How to identify PVC


Polyvinyl chloride, which is also called PVC, harms photographs. Yet, it is not always clear whether a specific product contains PVC, and labels may be misleading. One indication is that the plasticizer in some PVC products smells like a new car. A better solution is to look for the chlorine that is present in PVC.

Here’s where a bit of chemistry comes into play. This chlorine reacts with copper wire to produce a green flame, so all that is required to identify PVC is an open flame (a gas stove works well) and  a piece of copper wire. Wrap the suspect material around the copper wire, heat, and you will now know if the material is PVC. This procedure works because photo-safe plastics do not contain chlorine. See BEILSTEIN TEST: a simple  test for Halogens (Chlorides) for more details

If you don’t like this approach, you can always buy a $50,000 XRF spectrophometer.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
This entry was posted in Science, Scrapbooking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How to identify PVC

  1. momfawn says:

    I love the clear choices you offer, Mark!

    • Nicole says:

      Ditto. Hmm. What to do? Use a gas stove or buy a $50k gadget. Would it have to come out of my scrapbooking budget??

  2. grammie of 6 says:

    My interpretation of this is that we can no longer trust any company to just tell us whether it is safe for our photos or not so we will have to test it ourselves. What comforting news.

  3. chybaskids says:

    I just always thought it smelled bad & was kinda stiff! Like a shower curtain or plastic shoes like we used to wear in the ‘olden days’…

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