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The difference between vinyl, Polyurethane and Silicone

Posted by on 07 Jan 2019

What is the difference between, vinyl, polyurethane, and silicone?

When working in commercial applications we are often asked what is the difference between vinyl, polyurethane and a silicone based product and what do we recommend. The answer to what we recommend is based entirely on the application or performance required of the material.

Lets first define what each material is and provide some context for what their key characteristics are and what suitable applications these can be applied to.

Polyurethane (PU)

Polyurethane is a performance fabric that is made by coating a textile substrate with a polyurethane resin. The material can be textured or smooth which can simulate a leather grain or add a woven appearance. This material is soft and rich in the hand, similar to leather. It’s more malleable and elasticity than a vinyl. The surface of the material is microporous and allows the fabric to breathe and remain cooler when sat upon, more like a woven fabric instead of the feeling you get when you have a vinyl. It weighs less than a vinyl (good for shipping large volumes), and excellent in abrasion resistance. Ease of maintenance is paramount as liquid spills can be easily wiped away, and it can be cleaned with a mild soap and water solution.

Try to avoid PU fabrics in high traffic environments that use harsh cleaning agents. Do use this material if you are looking to maximize performance while offering a luxury environment. This is a great solution for hospitality and corporate environments.

Vinyl ( Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC)

You just learned something, vinyl or PVCs stands for polyvinyl Chloride! Vinyl is a workhorse. It is made to perform and stand the test of time in the harshest environments. They are made from a lamination of vinyl with a textile base. It has unique durability and versatility for upholstery applications and it can come with 2 way and even 4-way stretch which creates an amazing look for products. Vinyl boasts an impressive life expectancy and acts as a moisture barrier just like the Polyurethane.  With excellent resistance to abrasion, chemicals and UV exposure they can be easily cleaned with mild soap and water solutions. The properties that make the vinyl also allow them to be cleaned with harsher chemicals and diluted bleach solutions.

Due to a stiffer hand, this may not be the right solution for all types of furniture including pieces with curves. It is not biodegradable which is not good for our environment. With that being said, it is the proven choice for harsh environments such as healthcare and environments where liquids can spoil. We recommend this product when you are looking for performance and longevity of your furniture.


Silicones are polymers that include any inert, synthetic compound made up of repeating chains of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms frequently combined with carbon and/ or hydrogen. In the last few years, the upholstery industry has been perfecting the silicone fabric technology and have greatly improved the quality of silicone-based fabrics. It’s a great way to get the look and feel of leather at a reduced price. That being said it does have a rubber-like hand to the fabric.

Some advantages of silicone are the following:

  • It is inherently antimicrobial and chemically stable
  • They can be cleaned with any non-abrasive cleaner, bleach and phenol-based cleaners
  • It is a non-toxic and water repellant material and has resistance to ink and staining

We recommend this type of product in environments with children and students. It may not hold up to the performance of vinyl, but the ink resistance makes its a great choice.

Our Favourite Vinyl: Maharam – Lariat 

Can be found here:


Our Favourite Polyurethane: Maharam – Instill

Can be found here:


Our Favourite Silicone Fabric: Momentum – Silica

Can be found here:



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