PU vs PVC: What is the Difference?
by Greenhouse Fabrics on
Written by Melissa Wolck
Polyurethane (PU) or Polyvinylchloride (PVC)? Vinyl or faux leather? These names tend to be used interchangeably although they are inherently different. If you are having trouble deciding which coated fabric is the best option for your upholstery project, we are here to help! Of course, there are positive and negative characteristics of both of these materials making your final decision a little tricky. Let’s compare some of the important features of PUs and PVCs to help you make the best selection for your upholstery application.
Polyurethane (PU) is a composite material made of one or more layers of PU and a woven or non-woven textile backing such as bi-cast or ground leather. This fabric provides the most realistic imitation of leather when it comes to its soft supple hand. It is also known to wrinkle like leather when gathered, stitched, or tufted.
Its light weight body makes it inherently more breathable than PVC and allows it to adjust to body temperature more quickly. Its naturally rubbery characteristic guarantees a better stretch and performance in low temperatures. However, PUs do not perform well when exposed to heat and humidity and have a greater tendency to flake and become brittle. Although PU fabrics are not naturally flame resistant, flame retardants may be added to the material during manufacturing. Of course PU fabrics are much lower in price than genuine leather; they tend to be higher in cost than PVC. PU is known to be a greener alternative to PVC in both production and after-care. It does not require the same chemical plasticizers and will eventually degrade over time.
Polyvinylchloride (PVC), also commonly referred to as vinyl, is essentially a flexible plastic made from PVC resin, various fillers, and additives such as plasticizers to manipulate its softness, color and texture. Once the desired fillers have been added, PVC is used to coat one side of a knit or woven fabric backing and sometimes a center layer of foam.
This versatile fabric provides a durable surface that is impervious to moisture and inherently flame resistant, making it ideal for marine, healthcare and high traffic hospitality and commercial environments. Despite its flame resistant qualities, the addition of flame retardants is typical during manufacturing to meet fire code standards. Although PVC resin is comparatively inexpensive to genuine leather, price is often determined by the cost of the additives used to make the finished product. The environmental effects of PVC have continued to improve over the years, lowering emissions and hazardous waste. Today, vinyl manufacturers recycle PVC waste back into the process to minimize the amount of non-biodegradable product in landfills.
That was a lot of information to process and compare and that just scratches the surface! For a quick reference guide when comparing these two products, please see the chart below!
Good Luck and Happy Shopping!