Clear glass is all the same, right?
Clear glass may seem like a catch-all term for glass sheets that are colorless and transparent. Conversationally, the broad term usually works.
However, there are some glasses that are clearer than others. And that’s where there’s some confusion.
One of the biggest misuses of the blanket term is when describing low-iron glass vs. clear glass.
While both commercial glass types are clear, they serve distinct purposes and have stark differences.
6 FAQs About Low-Iron Glass vs Clear Glass
As two similar commercial glass types, there are often plenty of questions about what makes each different and their characteristics. We’ve compiled a list of the five most common questions regarding low-iron glass vs. clear glass.
1. What Is Low-Iron Glass & How’s It Different From Clear Glass?
Let’s start with the standard.
Clear glass is what you’ll find in windows and commercial doors. Also known as annealed or standard glass, it’s one of the most common commercial glass types. Standard, clear glass is made by combining soda ash, lime, and sand and heating the materials until they become molten. The superheated mixture is then shaped and cooled.
Low-iron glass is one of the clearest glasses on the market. Made using silica with nominal iron content, low-iron glass is manufactured through the exact same heating and shaping process as clear glass.
So what’s the difference between low-iron vs clear glass? Color and transparency.
- Color: With trace amounts of iron, low-iron glass is colorless. Unlike standard clear glass, low-iron glass maintains its clarity no matter how thick a piece is when viewed straight on. When looking at a sheet’s edges, there’s a faint, bluish tone, which is overcome by colors around the piece, such as shower tile. In clear glass pieces, a greenish tint becomes more pronounced the thicker a sheet is.
- Transparency: As a glass with almost no impurities, low-iron glass does not hinder light from passing through it. Compared to clear glass, low-iron glass improves light brightness by up to 8%.
2. Is Low-Iron Glass Colorless?
While we covered this in the last section, it’s worth digging into a little more as it’s one of the most common questions.
When viewed straight on, low-iron glass does have a colorless appearance. Its edge has a slightly bluish tint when viewed from the side that does not change, no matter how thick a pane is. Low-iron glass edges pick up the color of objects around it, such as bathroom tile. Consider this when comparing a small sample piece in a showroom to the finished product when it's installed.
3. Is Low-Iron Glass Stronger?
While made from different materials, low-iron glass and clear glass have about the same strength. With additional fabrication, both commercial glass types easily withstand heavy, blunt impacts.
Through the tempering process, glass sheets become up to 5x stronger. What’s more, tempered glass panes improve safety when broken. Should a low-iron tempered glass pane shatter, it breaks into small, pebble-like pieces rather than jagged shards.
Learn more about the tempering process:
When used in laminated pieces, clear and low-iron glass also resist breaking, but not through improved strength. Laminated glass is made by bonding two glass plies to a clear vinyl interlayer. When broken, glass shards stay in place because the bond to the middle layer doesn’t allow pieces to fall out of the unit.
4. Is Standard Glass More Scratch Resistant?
On this front, clear glass takes the cake. Low-iron glass is manufactured with silica and tends to be slightly less scratch resistant than clear glass. That’s not to say clear glass is immune to scratches through normal use -- it indeed can be scratched.
By covering low-iron or clear glass in special coatings, both glasses are protected from scratches and additional damage. Talk to your commercial glass manufacturer about protective coating options for your investment in glass.
5. Low-Iron Vs. Clear Glass: Which Is More Expensive?
Because it’s a specialty product made from a unique material, low-iron glass costs more. It’s 20-30% more expensive.
Think of it like buying a car. The luxury edition -- which boasts more features and is a better-quality vehicle -- is always more expensive than the base model.
6. Where Do I Use Low-Iron Glass?
Clear glass and low-iron glass fill many of the same applications -- for instance, they’re both popular types of commercial window glass.
However, low-iron glass is ideal for projects where clarity matters most, such as interior design, where glass shouldn’t impede views or obstruct the brilliance of color in a space.
Low-iron glass is ideal for:
- Custom shower enclosures
- Display cases
- Glass walls
- Merchandising windows
- Tabletop covers
Low-Iron Glass vs Clear Glass: The Differences Are Clear
While both commercial glasses may be referred to using the same terminology, it’s important to understand the difference between low-iron glass vs. clear glass. Being able to differentiate between the two -- especially when designing a project or placing an order -- ensures you’ll get the glass you need.
In addition to being fabricated for enhanced strength and durability, low-iron glass and clear glass can be cut to shape for your project.
Learn about our glass-shaping and cutting capabilities:
(Editor's note: This article was originally published March 2021 and was recently updated.)