If you buy or sell healthcare furniture, at some point you may have asked questions such as, What is a PVC fabric? What is a PVC-free fabric? And why do I need to know?
Let us answer your last question first: because you’re a pro. No, c’mon, you are. And professionals must continue to learn, and that’s what you’re doing. Look at you: learning stuff and everything.
PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. There is some debate about the use of PVC. Claims have been made that it can lead to adverse health effects, and some end users have taken steps to limit its use. For example, ten years ago, Kaiser Permanente opted for PVC-free carpeting in all its facilities. So, a PVC-free fabric does not contain polyvinyl chloride. Now, your inquiring mind is asking, How do I identify fabrics that are PVC-free?
Identifying PVC-Free Fabrics
Look for fabrics made of polyurethane or PU. The popularity of Polyurethane as an upholstery material for healthcare applications is growing. That’s because PU is free of polyvinyl chloride. PU is also durable and supple; it breathes and has an attractive appearance.
And the environmental benefits of Polyurethane are many. It:
- Decomposes quicker than PVC
- Incinerates more safely
- Emits a lower level of VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
- It is phthalate-free (phthalates [pronounced thalates] are a group of chemicals added to plastics for flexibility and durability, aka plasticizers)
Not all PU is created equally
There are at least three kinds of Polyurethane fabrics: polycarbonate, polyether and polyester. For healthcare applications, look for PU made from polycarbonate resins. In fact, both the so-called skin and base layers of the PU should be made of polycarbonate resin.
Choose Polycarbonate PU for Healthcare Environments
Polycarbonate PU-based fabric offers the best stain resistance and cleanability. And it provides what is known as the highest hydrolysis resistance. Hydrolysis is the process by which humidity and heat degrade the cell structure of a PU, resulting in a flaking, brittle surface. (By the way, polyurethane is a polymer, and a polymer is many molecules strung together. The process of hydrolysis breaks the bonds between the molecules resulting in decay.) Even in a controlled healthcare environment, humidity and body heat can break down a poor-quality PU, over time. So, it’s wise to select a PU fabric with at least a 5-year hydrolysis rating.
Good to Know
PU is not the last word in healthcare fabrics, however. It isn’t as durable as vinyl (yet), and it’s more expensive. However, product development continues, and the durability of PU is going up and the prices are coming down.
For more, follow this link to a PowerPoint presentation from one of our suppliers, CF Stinson, that illustrates these points about Polyurethane fabrics in greater detail.