Aerosol Spray Cans – A Growing Viable Packaging Container Segment

Posted on 8/5/2013 10:34:09 AM By Jeff Timm

When one thinks of packaging materials usually paper, plastic, corrugated, foil, folding cartons, aluminum/steel cans and glass come to mind.  However one subset of aluminum/steel cans --aerosol spray cans -- is still very much a part of the packaging container materials market.  According to The Plain Man’s Guide to Aerosols by Colin Wesley the word “aerosol” refers to:

"An integral ready-to-use package incorporating a valve and a product which is dispensed by pre-stored pressure in a controlled manner when the valve is operated."

 Commonly defined aerosols are simply a gaseous suspension of fine solid or liquid particles.  This includes clouds, haze and fog.  

aerosol can, packaging, packaging aerosol

Source:  The Aerosol Products Division of the Consumer Specialty Products Association 

The first spray patents were issued in Europe and the USA in 1920s and 1930s respectively.  The concept first took off during World War II.  The design was a refillable spray can called the "bug bomb" pressurized by liquefied gas, which gave it propellant qualities. The small, portable can enabled soldiers serving in the Pacific during the war to defend against malaria-carrying   mosquitoes by spraying inside tents and airplanes.

Today aerosol spray cans are most commonly lacquered tinplate (steel with a layer of tin) and may be made of two or three pieces of metal crimped together.  More than 75% of aerosol cans are steel.  Aluminum cans are also common and are generally used for more expensive products. 

The Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) conducts and publishes the Aerosol Pressurized Products Survey annually the most recent being in 2012.  Study results confirm that for the third consecutive year U.S. aerosol product production increased, setting a new record high with more than 3.815 billion total units filled.  The addition of 33 million more units filled, a 0.9% increase over the previous year, contributed to setting a new high mark for aerosol production in the United States.  When Canadian and Mexican production are included the combined North American aerosol product fillings totaled 4.375 billion units in 2012.

CSPA study highlights include:

  • Household products continue to rank as the largest product category – 29% of all products, with a production increase of 2.8% over 2011
  • Animal aerosol products, a small category which includes pesticides and grooming products that are used or sprayed directly on animals, showed the greatest percent gain with a 31% increase in production
  • Automotive, lubricant and industrial products increased for the second straight year, climbing 0.5% from last year
  • Fillings also increased during 2012 for insect sprays, paints and finishes, food products and miscellaneous products
  • Room deodorants and disinfectants (in the household products category) was the largest subcategory reported by fillers
  • Production of personal care products, the second largest product category (25.3%) fell 4.7% from last year

When asked to comment on the state of the aerosol container industry Fred Spohr VP & Secretary of the Southern Aerosol Technical Association said “several news articles and published information indicate domestic aerosol container growth in the USA to be fairly stagnant overall, but segments within the industry are growing double-digit like animal aerosol products.  The North American picture, however, is showing impressive higher than GNP growth year over year when one looks at Canada and Mexico.  Challenges continue to face the industry with California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California South Coast Air Quality Management District continuing to attempt to tighten regulations, VOC limits, etc.  Opportunities from technical innovations like introduction of new lower global warming potential propellant and advances in barrier packaging technology and usage will insure sustainable growth for the foreseeable future."

Benefits of Aerosol Packaging Containers:

The benefits of aerosol packaging are fairly obvious:

  • Technology delivers precise amounts of product to an exact area, eliminating waste
  • Spill-proof
  • Hermetically sealed, meaning no air gets in and no air gets out, like a vacuum, allowing cans to possess a long shelf life
  • One step - no mixing 
  • Push-button – continuous spray with just the touch of a button, no repeat pumping required
  • Enabling technology - some products would not be possible without aerosol technology such as shaving cream, insecticides and asthma inhalers 
  • Extra hand - delivery to hard-to-reach areas, nooks and crannies

An excellent demonstrative example of these benefits is an aerosol spray adhesive for PVC pipe which was developed by Future Tools - Diversified Products & Research and is being distributed by Jones Stephens utilizing five of the seven above attributes.  Watch here.

Recycling Aerosol Spray Cans

steel, recycling steel, steel recycle

Source: Steel Recycling Institute logo

Aerosol containers are mostly made of the aforementioned lacquered tinplate steel and are easy to recycle. According to the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI), approximately 19 billion steel cans (aerosol as well as other types) are recycled per year.  Thousands of communities across the nation already recycle steel along with aluminum, paper, and plastic.  More than 5,200 municipalities include steel aerosol cans in their recycling programs, serving more than 100 million people according to the SRI.  Details on local community acceptance of aerosol can recycling can be found by visiting  Note:  Aerosol cans must be empty before they can be recycled and some municipalities require the cans be punctured before being recycled.

The aerosol industry through CSPA is taking on the following initiatives to promote further recycling efforts and to assure their viability.

  • Assure that sufficient data exists on recycling availability to justify unqualified claim to “Please Recycle When Empty”
  • Standardize recycling logos and claims
  • Promote product labeling in compliance with FTC Green Guides and assure recycle claims are meaningful to consumers
  • Provide CAPCO with Information to promote consumer awareness
  • Increase acceptance in curbside recycling programs

Aerosol Container Manufacturing:

For a look at how aluminum aerosol cans are manufactured please view these two Power Point™ presentations:

Aluminum Can Making Process

Aluminum Impact Extrusion Can Making

Final Thoughts:

It is clear that aerosol cans play an integral role in certain niche aspects of the packaging industry.  They continue to provide specific functionality that only spray technology can provide. Finally, it must be noted that aerosol spray cans are decorated by painting or with wrap around PSA or non-PSA hot melt or water-based adhered film or paper labels. This is certainly not a packaging segment to be overlooked by the label industry!

Note:  The Adhesives & Sealant Council (ASC) is an Alliance for Responsible Regulation partner with CSPA.

Related Links:

Consumer Aerosol Products Council (CAPCO)

Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA)

CSPA Aerosol Pressurized Products Survey

The Aerosol Products Division of the Consumer Specialty Products Association

Steel Recycling Institute

Earth 911

Southern Aerosol Technical Association (SATA)

California Air Resources Board (CARB)

California South Coast Air Quality Management District

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