side and one matte side.

The two sides in contact with each other are matte, and the exterior sides become shiny. The reflectivity of dull aluminium foil is 80%, while shiny embossed foil reflects about 88%.[7] The difference in thermal properties between the two sides is imperceptible without instrumentation. By Kirchhoff's law radiation, increased reflectivity decreases both absorption and emission of radiation.


Candies in aluminium foil packaging

Aluminium foil is widely sold into the consumer market, often in rolls of 500 mm (20 in) width and several metres in length.[14]

Aluminium foil is also used for barbecuing delicate foods.[15]

As with all metallic items, aluminium foil reacts to being placed in a microwave oven. This is because of the electromagnetic fields of the microwaves inducing electric currents in the foil and high potentials at the sharp points of the foil sheet; if the potential is sufficiently high, it will cause electric arcing to areas with lower potential, even to the air surrounding the sheet. Modern microwave ovens have been designed to prevent damage to the cavity magnetron tube from microwave energy reflection, and aluminium packages designed for microwave heating are available.[16]

Environmental issues

See also: Aluminium recycling

Some aluminium foil products can be recycled at around 5% of the original energy cost.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "Statistics". Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Foil & Packaging". Archived 2007-12-27 at the Wayback Machine. The Aluminum Association (USA).
  3. ^ Berger, Kenneth R. (December 2002). "A Brief History of Packaging". University of Florida. Archived from the original on 9 September 2014. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  4. ^ Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, UCSB (16 November 2005). "Tinfoil Recordings" (web page). Cylinder Recordings: A Primer. University of California at Santa Barbara. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  5. ^ Mary Bellis (2012-04-09). "Charles Martin Hall: The History of Aluminum". Inventors.about.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  6. ^ "History". Archived from the original on 2015-05-12.
  7. ^ a b Hanlon, J. (1992). 1st ed. Handbook of Package Engineering, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Technomic Publishing: ISBN 0-87762-924-2. Chapter 3: Films and Foils.
  8. ^ "Facts about aluminium foil". Archived from the original on 2016-03-25. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-10-21. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
  10. ^ Ott, Henry (1976), Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems, Wiley Interscience, ISBN 0-471-65726-3. Ott (1976, figure 6-13) graphs reflection loss for copper and shows electric field and plane wave losses at greater than 90 dB.
  11. ^ Ott 1976, pp. 155–156.
  12. ^ Robertson, G. (2006). 2nd ed. Food Packaging, Principles and Practise, Boca Raton, FL, Taylor & Francis Group: ISBN 0-8493-3775-5. Chapter 7: Metal Packaging Materials.
  13. ^ Degarmo, E. Paul; Black, J. T.; Kohser, Ronald A. (2003). Materials and Processes in Manufacturing (9th ed.). Wiley. p. 386. ISBN 0-471-65653-4.
  14. ^ Examples of products Archived 2008-12-18 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Said, Olivier; MikeC, Chef (2011-11-22). Kitchen on Fire!: Mastering the Art of Cooking in 12 Weeks (or Less). Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780738214535. Archived from the original on 2017-10-22.
  16. ^ Huss, G. (1997) Microwaveable Packaging and Dual-Ovenable Materials in The Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, 2nd ed., edited by Brody, A. and Marsch, K. New York, John Wiley and Sons
  17. ^ Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. "Action Plan, page 5, table 2: 4.2 vs. 0.19". Archived from the original on 2009-04-06. Retrieved 2009-04-24.