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Pontoon Seat Vinyl

Urethanes, polymers, monomers and a plethora of other scientific family groups and chemical reactions makes a discussion of vinyl difficult for anyone but scientists. The specific products commonly referred to as marine grade vinyl include polyurethane, semi-polyurethane and vinyl itself. The term vinyl has come to mean all of these plastic upholstery fabrics that are durable, flexible and resistant to many damaging elements. For use in pontoon boat seats, pontoon seat vinyl has added protectants to increase resistance to UV rays, mold and mildew, fading, water, and other sought-after features.

Vinyl is created from petroleum and chlorine. Chlorine is derived from brine, which is salt mixed in water, making it inexpensive and very easy to obtain. The early 1900s saw a number of inventions and discoveries in this field. Otto Bayer was a leader in the field, and although he worked for the family owning the chemical giant, was not related to them. Other companies that joined the bandwagon for synthetic materials and fibers reads as a who's-who of chemical leviathans during the 1900s. Some of the participating corporations include DuPont, BASF, Dow Chemical, Union Carbide and Monsanto.

Before the advent of polyurethane foam, several different materials were used for stuffing furniture, including horsehair and down. By the 1960s, synthetic polyurethane foam and vinyl were in widespread use with tons of these materials being produced every year. These products made pontoon vinyl seats and other furniture not only possible, but also comfortable, affordable and widely available. Polyurethane foam quickly became the pontoon seat stuffing of choice. It was also welcomed in the automobile and home furniture industries.

Properties of Pontoon Seat Vinyl

Without going into painful scientific language, pontoon seat vinyl has many properties that have encouraged its use for boating. Marine vinyl upholstery is most commonly used on captains seats, pontoon fishing seats, and bench seats. Protective coatings and ingredients prolong the life of marine grade vinyl. Protectants are mixed with vinyl resin or applied by the manufacturer to customize the resulting vinyl. The chlorine used to create vinyl means it has inborn flame retardant properties, an important characteristic. Many different agents are used in combination with vinyl resin to obtain the vinyl product with the specific characteristics required.

Protectant coatings applied to pontoon seat vinyl provide additional resistance to UV damage, abrasion and extreme weather conditions. For example, added hydrolysis resistance makes vinyl resistant to the breakdown of polymers. Transparent protective coatings maintain the original vinyl color. Chemicals, solvents, acids and other damaging agents are less likely to damage the vinyl when a protectant coating is applied.

In the 1990s, protective coatings were improved and were applicable for large surfaces and extreme environments. New uses included spray-on holding tank linings and bed truck linings. Navy ships even used these extremely resilient sprays for their ship decks. These protective coatings were not applied on vinyl, but were directly applied to the surface of the material. Locations that would otherwise be difficult to protect because of intricate patterns or small spaces, could now be coated simply by spraying on the coating.

Upholstery foam, made from polyurethane, is protected by a thin layer of plastic and the outer casing of pontoon seat vinyl. Open cell polyurethane is lighter and more flexible than closed-cell polyurethane, but is not as buoyant. Pontoon lounge seats, benches and other furniture with large seating areas are typically filled with open cell upholstery foam because it has a better compression factor, making it more comfortable. Closed-cell upholstery foam is used for smaller cushions and pontoon seat accessories and is heavier than open cell foam. Although it is heavier, it is more buoyant and can be used as a personal flotation device.

Pontoon seat vinyl protects upholstery foam from water and other abrasive elements. Light visible to the human eye discolors unprotected polyurethane foam. New foam is off-white, but with exposure to visible light turns yellow, then brown. The foam durability is not significantly affected by the discoloration.

UV rays are higher-energy and cannot be seen by the human eye. This high-energy radiation triggers damaging chemical reactions in the upholstery foam and pontoon seat vinyl. Upholstery foam will not discolor if the upholstery vinyl is dense enough to block out light. In addition to blocking visible light, the vinyl blocks out UV rays. The upholstery foam will not feel the effects of UV rays if the vinyl is intact. UV protection is rated using industry standards to determine the hours of protection against damaging rays. Marine-grade pontoon seat vinyl must have UV and weather resistance ratings of over 1500 hours, especially with discount pontoon seats. Other standards address color stability, resisting mold and mildew growth, cracking temperature and abrasion resistance.

Accidental Pontoon Seat Vinyl

Several fortunate accidents in the early 1900s lead to the discovery of the products used to create pontoon furniture, including pontoon seat vinyl, polyurethane foam and even the Teflon thread used to sew pontoon seats together.

Rubber scientist Waldo Semon was trying to find a synthetic adhesive but was having no luck. He did, however find an unusual, durable product called PVC, or vinyl. Vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic in the world. Pontoon seat vinyl is not PVC's only claim to fame, though. It is used in virtually every industry and can be customized to fill specific needs by the addition of other materials or coatings.

DuPont laboratories, in a joint effort with General Motors, was attempting to develop a non-toxic refrigerant for home kitchens. The compound being researched TFE. But the chemist, Roy Plunkett, noticed the tank holding the TFE was mysteriously empty. Opening the tank, he found a white powder, PTFE. The TFE had polymerized with the iron inside the container acting as a catalyst. PTFE's more recognizable name is Teflon. It can be transformed into fibers or "filled" with other products to create fibers with desired properties. PTFE can be used in thread for sewing pontoon bench seat vinyl seams. It is non-reactive, reduces friction and wear, and is hydrophobic. Hydrophobic means it does not interact with water, making it perfect for the damp pontoon boat environment. Teflon is so slippery it is the only surface geckos cannot climb. Studies are underway to determine why, and to research reusable adhesives using this premise.

