What Is Vinyl?

The technical name for vinyl is Poly Vinyl Chloride – PVC, or just plain plastic to you and me. Although it can be manufactured in many different forms – from thin sheets to house siding – we will focus here on vinyl as a fabric used in car interiors and domestic furniture.

Understanding the construction of vinyl fabric is helpful in understanding how to protect and care for it.

An extreme close-up of a cross-section through a piece of vinyl fabric would show the core PVC sealed in a see-thorough layer of topcoat. The topcoat’s main job is to seal in the plasticizers that are added to the PVC to make it soft and flexible. Without a topcoat, these plasticizers would rapidly evaporate out of the vinyl and it would go hard and crack.

Auto Vinyl

Vinyl is extensively used in auto interiors (and exteriors), with the dash, door panels, seat backs, storage covers, headlining and many other trim parts on the average vehicle all being made of vinyl.

This is mainly because vinyl provides a good balance of durability and economy. However, vinyl is not a highly resilient material and you do have to look after it to keep it looking its best and working properly.

Although we are going to concentrate here on vinyl in vehicles, the same material is used in domestic furniture, so the same guidelines for care and repair apply to vinyl furniture.

Vinyl Protection

Vinyl protection = topcoat protection, because it is the topcoat that gives vinyl its finish and keeps it flexible (by keeping the plasticizers in). Unfortunately, the topcoat is attacked by a number of things:

  • Sunlight
  • Abrasion
  • Heat
  • Solvents
  • Perspiration

Sunlight is perhaps the most persistent attacker, and some of the vinyl does constantly escape through the topcoat – especially when new. You may have noticed this as a hazy film that forms on the inside of the windshield in the first few weeks of a new car’s life. Yes, that is tiny amounts of your vinyl dash, your vinyl car seats and your vinyl door panels!

The best strategy for protecting your vinyl is to clean it regularly but gently and apply a good quality vinyl dressing. Many of the so-called vinyl dressings or protectants you can buy can do more harm than good, so make sure you avoid products containing:

  • Any oil
  • Anything flammable
  • Any wax
  • Any abrasive

Vinyl Cleaning

Keeping your vinyl clean prolongs its life. A simple process is all that’s needed:

  • Rinse with clean water
  • Wash with warm water and mild soap (not detergent). Use a soft cloth.
  • Rinse with clean water
  • Allow to dry

If you have to remove any stubborn dirt, you can use a soft bristled brush. For mildew, you can move up to a 4:1 water:ammonia solution, but be sure to spot test first and rinse thoroughly after.

Once the vinyl is dry, apply a vinyl dressing with a soft cloth, work it gently into the vinyl, and buff. Pay extra attention to the top of the dash, top of the door trims and other horizontal areas as these are exposed to more sunlight.

Never use:

  • Household cleaners
  • Solvents
  • Acids
  • Abrasives
  • Scourers
  • Bleach
  • Detergents
  • Dry cleaning fluids
  • Petroleum distillates

Vinyl and Silicone

Never use any type of silicone on your vinyl. Silicone is very bad for vinyl for all kinds of reasons:

  • Heat. A silicone glaze traps heat in the topcoat, leading to deterioration
  • Sunlight. Silicone treatments do not contain UV screening
  • Abrasion. Silicone attracts dust, leading to increased abrasion

Vinyl Recolor and Repair

If your vinyl does fade – or you inherit a vehicle with faded vinyl – you can dye or paint it put some lustre back in the interior.

You will get the best results by doing extremely conscientious cleaning and preparation, and choosing either the original color or one shade darker. Some products may simply be applied with a cloth, but the more advanced vinyl coloring products need quite advanced application techniques and may require the hire of compressors and spray-painting equipment to get the promised finish. All things considered, you might consider getting a professional quote for the job.

Vinyl is a reasonably durable material, but it is vulnerable to punctures and tears. Every day, vinyl car seats and vinyl furniture in living areas are ripped by keys, bitten by dogs, snagged on briefcases, torn by toys and who knows what else. Depending on the vehicle it happens to and the location of the tear, this might be a minor inconvenience or a major disaster. If it’s the latter, don’t worry – help is out there.

You might try a DIY repair on an out-of-the-way-area, but to get a repair that is going to preserve the value of your vehicle get a quote from a certified local repairer. Not only can they repair vinyl holes, rips and tears, but they will also match the original color and texture for the best possible finish. No matter if it’s a vinyl car seat or an item of vinyl furniture, a certified professional can do a vinyl repair that is as strong as the original material, and perfectly matched.

2 Responses to “What is Vinyl and How to Protect?”

  1. Lou Desser says:

    Great information. Could you please recommend some products that will help preserve vinyl.

    • Jason Diehl says:

      Any product that isn’t Silicon based. For example 303 Products has a line of vinyl cleaners and protectants that are water based and work very well. You may need to use them more often if you like the shiny look, but it will make your vinyl and plastics last longer than ArmorAll.

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