What is PU and why is it on my jacket?

What is PU and why is it on my jacket?

PU is a strange sounding abbreviation. When considering the environmental impact of your clothing seeing a material you’re not familiar with can be off-putting. We hope this post will leave you with a better understanding. 

PU stands for Polyurethane. Polyurethane is an oil based synthetic material. It is perfect for items that need to be durable and has many use cases from skateboard wheels to condoms.

The chemical structure of PU

When used in clothing it will be a coating that’s been applied in liquid form to either the entire garment or to individual fibres. This coating is used for outdoor jackets; providing them with a protective film that makes them waterproof.

Why is PU used?

PU makes garments completely waterproof, durable and more resistant to damage. It is an alternative to fluorocarbon-based Durable Water Repellent’s (DWR’s) which though effective contain toxic by-products. PU is also more environmentally friendly than PVC which contains toxic plasticisers which can leach from the material and have adverse health effects.

Is there a catch?

PU is heavier than its alternatives so can give jackets a little more weight. Also, although better for the environment than its alternatives, PU is still made from fossil fuels and has other environmental drawbacks. Conventionally a solvent called dimethylformamide (DMF) is used in PU processing, which can have occupational health risks and is a pollutant. This chemical then needs to be washed out and recovered, and the coating dried, requiring a lot of water and energy.

Not all PU is created equal 

There have been recent advancements in the production of PU, removing DMF from the process, which has had the knock on effect of reducing the amount of water and energy used in production. INSQIN® PU is created without the use of solvents. It complies with the ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) group and is Blue Sign approved. We’re pleased to say that the PU coating on our Ecoalf jackets is Blue Sign approved.

Should I buy a jacket containing it?

In my opinion, yes. Despite there being some negative impact, it will be lower than in many waterproof jackets. The durability of PU also means that you can take your jacket on many adventures.

Been saving up for a rainy day? Why not have a browse of our Ethical Coats & Jackets collection to see if there is one that's right for you.

Words and illustration by Rachel Finegan.