What Is Polyvinyl Alcohol?

What Is Polyvinyl Alcohol?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient: Polyvinyl Alcohol (also known as PVA, PVOH or PVAI)

What it is: Polyvinyl alcohol is a synthetic polymer, which is a substance made up of many, many molecules all strung together. It starts its life as ethylene, a natural gaseous hormone given off by plants that causes the fruit to ripen. In this case, the ethylene is synthetically produced (but nature identical), then turned into vinyl acetate through a chemical reaction with oxygen and acetic acid (in diluted form known as vinegar), then polymerized (bonded to form repeating molecules) and then dissolved in alcohol to become a water-soluble polymer.

What it does: PVA has oodles of uses from strengthening textile yarns and making paper more grease and oil resistant to creating children's play slime and contact lens lubricant (yes, it’s safe enough to go in your eyes!). We use it to create the water-soluble, single-size pod packages that hold our dishwasher, oxy-boost and laundry formulas.

Why we use it: People love cleaning pods – what’s not to love?! These pods (aka “packs”) streamline cleaning, which is always a good thing! But, in this case, all it takes to make doing laundry and dishes a little easier is a convenient pack of pre-measured detergent. We chose to encase our detergent in PVA because it’s strong, colorless, odorless, biodegradable and non-toxic!

Why we’re featuring it today: PVA is sometimes confused with polyvinyl acetate (aka PVA or PVAc – a wood glue), an easy enough mistake to make given they sometimes go by the same acronym. PVA is also sometimes thought to be related to polyvinyl chloride (aka PVC – the poison plastic). We wanted to make it clear that even though they all contain the word “polyvinyl” and are all types of polymers, they are all indeed very different substances.

  • Polyvinyl alcohol = non-toxic, biodegradable polymer
  • Polyvinyl acetate = rubbery polymer commonly used as glue
  • Polyvinyl chloride = toxic plastic polymer that often contains phthalates and heavy metals


Still have any lingering questions about polyvinyl alcohol? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to respond!

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.