Home > Uncategorized > Quick Tip: Working With PUL (Polyurethane Laminate)
Quick Tip: Working With PUL (Polyurethane Laminate)
What is soft, pliable, and waterproof; can withstand fairly high temperatures; and holds up to a lot of use? Like me, your first guess might have been those dang swimming pool noodles you always buy too many of and then never know what to do with once summer is over. But… the real answer is: PUL, polyurethane laminate if you wish to be formal. The broad category refers to any fabric with a polyurethane laminated to a base fabric. Most common is a polyester knit fabric laminated to a thin waterproof, non-breathable polyurethane backing. Originally developed for use in the medical industry, it’s very durable and very popular right now for folks making diapers, diaper covers, changing pads, bibs, training pants, and outside the world of babies, it’s often used to create reusable sandwich, snack and lunch bags. As with most man-made fabrics, there are some tips and techniques that make sewing with PUL easier.
We chose the thin, 1.33 mm PUL knit as a waterproof lining for our Baby Gifts: Pretty Bird Quick Trip Diaper Bag. It worked great. There are double laminates out there as well, which are usually the waterproof polyurethane sandwiched between two layers of polyester knit.
We’ve also used the popular cotton laminates, such as Heather Bailey’s Nicey Jane cotton laminate, which we used for our Retro Fun: Toddler’s Laminated Project Apron. Though different from PUL, because it’s bonded to a natural cotton fabric (it is not waterproof – just water resistant), several of the pinning and sewing tips are applicable to this type of fabric as well.
Needles and pins
Unlike the forgiving fibers of natural cotton weaves, when you make a hole in PUL, it’s there for good. Because of this, the fewer pins the better. The more holes you make, the less waterproof a project can become. Many people are against ever using pins on PUL, but I’m not that rigid. If your project is a simple one without a lot of complex interlocking seams, you should try to avoid pins. You can substitute paperclips, hair clips, fusible seam tape, or a glue stick (Pritt Stick is a good one for fabric and it washes out with the first laundering). For more complicated projects, sometimes you just gotta use pins. In that case, try to keep your pinning within the seam allowance. Also, this is a funny tip, but try to avoid mistakes. Because if you have to rip out a seam, the holes will remain.
The thickness of laminate you are using will determine the type of needle to use. A denim or jeans needle is a good choice for thicker laminates in a No. 14 to No. 16. For the thinner laminates, a ball point needle is a good choice in a No. 9 or No. 11. Always test first on a scrap.
Laminate can be ‘sticky’ going through your sewing machine. That great laminated surface, which is what makes it waterproof or water resistant, tends to want to stick to your presser foot. There are several ways to combat this:
- Use a Teflon® or Ultraglide foot. These feet have a special coating on the bottom, which allows them to move smoothly over difficult fabrics like PUL and vinyl.
- Use a Walking Foot, which has feed dogs incorporated into the foot itself. These feed dogs work in conjunction with the machine’s feed dogs to feed fabric layers evenly.
- When possible, sew with the laminate side down against the feed dogs and the fabric side against your presser foot.
- Use a baker’s paper or wax paper over the top of the laminate. The presser foot moves across the paper easily, and these papers are translucent so you can still see where you’re going. Simply tear it away from the finished seam when done. It’s most efficient to work with strips of paper just in the area where you’re stitching.
Use a high quality, 100% polyester thread rather than a cotton thread. A cotton thread can wick moisture to the outside.
There are folks in both the zig zag camp and the straight stitch camp. I’ve found either stitch works fine. The key seems to be to lengthen your stitch. You might also want to loosen your tension slightly. Test your stitch on a scrap before you begin your project! This is always a good rule of thumb, but is especially important when working with difficult fabrics.
Laundering and other care issues
Because PUL fabric was originally developed to withstand the intense heat of sanitizing washers and dryers used in hospitals, it will certainly hold up in your home washer and dryer. In fact, washing and drying with HIGH heat can help to seal up needle holes and seams.
