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Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Polyvinyl alcohol has excellent film forming, emulsifying and adhesive properties. It is also resistant to oil, grease and solvents. It is odorless and nontoxic. It has high tensile strength and flexibility, as well as high oxygen and aroma barrier properties. However these properties are dependent on humidity, in other words, with higher humidity more water is absorbed. The water, which acts as a plasticiser, will then reduce its tensile strength, but increase its elongation and tear strength. PVA is fully degradable and dissolves quickly. PVA has a melting point of 230°C and 180–190°C (356-374 degrees Fahrenheit) for the fully hydrolysed and partially hydrolysed grades, respectively. It decomposes rapidly above 200°C as it can undergo pyrolysis at high temperatures.
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Polyvinyl alcohol is the raw material to make other polymers like:
- Polyvinyl nitrate (PVN): It is an ester of nitric acid and polyvinyl alcohol.
- Polyvinyl acetals: Polyvinyl acetals are prepared by reacting aldehydes with polyvinyl alcohol. Polyvinyl butyral (PVB) and polyvinyl formal (PVF) are examples of this family of polymers. They are prepared from polyvinyl alcohol by reaction with butyraldehyde and formaldehyde, respectively. Preparation of polyvinyl butyral is the largest use for polyvinyl alcohol in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Some other uses of polyvinyl alcohol include:
- Paper adhesive with boric acid in spiral tube winding and solid board production
- Thickener, modifier, in polyvinyl acetate glues
- Textile sizing agent
- Paper coatings, release liner,
- As a water-soluble film useful for packaging. An example is the envelope containing laundry detergent in "liqui-tabs".
- Feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products as a biodegradable plastic backing sheet.
- Carbon dioxide barrier in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles
- As a film used in the water transfer printing process
- As a mold release because materials such as epoxy do not stick to it
- Movie practical effect and children's play putty or slime when combined with borax
- Used in eye drops and hard contact lens solution as a lubricant
- PVA fiber, as reinforcement in concrete
- As a surfactant for the formation of polymer encapsulated nanobeads
- Used in protective chemical-resistant gloves
- Used as a fixative for specimen collection, especially stool samples
- When doped with iodine, PVA can be used to polarize light
- As an embolization agent in medical procedures
- Carotid phantoms for use as synthetic vessels in Doppler flow testing
- As agent in artificial Tears for treatment of dry eye.
- See more specific polyvinyl alcohol uses
Trade names for Polyvinyl alcohol: Kuraray Poval, Mowiflex, Alcotex, Elvanol, Gelvatol, Gohsenol, Lemol, Mowiol, Nelfilcon A, Polyviol und Rhodoviol.
The North Korean-manufacture fiber Vinalon is produced from polyvinyl alcohol. Despite its inferior properties as a clothing fiber, it is produced for self-sufficiency reasons, because no oil is required to produce it.
PVA is widely used in freshwater sport fishing. Small bags made from PVA are filled with dry or oil based bait and attached to the hook, or the baited hook is placed inside the bag and cast into the water. When the bag lands on the lake or river bottom it breaks down, leaving the hook bait surrounded by ground bait, pellets etc. This method helps attract fish to the hook bait.
Consumption of polyvinyl alcohol was over one million metric tons in 2006. Larger producers include Kuraray (Japan and Europe) and Sekisui Specialty Chemicals (USA) but mainland China has installed a number of very large production facilities in the past decade and currently accounts for 45% of world capacity.
Unlike many vinyl polymers, PVA is not prepared by polymerization of the corresponding monomer. The monomer, vinyl alcohol, almost exclusively exists as the tautomeric form, acetaldehyde. PVA instead is prepared by partial or complete hydrolysis (sometimes referred to in this case as saponification) of polyvinyl acetate to remove acetate groups.
See also 
- Characterization of PVA cryogel for intravascular ultrasound elasticity imaging, Fromageau, J.; Brusseau, E.; Vray, D.; Gimenez, G.; Delachartre, P.; IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control, Volume: 50, Issue: 10. 2003, Page(s): 1318 - 1324.
- SRI Consulting CEH Report Polyvinyl Alcohol, published March 2007, abstract retrieved July 30, 2008.