What is PVA & Why is it in Your Laundry Pacs?
Hint: it’s not actually plastic.
You may have heard that PVA in detergent packets is harmful—or even plastic. We’re here to tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
But we absolutely understand why you might be concerned about what PVA really is, which products contain PVA, and how products like laundry pacs affect the environment. So, is PVA plastic?
Is PVA plastic?
Let’s start by talking about the science behind it. What is PVA, really?
PVA (which stands for polyvinyl alcohol, and is also referred to as PVOH) is used in water-soluble films that encases many products, from your kitchen to your doctor’s office to your laundry room. PVA might look like plastic, but it’s not. It’s a food-grade material made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is colorless, water-soluble and designed to biodegrade after use—unlike plastic.
Want a comparison? Think of the compostable to-go bowls you get at your favorite salad bar these days. They might look like plastic, but they’re different. Same goes for the PVA that you might see in laundry pacs, dish soap, or other products.
Whether it contains laundry detergent, dish soap, or some other product, the PVA dissolves when it comes into contact with water. This means that PVA goes down the drain and then to wastewater treatment plants where bacteria and microbes break it down leaving behind water and carbon dioxide.
Even if PVA polymers do wind up in the environment, they will be broken down by water and natural organisms. In other words, PVA biodegrades, unlike plastic or microplastics which can remain in the environment for a long time.
Is PVA safe to use?
Despite what you might have heard on social media, PVA has been thoroughly studied and vetted. In fact, PVA was developed to serve its specific purpose, knowing that it was an environmentally responsible way to help with many use cases.
PVA can be—and is—designed for a whole range of purposes. Many of these are common household chores, like laundry or dishwashing, as well as consumer pharmaceutical products, such as contact lens lubricants or “artificial tears.” PVA can even be made to be quite durable, giving it valuable commercial applications in textiles, paper manufacturing, and even fishing lines.
But whatever the case, PVA is specifically engineered to be effective, efficient, and safe for human usage. It’s also been studied and proven to be safe for nature as well.
Because of PVA’s biodegradability, the EPA’s Safer Choice program recommends it as product that’s safe for people and for the environment. The Safer Choice label means that a product meets stringent criteria around not only chemical ingredients but also human safety and environmental impact.
Plus, the EPA conducts annual checks to ensure that all Safer Choice products continue to meet their standards. In other words, it’s a rigorous program that provides reliable guidance to people who are concerned about the health of themselves, their families, and their environment.
The EPA isn’t the only government organization that has studied PVA and its impact. The U.S. Food and Drug administration has also approved it as a safe ingredient for healthcare products like vitamins, over-the-counter drugs, and more. In short, studies and research about PVA have thoroughly shown that PVA is safe for use in food, household items, beauty products, and even healthcare items like eye drops.
Furthermore, a scientific journal conducted a rigorous study on PVA’s biodegradability, concluding that its high water solubility ensures “no concern for persistence or accumulation in the environment.” Again, what this ultimately means is that PVA isn’t plastic and doesn’t lead to microplastics that could cause environmental harm.
Finally, specifically for cleaning products, the American Cleaning Institute studied PVA films and concluded that, both in treatment facilities and from natural microbes and bacteria, PVA films reliably biodegrade. Once more, this is something that plastics don’t do.
Impacts and benefits of PVA in cleaning products
So now that we can see how safe PVA is, let’s look at some of PVA’s benefits. For instance, what are the environmental effects of PVA?
Because it’s a way to deliver a specific, pre-measured amount—such as the right amount of detergent for a load of laundry—it ensures both efficiency and sustainability. Laundry packets, for instance, can help reduce waste from accidentally or unwittingly pouring too much product into a wash cycle. And, for the end user, the concentrated formulas mean significantly less water usage for cleaning products.
Pre-measured PVA products are also convenient for people with disabilities. Heavy jugs of detergent, for instance, can be difficult for anyone who may struggle with physical limitations, a lack of access to at-home appliances, or simply a crunch on their time. By making things easy and simple, PVA products like detergent packets help empower people to take care of their responsibilities.
So, let’s go back to some of the original questions. Is PVA plastic? No! It’s water-soluble and designed to biodegrade, meaning that it’s not a source of microplastics. And it’s an innovation that helps people get superior cleaning results.
Is PVA safe? Yes! It’s designed to protect users from concentrated formulas in their household products, and studies have determined that its biodegradation prevents it from persisting in the environment as well.
And is PVA helpful? Absolutely. From aiding people with disabilities to reducing waste to just making things a bit easier, PVA films give consumers many practical benefits.
All in all, PVA products like liquid detergent packets for laundry or dishes ultimately deliver benefits not just directly to consumers but also to the world as a whole. And, most importantly, PVA has been scientifically studied and found to be completely safe.