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PU vs. PVC – the best choice for medical support surfaces and pressure ulcer care


Pressure ulcers cost the NHS an estimated £1.4- £2.1bn a year. So a simple change, such as ensuring your medical support surface cover is made of the correct material to help reduce and prevent pressure, can have a massive impact on the cost of pressure ulcer care.

Polyurethane (PU) and PVC are commonly used fabrics, and while they may look and feel similar, here are some good reasons why PU is a better choice over PVC when used in a medical setting.

Polyurethane is a unique class of polymer, which contains urethane linking groups that form long spaghetti-like chains.

The chains are made up of a crystalline phase, which provides chemical durability and chemical resistance – and a soft phase, which provides the stretch and moisture vapour permeability properties.

These flexible, stretchable and breathable capabilities mean that polyurethane is a good choice for a medical support surface for patients with pressure redistribution and microclimate management needs.

Moisture vapour permeability (MVP) ensures that the moisture vapour from the body passes through the surface and away from the patient with ease and does not build up against the skin helping maintain a healthy microclimate at the patient interface

Richard Haxby, Technical Manager at Dartex Coatings said: “The high stretch properties of PU ensures excellent envelopment and immersion of the patient and allows the benefit of the pressure redistribution technology beneath the surface to be fully realised.

PU is highly durable when used as a mattress cover, allowing easy cleaning and disinfection to contribute to patient safety from preventable harms.”

In comparison, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, after polyethylene and polypropylene.

It comes in two basic forms: rigid and flexible, so it can be used across many different applications.  In the healthcare sector, flexible PVC can often be found as a material for mattress bases, wheelchair seating and chair covers.

Whilstcheap to mass produce, the properties of the fabric do not make it best suited for pressure ulcer care, as this flexible version contains plasticisers – often phthalates – which are known to be damaging to health and the environment.

PVC is also non-breathable, which allows moisture to build up on the skin’s surface with no means of escape. This can lead to moisture lesions developing.

Furthermore, moisture damage can occur inside the mattress when PVC is used as a base fabric, as moisture vapour from the patient passes through the mattress and can condense before it has the opportunity to disperse.

Richard Haxby said: “In high-turnaround environments like A&E departments, PVC is susceptible to chemical degradation. The rigorous cleaning with bleachor alcohols and thiswill leach the plasticisers from the material making it less flexible and more likely to crack. This means that over time the fabric will become more susceptible to strikethrough, and eventually fail.”

Richard Haxby continued: “The benefit of polyurethane fabrics is that due to their structure, they can be chemically altered to provide the best support surface for the patient. For example, a more durable fabric like Dartex Endurance or Resilience can be produced for high-turnaround situations, or a more breathable fabric with high MPV such as Dartex MicroClimate would be a better choice for a patient with exuding wounds.”


 Prolevo - heel support  Red_White_Blue_fabric-p19p588icq18hi1f9lfejtlop0i

Direct Healthcare- Resilience

Polyurethane fabric can be used on a variety of medical devices, such as heel supports (courtesy Prolevo)

Can you tell the difference between PU and PVC?

© Dartex

Direct Healthcare Services bed system with Proformance mattress cover

(courtesy Direct Healthcare Services)


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