Vinyl: History, Preparation, Uses

Vinyl is not a natural substance; instead, it’s a man-made material created synthetically. It falls under the category of plastic and is produced from ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in regular salt). The specific type of plastic known as vinyl, or poly-vinyl chloride (PVC), was initially developed by German chemist Eugen Baumann in 1872. Although attempts were made by two chemists at a German chemical company to use PVC in commercial products decades later, they were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 1926 that an American chemist named Waldo Semon, while experimenting with a new rubber adhesive, formulated the modern PVC that is widely used today in various aspects of our daily lives.

Vinyl History, Preparation, Uses
Vinyl History, Preparation, Uses

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What is Vinyl?

Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) is the world’s most versatile plastic, used in everything from food wrap to automobile body parts. Vinyl is made up of two simple building blocks: chlorine (based on common salt) and ethylene (derived from crude oil).
At extremely high temperatures, the resultant chemical, ethylene dichloride, is transformed into vinyl chloride monomer gas (VCM). VCM is converted into a chemically stable powder, polyvinyl chloride resin, by the polymerisation step.
Vinyl was invented in 1920 by scientists who aimed to create a substance that would make common things easier to make, more durable, and less expensive than what was previously available. Today, vinyl is the world’s second most made and sold plastic resin.

History of Vinyl

Discovery of PVC (1920s):

  • Rubber scientist Waldo Semon, in the early 1920s, stumbled upon polyvinyl chloride (PVC) while searching for a synthetic adhesive.
  • Semon experimented with PVC, creating items like golf balls and shoe heels from this versatile material.

PVC’s Early Applications (1930s):

  • PVC-based products like insulated wire, raincoats, and shower curtains entered the market.
  • Industries developed various methods to produce and process vinyl as its utility expanded.

PVC in the 1940s:

  • PVC plants emerged in the 1930s, meeting the rising demand.
  • During World War II, vinyl-coated wire played a crucial role in the U.S. military, replacing rubber-insulated wire.
  • Post-war, vinyl’s versatility and flame-resistant properties led to diverse commercial uses.

Innovations in the 1950s and 1960s:

  • Five companies were producing PVC in the 1950s, exploring innovative applications.
  • Vinyl-based latex found use in boots, fabric coatings, and inflatable structures.
  • Methods to enhance vinyl’s durability were refined, expanding applications in the building trades.

Vinyl’s Rise in the 1970s:

  • Vinyl became a construction industry staple due to its resistance to corrosion, light, and chemicals.
  • PVC piping gained popularity for water transport with improved resistance to extreme temperatures.
  • By 1980, twenty companies were producing vinyl.

Vinyl Today:

  • Vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic globally.
  • The industry employs over 100,000 people in the United States alone.
  • Vinyl’s low cost, versatility, and performance make it a preferred material in diverse industries like healthcare, communications, aerospace, automotive, retailing, textiles, and construction.
  • Rigid or pliable, vinyl stands out as a leading material in the 21st century.

Preparation of Vinyl

Raw Material Composition: Vinyl is primarily derived from two fundamental sources – salt and crude oil, specifically obtaining ethylene from petroleum or natural gas.

Chlorine Generation: The production of chlorine involves the electrolytic disassociation of salt.

Ethylene Extraction: Through the ‘cracking‘ process, crude oil, petroleum, or natural gas is subjected to high heat and pressure, resulting in the breakdown of petroleum into ethylene, butadiene, propylene, and other by-products.

Formation of Monomer (VCM): Ethylene and chlorine undergo either Direct Chlorination or Oxychlorination, producing Ethylene Dichloride (EDC). EDC, post-cracking, transforms into Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM), a gas subsequently converted into Vinyl.

Polymerization Procedure: VCM undergoes polymerization through methods like suspension, mass, or emulsion, leading to the creation of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) in a powdered state.

Vinyl Compounding: The vinyl resin, existing as a powder, undergoes compounding.
Various additives and modifiers are incorporated into the resin, tailored to the intended application and the desired flexibility or rigidity of the final vinyl product.

Uses of Vinyl

Vinyl, a flexible plastic recognized for its versatility, has a wide range of applications across sectors. Vinyl’s adaptability, durability, and cost-effectiveness have driven it into a wide range of industries, including building and healthcare. As developments continue, the list of vinyl uses is projected to grow, demonstrating its long-term importance across a variety of industries. Its appeal arises from its low cost, strong chemical resistance, and ease of installation. Let’s look at the various applications of vinyl in different industries.


The construction sector benefits from vinyl’s resilience to weathering and environmental factors, making it a preferred choice for durable and cost-effective solutions. Vinyl plays a pivotal role in the construction industry, contributing to approximately 60% of all vinyl production in the United States.

Applications include:

  • Siding and window frames
  • Roofing materials
  • Wall coverings
  • Flooring for living spaces, kitchens, and bathrooms
  • Piping for water distribution, sewage, and irrigation systems
  • Landfill liners
  • Fencing, railing, and decking

Medical Industry

Vinyl’s non-hazardous properties make it an indispensable material in the medical field. Vinyl’s low cost, strength, and barrier properties contribute to its widespread use in critical medical products. Key medical applications of vinyl include:

  • Intravenous fluid bags and containers
  • Blood bags
  • Catheters
  • Medical gloves
  • Goggles and caps
  • Inhalation masks
  • Dialysis equipment
  • Medical sealants
  • Thermal blankets
  • Valves and ear protectors

Automotive Sector

Vinyl’s versatility and durability make it a preferred material for various automotive components. Originally used as a sealant for shock absorbers, vinyl has diversified its applications in the automotive industry, finding use in:

  • Interior upholstery
  • Floor mats
  • Dashboards and armrests
  • Car body moldings
  • Anti-abrasion coatings
  • Under-hood wiring and cables
  • Windshield wiper systems

Toys and Child-Safe Products

Vinyl’s ease of cleaning, cost-effectiveness, and safety for children make it a popular choice for toy manufacturing. Its flexibility allows for the production of a diverse range of toys that meet safety standards. Vinyl is used in creating:

  • Children’s toys
  • Waterproof protectors for mattresses
  • Waterproof protectors for walls

Electrical and Electronic Applications

PVC, a type of vinyl, is extensively used in the electrical and electronic industries due to its flame resistance, dielectric strength, low weight, and durability. PVC’s properties make it suitable for ensuring the safety and functionality of electronic components. Applications include:

  • Electronic component housing
  • Wire and cable insulation

Miscellaneous Uses

The adaptability of vinyl allows it to find a place in diverse and evolving industries. Vinyl’s versatility extends to various other applications:

  • Vinyl records (historically and currently in a resurgence)
  • Waterproof protectors for various products, such as mattresses and walls



About Author

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Kabita Sharma

Kabita Sharma, a Central Department of Chemistry graduate, is a young enthusiast interested in exploring nature's intricate chemistry. Her focus areas include organic chemistry, drug design, chemical biology, computational chemistry, and natural products. Her goal is to improve the comprehension of chemistry among a diverse audience through writing.

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