Crafting Vs. Vinyl (Round 1)

vinyl floral fabric Here at CAGW, we try and direct fellow crafters to materials to use that are gentler on the environment for craft projects. From fabric and yarns to scissors and notions there is a plethora of options out there for the eco-conscious crafter.

On the flip side, these are limited options and often our craft supplies leave you wondering how safe and green are they. We’ve even started a list of demands for things that we wish we had.

Well, I am going to add waterproof, clear, flexible, “fabric” to that list. Many crafters use this in their projects for many purposes. Unfortunately, this “fabric” is vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic (number 3 to be exact) and I am calling for an outright ban on this poison plastic.

Vinyl is a very common material and is found in clothes, pipe, luggage, flooring, shower curtains, mouse pads, and the list goes on and on. At the craft store it comes in clear “fabric”, like a shower curtain, or in many opaque fabric colors, like that found on a booth in a diner, as well as many bright prints. It is also found in table cloths that crafters like to repurpose into bags, aprons and bibs. Many vegan crafters use it as an alternative to leather.

During its manufacturing, use and disposal, vinyl emits a toxic substance known as dioxin. Dioxin is well known as an environmental pollutant and toxic chemical. It is easily absorbed by the body and stored in fatty tissue. In the environment, it slowly accumulates in the food chain, and is found in the most concentrated amounts the higher up the food chain.

The scary part is that dioxin is known to effect several systems of the body including the immune system and the reproductive system, among others. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been known to cause cancer in animals and it is classified as a “known human carcinogen.” Because of this, the WHO recommends limiting exposure to dioxin.

Another reason to ditch vinyl is an equally horrible toxin that it emits during use; phthalates. This other toxic substance is an additive in PVC and suspected of being a carcinogen, which like dioxin effects the reproductive system, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. You can usually tell vinyl from its smell, like a shower curtain. This is due to the toxic chemicals “off-gassing,” which vinyl does throughout its life-cycle.

Now I’m not pointing fingers, but vinyl is strongly intrenched in the crafting community. It is an economical, easy to use and a waterproof material, so it is easy to understand why. But its use needs to stop. Companies such as Microsoft, Sears, K-Mart and Target have all started to phase out PVC in one form or another; however big box craft stores have yet to take similar steps.

So what are us crafters to do? Well first off, just stop using it. I know it can be hard to go cold turkey, but an all out ban on the substance is what is needed and a viable alternative is our demand. The next time you are at your craft store, pipe up. Ask for PVC-free alternatives and if they don’t have them, make a point to let a manager know that their customers are demanding it.

Next week I’ll share a list of potential alternatives to vinyl, so stay tuned.

Continue reading: Crafting Vs. Vinyl (Round 2), Crafting Vs. Vinyl (Round 3)

Image credit: Duchamp at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Written by Kelly Rand

Kelly covers visual arts in and around Washington, DC for DCist and is editor of Crafting a Green World. Kelly has also been published by Bust Magazine and you can find her byline at Indie Fixx and Etsy’s Storque and has taught in Etsy’s virtual lab on the topic of green crafting.

Kelly helps organize Crafty Bastards: Arts and Crafts Fair, one of the largest indie craft fairs on the east coast and has served on the Craft Bastard’s jury since 2007. Kelly is also co-founder of Hello Craft a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the advancement of independent crafters and the handmade movement. Kelly resides in Washington, D.C. and believes that handmade will save the world.


Leave a Reply
  1. I’m looking forward to your list of alternatives as I have a kiddie chair to recover. My Monster stands on it to help me in the kitchen, and brush her teeth, and steal bananas. It’s a vintage piece but the seat needs some love.

  2. I heard that vinyl siding can basically poison you and your neighbors in the event of a house fire, so I’m not at all surprised to learn this. Thanks for the info Kelly.

  3. I know, I know. I’ve been putting off a really great craft project, because I’d like to use iron-on vinyl to cover some favorite fabric. I’ve been thinking about using oil cloth as a substitute, but have yet to find anything I like enough. So the project stays on the back burner. Here’s hoping you’ve found some great alternatives!

  4. I’m new to crafting (and actually learned crafting to become greener) and so I’ve never used vinyl at all. I assume when you talk of vinyl, you’re also talking of *like* materials like PUL etc?

    While I’ve not used vinyl, I have used other materials for water-proofing, “easy” care etc. The alternatives I have used have all involved some form of synthetic material though – perhaps not as evil as vinyl but nonetheless uses fabric that used petrochemicals in its production process.

    Oh oh, WOOL! I’ve used wool lots of times for water-proofing and easy care aspects. Felted wool is fantastic.

  5. Kelly, good article. I’m glad you’re raising people’s awareness about this. Vinyl is indeed popular in the crafting community and especially for making bags. I wish too people would stop using it, especially as a substitute for leather. It’s like substituting one bad thing for another.

  6. Hmm, Eileen raises a good question– what about stuff like PUL? I ask because I’m in the process of making myself a stash of reusable cloth pads, and have been using that as the waterproof layer. And wool is not an alternative for me, as I’m allergic to it. Any options there?

  7. Thanks for this article! PVC is one of my pet peeves – it’s in so many kids toys still… I hate all the giant one-season beach garbage made of vinyl too… so much waste – it doesnt last long enough to make it worth it…Vinyl raincoats and boots…
    and so many people sleep on vinyl beds (like the blow up ones, or have vinyl matress covers (babies, etc)


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