Vinyl – it is literally everywhere. It covers our houses, carries water into the house and sewage out, and bags our food and our garbage. It is hard; it is soft. It can be the box and the wrapping. We can pour out of it, drink from it, eat off it, and eat with it. It can protect our mattress, and in some cases can be the mattress. And it can be the casing on our remote.
When we say “vinyl” we usually mean polyvinyl chloride, also called PVC (there are other, non-chlorinated vinyls). It is a thermoplastic, which means it gets softer when warm or hot. PVC is a polymer, many smaller molecules linked together. In this case, the monomer is vinyl chloride, a molecule of vinyl acetate with one hydrogen atom replaced by chlorine.
One vinyl chloride monomer is linked to another and so on, producing a chain which is very strong and very stable. In this sense it is like polyethylene, nylon, polyester and other synthetic materials.
PVC is naturally rigid, but it can be made softer by adding certain ingredients, such as phthalic acid. This vinyl can be barely bendable or very foldable.
When we buy a new mattress at a store, it is usually wrapped to keep it clean. A memory foam or latex mattress may be compessed and rolled up. In this case the wrapping also keeps it compressed until ready to unroll at its destination. The wrapping for these mattresses may be vinyl, but not necessarily so.
If the mattress is an airbed, the air chambers are more likely to be vulcanized rubber, but some manufacturers (such as Vinyl Products Manufacturing) use PVC. But if it is a waterbed, the bladder is most likely vinyl.
An airbed has a remote control for the air pressure, and a waterbed has one for the heater. If this mattress is on an adjustable bed, there is a remote control for the motors, the massage, and other features. The cases of these remotes are mostly hard plastic. In some cases this is vinyl.
These is some controversy over the use of vinyl, especially with food and in bedding. These issues center around its composition and the manufacturing process.
Polyvinyl choride contains chlorine. Chlorine by itself is toxic. But in compound with sodium it forms salt, which is a safe substance. The concern with PVC is the chance that chlorine could leave the plastic and be carried in the air. This is unlikely except when the vinyl is overheated or burned. One sorce commented that in a house fire, there are other, more hazardous fumes produced.
If this is very flexible vinyl, the phthalic acid is in the form of phthalates, which are toxic. Pthalates are also used in flame resistant treatments. The concern is that phthalates would be off-gassed, polluting the sleeping area. However, as with chlorine, this is not considered very likely by some authorities. In otherwords, well-made vinyl is less hazardous than chemical FR treatments. But a word of caution here: vinyl made in China and a few other countries might not be properly cured, releasing gasses which have unpleasant odors and may be toxic.
As to the manufacturing process, the vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) is volatile, and can be in the air of the manufacturing plant and in the emissions. But since the mid-1970s, procedures have been upgraded to prevent escape of VCM into the workplace atmosphere, and it is removed from plant emissions.
Vinyl is everywhere because it is versatile. It can be used for many things. It is also durable, but this durability raises another concern: disposal. However, it is generally safe. It can keep things clean. It can be shaped in endless ways. Whether we like it or not, for the foreseeable future, vinyl is here to stay.
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