What Are the Pros and Cons of Heat Shrink and Cold Shrink Tubing?

By: CableOrganizer®

Are you looking to protect wire harnesses? Heat shrink and cold shrink are two different product types that safeguard cables from damage, chemicals, moisture, and other threats. Each can provide strain relief, wire identification, and vibration damping to lessen wear and tear on wires.

With heat shrink and cold shrink each capable of accomplishing many of these protective tasks and more, the next question you should ask yourself is…which one you should choose. Your answer will likely depend on your preference, installation requirements, available tools, and particular needs for your wiring application.

Before exploring the pros and cons of working with one or the other, CableOrganizer® will break down some of the history and basics of each.

Heat shrink tubing was invented at Raychem® in the 1950s when scientists discovered “shrink memory” in thermoplastics. They found stretched tubing could revert to its “recovered” or original size with heat, to tightly fit on and seal the ends of electrical wiring. This is because of covalent bonds that form in polymers like polyolefin. These bonds create “memory,” which causes the plastic to shrink to its initial dimensions after it is cured with a heated tool like a heat gun.

3M® developed cold shrink during the 1950s when scientists created it as a heat shrink substitute. It differs in that no heat is required to activate cold shrink. Yet it still safeguards wires, tolerates temperature fluctuations, and holds up against dampness. This silicone rubber or tubing of other rubber material adheres to harnesses once its core is removed.

Below are some of the distinctions between heat shrink and cold shrink, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using one versus the other.


heat shrink
  • • Installs easily with a heat gun or similar heating tool.
  • • Can take an extraordinary amount of time to install in some settings if harnesses are complex or there are several of them.
  • • Is available in a generous array of sizes, colors, and materials.
  • • Works for numerous applications because of its versatility and types.
  • • Can be used for color coding, wire identification, electrical insulation, sealing wires, and more.
  • • Is ideal for electrical insulation because of its abilities to safeguard against short circuits, shocks, and liquids. Heat shrink maintains electricity’s stability.
  • • May be used in electronics, automotive, and aerospace applications, as well as many others.
  • • Is especially known for its protective qualities against moisture, dirt, abrasion, UV radiation, and environmental factors.
  • • Can offer better heat protection than cold shrink.
  • • Gives wires a professional appearance because it fully seals around them.
  • • Can have its size adjusted after installation.
  • • Has staying power, which is a pro. A con, however is, it is difficult to remove, should a modification need to be made to the harness it is protecting. Attempting to take off heat shrink after it is applied could damage the wires underneath.


cold shrink
  • • Installs easily without heat, which is a pro in circumstances where a heat gun cannot safely or easily be used.
  • • Is convenient to use, with no tools required — simply take out its center piece.
  • • Is available in numerous sizes but not as many as heat shrink. Cold shrink additionally does not come in as many colors or material choices as heat shrink does.
  • • Is used in power distribution, construction, electrical insulation, and telecommunications, among its roles.
  • • Shields wires and cables from abrasion, dust, UV radiation, moisture, and other threats.
  • • Does not require heat during the installation process, which can mitigate damage to cables in some applications. This could occur if using heat shrink, such as with delicate electronics.
  • • May be incompatible and not firmly fit some wire types and connectors, especially irregularly shaped ones.
  • • Does not have the same sealing power as heat shrink, with its appearance not as streamlined.
  • • Cannot be readjusted like heat shrink if it is not correctly sized because it is pre-stretched — a whole new piece is needed.
  • • Can likely be reused, which makes cold shrink convenient if a modification is required.

Now that you’ve learned about their pros and cons, shop for heat shrink or cold shrink at CableOrganizer® today.

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