PTFE coated fabrics are commonly used in industrial applications due to their resistance to high temperatures and chemicals. They are used as insulation materials for applications such as heat sealing, thermal insulation jackets, gaskets for high-temperature sealing and electrical insulation. And while PTFE coated fabrics perform very well in these applications, there can be a hidden danger that poses a risk to both people and the environment.

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What makes PTFE hazardous?

PTFE is used in various applications (such as cookware) and is not considered hazardous in its solid form. But when PTFE reaches temperatures beyond 570° F/300° C toxic gases are generated and released into the atmosphere. This results in exposure to highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS chemicals, or “forever chemicals.” PFAS includes both perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), found in PTFE, and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid). Tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) is also released at high heat, and together with PFOA cause health issues such as respiratory irritation and polymer fume fever when inhaled.

Overheating PTFE coated fabric may cause the release of particulate matter in the form of fibers or airborne particles that are easily inhaled. This can cause respiratory irritation or damage to the lungs. In addition, high levels of exposure to the chemical compounds found in PTFE can cause kidney and thyroid conditions as well as cause testicular and ovarian cancer.

As a persistent synthetic material, PTFE does not decompose in the environment and bioaccumulates in both living organisms and the environment. When disposed of in a landfill, PTFE can leak into soil or water, or be carried by rainwater into rivers and drinking water. If PTFE is incinerated for disposal, the toxic gases are released into the air, which contributes to environmental pollution. State governments are introducing regulatory legislation to phase out PFAS in products that will favor safer alternatives to prevent contamination in water and soil.

There is no safe way to dispose of PTFE coated fabric and using it in high temperature applications can lead to health risks for personnel.

What can replace PTFE coated fabrics?

Despite the risks associated with exposure to PTFE, many companies continue to sell PTFE coated fabrics that make their way into high heat processes, such as those found in oil refineries and power generation plants. There is a safer alternative, one that companies who use PTFE coated fabrics should consider.

Polyurethane (PU) coated fabrics have emerged as an excellent replacement for PTFE coated fabrics with none of the harmful characteristics. When comprised of a high-strength fiberglass fabric coated with PU, these coated fabrics offer the following benefits:

Resistance to both heat and fire

With a temperature rating of 1,000° F (538°C), fiberglass has inherently good heat resistant properties. The addition of a PU coating enhances these properties, making them more resistant to heat and flames.

High resistance to oil, fuel and solvents

PU coated fabrics are suitable in applications where exposure to corrosive substances is likely.

Superior UV and weather resistance

The UV resistance of PU coatings prevents the degradation of fiberglass fabric when exposed to UV. In addition, PU also creates a barrier that prevents water and other liquids from permeating the fabric.

Excellent mechanical properties and structural stability

In addition to high durability, PU coated fiberglass fabric also has excellent abrasion resistance and can endure other forms of physical stress.

Lightweight for ease of fabrication with high flexural resistance

PU coated fabrics can be easily sewn, molded or shaped into various forms, and is excellent in applications where flexural resistance is required.

Overall, PU coated fabrics are excellent for use where PTFE coated fabrics are traditionally used. With the combination of strength, durability, flexibility and resistance to heat, chemicals and abrasion, PU coated fabrics could be the answer to the environmental and health risks posed by PTFE coated fabrics.