Saran Wrap - The History of PVDC

Saran® resins and films, called polyvinylidene chloride or PVDC, have been wrapping products for more than 50 years.

Saran® works by polymerizing vinylide chloride with monomers such as acrylic esters and unsaturated carboxyl groups, forming long chains of vinylide chloride. The copolymerization results in a film with molecules bound so tightly together that very little gas or water can get through.

The result is a barrier against oxygen, moisture, chemicals and heat that protects food, consumer products and industrial products. PVDC is resistant to oxygen, water, acids, bases and solvents. Similar brands of plastic wrap, such as Glad and Reynolds, do not contain PVDC.

The First "Plastic" Wrap

Saran® might be the first plastic wrap designed specifically for food products, but cellophane was the first material used to wrap just about everything else. A Swiss chemist, Jacques Brandenberger, first conceived of cellophane in 1911. It didn’t do much to preserve and protect food, however.

The Discovery of Saran® Wrap

Ralph Wiley, a Dow Chemical lab worker, accidentally discovered polyvinylidene chloride in 1933. A college student who cleaned glassware in a Dow Chemical lab, Wiley came across a vial he couldn't scrub clean. He called the substance coating the vial "eonite" after an indestructible material in the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip.

 

Dow researchers made Ralph's "eonite" into a greasy, dark green film and renamed it "Saran". The military sprayed it on fighter planes to guard against salty sea spray, and carmakers used it on upholstery. Dow later got rid of Saran's® green color and unpleasant odor.

Saran® resins can be used for molding and they melt adhesive bonding in non-food contact.

In combination with polyolefins, polystyrene and other polymers, Saran® can be coextruded into multilayer sheets, films and tubes.

From Planes and Cars to Food

Saran® Wrap was approved for food packaging after World War II, and it was prior-sanctioned by the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1956. PVDC is cleared for use as a food contact surface as a base polymer, in food package gaskets, in direct contact with dry foods, and for paperboard coating in contact with fatty and aqueous foods. It’s capable of capturing and containing aromas and vapors. When you placed a Saran®-wrapped peeled onion next to a slice of bread in your refrigerator, the bread will not pick up the taste or odor of the onion. The onion’s flavor and odor are trapped with it inside the wrap. 

Saran® resins for food contact can be extruded, coextruded or coated by a processor to meet specific packaging needs. About 85 percent of PVDC is used as a thin layer between cellophane, paper and plastic packaging to improve barrier performance.

Saran® Wrap Today

The Saran® films introduced by the Dow Chemical Company are best known as Saran® Wrap, the first cling wrap designed for commercial use in 1949 and household use in 1953.

SC Johnson acquired Saran® from Dow in 1998.

SC Johnson had some concerns about the safety of PVDC and subsequently took steps to eliminate it from Saran's® composition. The popularity of the product, as well as sales, suffered as a result. If you’ve noticed recently that Saran® isn't much different than Glad or Reynolds products, that’s why.