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What is a PVC Raincoat?

By Angela Brady
Updated May 21, 2024
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A PVC raincoat is a waterproof outer jacket made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The slick, non-permeable surface of PVC makes it a popular material for raincoats. PVC raincoats are available in many different styles, colors, and variations, and are a perennial fashion favorite.

PVC is manufactured from a petroleum base, but since 57% of PVC is chlorine, it actually requires much less petroleum than most other plastics. The process of polymerization of the vinylchloride monomer (VCM) is exothermic, and must be kept at a certain temperature while the VCM-water suspension forms a slurry. The slurry is then degassed, the excess VCM and water is removed, and what is left is powdered PVC. The powdered PVC is then mixed with a number of additives including stabilizers, plasticizers, processing aids, and pigments, then processed into a sheet.

PVC sheets are treated just like bolts of fabric when it comes time to manufacture clothing. A PVC raincoat is designed, patterned, measured, and cut just like a regular fabric. The only difference is that PVC raincoat seams are generally not stitched with a needle and thread. Since PVC is nonporous, a needle would leave a large hole that would allow water to enter, making for a very ineffective raincoat, and weakening the seam. Instead, PVC seams are generally "welded" with heat, or bonded by chemical means. Either way, the two pieces of material melt together, either thermally or chemically, and are permanently bound.

Since PVC raincoats are nonporous, they don't allow the skin to breathe naturally. This keeps the rain out, but it also keeps body heat and moisture in, making for a steamy environment inside the coat. To combat this, many manufacturers line the raincoat with a breathable, moisture-wicking material like cotton or flannel, and many designs incorporate hidden vents. Strategically placed, these vents allow air to circulate without allowing water in.

A major reason why a PVC raincoat is always in style is its versatility. During the last stage of the manufacturing process, the coloring agent can be skipped, resulting in clear PVC. PVC is the only clothing material available in clear. If the coloring agent is added, the resulting color can be either translucent or opaque, which is also unique to PVC. The fact that the coloring agents are actually manufactured into the material instead of added to the surface later gives a much bolder, brighter, more colorfast result than ordinary dyed fabric can.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1000234 — On Jul 14, 2018

I love PVC raincoats. They keep me very dry.

By anon995076 — On Mar 30, 2016

What is the fibre content and construction of PVC?

By David84 — On Mar 17, 2016

Some people say PVC is the most waterproof material you can make a raincoat from.

By afterall — On Jul 26, 2011

@starrynight- I do not really know the point either. They also remind me of PVC shower curtains, almost even more than of rain jackets. I have, though, seen really simple ones that were little more than ponchos, and had novelty prints all over them instead of a color design. Those were cute, if a little juvenile.

By hanley79 — On Jul 25, 2011

Ooh, interesting article! I always wondered how rain gear was sewn together without making it leak, and now I know. The fact that the colors of rain coats are added into the PVC instead of put on the outside helps explain why the classic yellow rain coat look ends up being so vibrantly bright, too.

Out of curiosity, does anybody know if the clear PVC rain coats show "sewing" seams wherever pieces were hooked together? If the material along the seams is thicker than the rest of the coat, or the consistency of it changes at all from being melted and then cooled again, I'd imagine it would show lines where sleeves hooked on and such.

I've never actually had a chance to examine a transparent PVC rain coat very closely; maybe somebody who sees rain coats a lot can tell me?

By malmal — On Jul 24, 2011

@Azuza - Agreed, the classic yellow rain coat is cute. I tend to associate it with childhood thanks to a cartoon I watched a lot as a kid about a dog who wore a yellow rain coat.

I live in rainy Washington State, so you can imagine how much experience I've had with choosing rain coats and dealing with dreary weather! Another nice thing about the traditional yellow rain coat is that you can still make it fashionable by choosing matching yellow rubber boots or other waterproof footwear.

I never did understand why pictures show people in rain coats and also holding an umbrella; if you're in waterproof clothing, you don't need the umbrella!

By Azuza — On Jul 24, 2011

@starrynight - I've never really gotten the clear PVC trend myself. People seem to like it though. I've seen clear raincoats, clear umbrellas, and even clear backpacks!

I personally prefer the traditional yellow raincoat. I think it looks cute, and it gives you extra visibility in foggy weather.

By starrynight — On Jul 23, 2011

I've seen a few clear PVC raincoats around and I think they look a little ridiculous. What is even the point? So everyone can still see your outfit? I don't get it.

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