Polyvinyl chloride (abbreviated and commonly referred to as PVC) is the world’s third-most widely produced synthetic polymer of plastic. About 40 million tons of PVC are produced each year.
PVC comes in rigid (sometimes abbreviated as RPVC) and flexible forms. Rigid PVC is used in construction for pipe, doors and windows. It is also used in making plastic bottles, packaging, and bank or membership cards. Adding plasticizers makes PVC softer and more flexible. It is used in plumbing, electrical cable insulation, flooring, signage, phonograph records, inflatable products, and in rubber substitutes. With cotton or linen, it is used in the production of canvas.
Roughly half of the world’s PVC resin manufactured annually is used for producing pipes for municipal and industrial applications. In the private homeowner market, it accounts for 66% of the household market in the US, and in household sanitary sewer pipe applications, it accounts for 75%. Buried PVC pipes in both water and sanitary sewer applications that are 100 mm (4 in) in diameter and larger are typically joined by means of a gasket-sealed joint. The most common type of gasket utilized in North America is a metal-reinforced elastomer, commonly referred to as a Rieber sealing system.
In a fire, PVC-coated wires can form hydrogen chloride fumes; the chlorine serves to scavenge free radicals and is the source of the material’s fire retardancy. While hydrogen chloride fumes can also pose a health hazard in their own right, it dissolves in moisture and breaks down onto surfaces, particularly in areas where the air is cool enough to breathe, and is not available for inhalation.
PVC is used in construction because it is more effective than traditional materials, such as copper, iron or wood in pipe manufacturing. It is extensively used in the building industry as a low-maintenance material, particularly in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. In the US and Canada, it is known as vinyl or vinyl siding. The material comes in a range of colors and finishes, including a photo-effect wood finish, and is used as a substitute for painted wood, mostly for window frames and sills when installing insulated glazing in new buildings; or to replace older single-glazed windows, as it does not decompose and is weather-resistant. Other uses include fascia, and siding or weatherboarding. This material has almost entirely replaced the use of cast iron for plumbing and drainage, being used for waste pipes, drainpipes, gutters and downspouts. uPVC is known as having strong resistance against chemicals, sunlight, and oxidation from water.
Polyvinyl chloride is formed in flat sheets in a variety of thicknesses and colors. As flat sheets, PVC is often expanded to create voids in the interior of the material, providing additional thickness without additional weight and minimal extra cost (see closed-cell PVC foamboard). Sheets are cut using saws and rotary cutting equipment. Plasticized PVC is also used to produce thin, colored, or clear, adhesive-backed films referred to simply as vinyl. These films are typically cut on a computer-controlled plotter (see vinyl cutter) or printed in a wide-format printer. These sheets and films are used to produce a wide variety of commercial signage products, including car body stripes and stickers.
PVC fabric is water-resistant, used for its weather-resistant qualities in coats, skiing equipment, shoes, jackets, and aprons.
The two main application areas for single-use medically approved PVC compounds are flexible containers and tubing: containers used for blood and blood components, for urine collection or for ostomy products and tubing used for blood taking and blood giving sets, catheters, heart-lung bypass sets, hemodialysis sets etc. In Europe the consumption of PVC for medical devices is approximately 85,000 tons each year. Almost one third of plastic-based medical devices are made from PVC.