Perlite softens when it reaches temperatures of 850–900 °C (1,560–1,650 °F). Water trapped in the structure of the material vaporises and escapes, and this causes the expansion of the material to 7–16 times its original volume. The expanded material is a brilliant white, due to the reflectivity of the trapped bubbles. Unexpanded ("raw") perlite has a bulk density around 1100 kg/m3 (1.1 g/cm3), while typical expanded perlite has a bulk density of about 30–150 kg/m3 (0.03-0.150 g/cm3).
Because of its low density, many commercial applications for perlite have developed. In the construction and manufacturing fields, it is used in lightweight plasters, concrete and mortar (masonry), insulation and ceiling tiles. In horticulture, perlite can be used as a soil amendment or alone as a medium for hydroponics or for starting cuttings. When used as an amendment it has high permeability / low water retention and helps prevent soil compaction. Perlite is an excellent filtration aid and is used extensively as an alternative to diatomaceous earth. The popularity of perlite usage as a filter medium is growing considerably worldwide. Perlite filters are fairly commonplace in filtering beer before it is bottled.
Small quantities of perlite are also used in foundries, cryogenic insulation, and in ceramics as a clay additive. It is also used by the explosives industry. Due to thermal and mechanical stability, non-toxicity, and high resistance against microbial attacks and organic solvents, perlite is widely used in biotechnological applications. Perlite was found to be an excellent support for immobilization of biocatalysts such as enzymes for bioremediation and sensing applications.