Polyurethane foam, now commonly called upholstery foam, was also an accident. While early work in developing polyurethane was underway, water was mistakenly added to a reaction mix. It produced what the lab technicians described as an "imitation Swiss cheese." We now call this open cell or closed-cell polyurethane foam. Many chemical companies joined the excitement in creating flexible polyurethane including Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Dow Chemical and other industry giants.

Damage to Pontoon Seat Vinyl

Vinyl used for pontoon seats is extremely durable, particularly when additives are combined with vinyl resin for additional protective characteristics. The primary properties vinyl exhibits that make it so appealing are that it is low cost and that it has the ability to blend with other materials to design vinyl with project-specific qualities.

Although pontoon seat vinyl is resilient, destructive agents can shorten its lifespan. Constant exposure to the elements means that the wind can lash the vinyl with airborne particles, like a sandblaster. Protective coatings are used to guard against damage, but those coatings can also be worn down. By periodically refreshing the coatings on discount pontoon seats, the vinyl can enjoy a significantly longer lifespan.

Water damage is one of the unavoidable issues on pontoon boats. It is important to cover pontoon boats when not in use so that water does not remain on surfaces over long periods. Standing water can reduce the effectiveness of protective coatings and can provide an excellent breeding ground for mold and mildew. Protective coatings can shield vinyl from excessive water damage, mold and mildew, but those coatings will be less effective with time.

While UV rays are invisible to the human eye, evidence of damage from UV rays can be seen on people with sunburns. Those same UV rays damage pontoon seat vinyl as well as many other materials. Polymers oxidize when bombarded with UV rays, which means that they are changed on the molecular level. Protective coatings reapplied after significant exposure to UV rays will help to prolong the lifespan of the pontoon seat vinyl.

Dirt, pollen and other debris left on pontoon seat vinyl, particularly if it is in standing water and exposed to sunlight, can damage the vinyl. Protecting pontoon boats when not in use and routine cleaning will protect your investment. Even sunscreen has chemicals that, if left on pontoon seats, will stain and damage vinyl. Clean spills as soon as possible with products designed for marine-grade vinyl.

Pontoon Seat Vinyl Maintenance

Prolong the lifespan of your furniture investment by properly taking care of the pontoon seat vinyl. Routinely perform a cleanup when docking your pontoon boat, or as needed. Party boats often see lots of spills from food, drink, gasoline, oil and other abrasive materials. Quickly cleaning up any spilled materials will keep them from causing damage or staining the vinyl. Without proper maintenance, replacement pontoon seats may be needed in the future.

Wet towels and bathing suits should not be left on pontoon seat vinyl for long periods. The warm, damp conditions encourage mold and mildew growth. Sit on a dry towel and keep wet towels away from the vinyl. Some pontoon boat owners keep plastic bags to store wet towels and clothing.

Party refuse, leaves, pollen and other debris should be removed as soon as possible. Debris left on pontoon seat vinyl can scratch the surface. It can also retain water, providing a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Routinely cleaning your pontoon boat when you dock for the night is a good habit and will prolong the lifespan of your boat and your bench seats.

Clean all of the pontoon seat vinyl regularly with products designed for marine-grade vinyl. Do not use household cleaners, they may be too abrasive for the vinyl. Check with the manufacturer or your local marina to find the best cleaning products. Detergent and other cleaning products are actually abrasive, so make sure to rinse the vinyl more than once to remove the soap residue. Cleaning and rinsing pontoon seat vinyl with power washers is not advised. The vinyl was not designed to withstand the intense spray of the power washer. Instead, use a bucket or garden hose.

After cleaning your pontoon seat vinyl, apply a protectant that is designed for the type of vinyl you have on your boat. Applying protective coatings to the vinyl will renew the ability of the vinyl to withstand UV rays and protect against oxidation. Cleaning, keeping the vinyl dry and protecting the vinyl will work together to control destructive elements. It is also recommended to use pontoon seat covers when your boat is not being used.

When storing your pontoon boat in the off-season, desiccants can be used to remove excessive moisture. Desiccants are the material, often in small packets, found with shoes or with other products that would be damaged in a damp environment. Examples of desiccants are silica gel and calcium sulfate. They work by either absorbing water or adsorbing water, sometimes by a combination of the two. Absorbing means the water is pulled into the desiccant. Adsorbing means the water binds together with the desiccant. Keeping the appropriate amount of desiccant in the pontoon boat during off-season storage keeps moisture under control and is a hostile environment for the growth of mold and mildew.

Pontoon seat vinyl is further protected by properly winterizing your pontoon boat. Perform an end-of-season cleaning, use a good protectant and pull the boat from the water. Consider the climate in your location when determining how much winter protection the pontoon boat will need. In warmer climes, simply parking the boat with a tarp will provide adequate protection. In more severe locations, a carport or garage may be the best option for storing the boat.

Speak with the pontoon boat manufacturer or a local marina to determine the best way to protect your pontoon seat vinyl from winter damage. You can purchase cleaning products from the original manufacturer, from a marina, or from online stores that specialize in pontoon boats. Proper maintenance of your pontoon boat and the pontoon seat vinyl will add years of enjoyment to your investment, even longer than the expected lifespan of the pontoon seats.