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What Is Polyvinyl Acetate Adhesive?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 16, 2024
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Polyvinyl acetate, also known as PVA or PVAc, is a synthetic polymer, or plastic. It is more specifically categorized as a thermoplastic, meaning it melts at high temperatures, and has certain properties such as being elastic and flexible at room temperature. Polyvinyl acetate adhesive is glue containing this compound. Many common types of glue, including standard white or school glue, contain this material. Yellow carpenter's glue, commonly used for woodworking projects, is also a polyvinyl acetate adhesive, as is the similar white wood glue. PVA glues are considered very easy to use, since they can be cleaned up with water, are safe to handle without gloves or other skin protection, and do not give off any hazardous fumes, but they do not hold up well in moist or wet conditions.

A polyvinyl acetate adhesive works best on porous materials, such as wood, paper, and cardboard, and is also recommended when gluing vinyl and leather. Many PVA glues are white, and they are used for a wide variety of purposes, such as making collages, paper crafts, and woodworking projects. These adhesives are acid-free, which makes them especially suited to projects like bookbinding, where an acidic adhesive would deteriorate the paper.

Yellow carpenter's glue is commonly used both for DIY home construction projects and for woodworking projects, such as furniture making. This glue keeps its yellow tinge when it dries, while a white adhesive dries clear. White PVA glue also has a longer drying time than yellow glue. Both work well for most types of wood, but they do not always provide a strong bond if the wood is oily, like teak. The adhesive's water content can also make some types of wood, like beech, warp.

In order for a PVA glue to form as strong an adhesive bond as possible, the user should work at room temperature, ensure good air circulation, and put pressure on the materials being glued together, such as by using clamps. This type of adhesive is not suitable for use in places where it will be exposed to moisture or water. It should also not be allowed to freeze, because this will make the glue lose its ability to form a strong bond.

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Discussion Comments
By anon345032 — On Aug 15, 2013

I want pva which is not mixed in water.

By TreeMan — On Feb 14, 2012

@stl156 - I was curious about the PVAc thing, too, so I looked it up. Apparently, PVA is also a common definition for polyvinyl alcohol, so PVAc is the more correct term for the glue to avoid confusion.

Does anyone here have any idea how long white school glue will last. I bought one of the large bottles of it one time for a project I was doing, and I still have it. That was back when I was in grade school, so the glue has to be at least 15 years old. It still works just fine, though. I always make sure I screw the cap down tight every time.

Now that I know what the glue is made of, I guess it makes more sense why it could last so long, but I'm just wondering if there comes a time where the plastics or whatever else is in it start to break down to the point where the glue doesn't work anymore?

By jcraig — On Feb 13, 2012

@titans62 and @stl156 - Actually, PVA glues aren't really as dangerous as their names sound. Like the article says, it is basically a type of plastic that is combined with some water and other liquids to get the form we are familiar with. It basically works, because once you put the glue on wood or paper or wherever, the water evaporates and just leaves behind the sticky polymers. I certainly wouldn't recommend tasting glue, since it would probably upset your stomach, but the nontoxic part basically means it won't kill you. Your stomach acid should break it apart well enough to make it pass through your system.

For the other types of toxic glues, their ingredients basically just depend on their application. For example, PVC glue will have chemicals specifically designed the break down PVC plastics. The same goes for the other materials.

By stl156 — On Feb 13, 2012

How exactly does polyvinyl acetate work? I know with a lot of glues, they actually "melt" part of the material they are put on, and that keeps the two pieces together. I definitely don't think that school glue has the potential to melt paper and wood. Also, even though it is a lot stronger, could super glue be considered a type of PVA glue?

I also noticed at the top of the article, one of the abbreviations for the glue was PVAc. Does anyone have any idea what the "c" stands for there?

When was PVA first discovered? Given that it probably uses some pretty advanced science, I am guessing that it is probably more recent that I would have originally expected. How long did it take until it because widely used like it is today? What did they use for glue before that time? I have always heard the jokes about horses being used for glue. Is that really true?

By titans62 — On Feb 12, 2012

Interesting article. I had heard of polyvinyl acetate before, but I never really knew what properties it had. Just from the sound of it, I would have assumed it was one of the other epoxy type glues. The big question I have now is, what exactly is in PVA glues? I know the bottles say they are nontoxic, but judging by the name, it doesn't seem like something I would want to accidentally put in my mouth. I always assumed they were made from generally safe products, but maybe not.

Are there any other types of PVA glues besides regular school glue and wood glue? I wonder if the glue in glue sticks is made out of the same stuff. How do they make it into stick form?

Also, what are the things that go into making the other types of glues and epoxies that are toxic? I am thinking primarily of things like rubber cement and PVC adhesives that are extremely strong.

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