- Use mild detergent
- Do NOT use fabric softeners, chemical stain lifters or bleach
- Do NOT iron
- If you use PUL for a project that stays wet for extended periods (such as with diapers), you can add a ½ cup of baking soda to the wash cycle to prevent odor build up.
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My granddaughter asked me to make her a camera bag. Would Pul fabric be suitable for this project. Also are there any special instructions for inserting zippers. Can the bag be lined and what would you suggest lining it with.
Hi Shirley — PUL could work well as a lining for your bag (whether it needs a lining will be completely dependent on the pattern you choose) but it probably is not the best option for the exterior. Something heavier and more durable would be a better fit, like a canvas or a faux leather… or even a cork.
I’m making bowl covers and will probably need washing a lot. I will be using cotton bias tape around the curve and sliding 1/4″ elastic in the bias tape. Can you tell me if 2 times fullness is enough or to much?
Hi Elizabeth – I can’t tell you for sure, since I don’t know what your cover looks like. But, we have a bowl covers project online, so based on that our calculation was “To determine the length, multiply the diameter of the bowl by 3, then subtract 5″ from this measurement.” You can find the full tutorial here: https://sew4home.com/fast-fridays-cute-fabric-bowl-covers/
Hey, I feel like some of this may be a little outdated? I was under the impression that PUL is breathable, and that is what makes it so lovely. Also, everything I have read, and It’s been pretty extensive, says NOT to use any wash sodas such as baking soda, borax, etc. Am I mistaken? I could be, I have spent way too many hours down this rabbit hole patiently waiting for my order. Also, apparently tissue paper works really well too, along with the other suggestions, OR I heard some scotch tape on the presser foot helps it guide… Read more »
I have never used PUL and I am wondering if I could I use PUL as a seat cover? I am looking to make an elasticized parsons chair cover…would this work well to combat dinnertime spills? Thanks!
Hi Anne – PUL could certainly work. Because it’s lightweight, it would be easy to add a casing for elastic. But, being lightweight, it might slip and slid around a bit when someone is sitting in the chair. Other options for a wipe-clean surface would be cotton laminates and oilcloth.
You could also layer PUL as a backing, with a microfleece and terry fleece to make the top absorbant and the back wouldnt let leaks through 🙂
I am thinking of making some bibs, but don’t know how to layer them.
I know I want the printed side up with the PUL backing facing towards the chest, but then I’m stuck about the second back layer. I could do another layer of PUL but I’m worried it will get mildewy on the inside when I wash them with the two PUL layers facing inwards. Should I do something different like cotton for the backing so it dries after I wash them?
Thank you for the advice!!
Leslie – It’s really up to you. For our bibs, if we use PUL, we tend to use it on the back. As in these knit baby bibs: https://sew4home.com/knit-baby-bib-with-ruffle-accents/
We’ve also used terry cloth on the back, which is absorbent and very easy to launder, such as these cotton front bibs: https://sew4home.com/baby-bib-with-patchwork-front-and-terry-back-plus-babys-first-christmas-gift-tag-s4h-holiday-gift-guide/
We’ve even used just cotton front AND back with batting between for a quilted look, like in this matched set: https://sew4home.com/bib-and-burp-cloth-matched-set/
I wouldnt do PUL on the front as everything would just slid right off and render the bib useless. My suggestion would be PUL back, right side out, then microfleece such as baby hug, or hemp/bamboo fleece with a terry fleece or jersey top layer. This would give the bib opportunity to absorb the spills vs repel them, yet the back would stop it from spilling 9nto the garmets below.
Hello! I have a question that I’ve been researching for a week and still can’t figure out. I’ve made a pocket diaper designed after a traditional one, where you slip the insert inside. I used a white PUL with a cotton print on the outside. This specific diaper is soaking wet when used. Does it matter what side of the PUL is facing? I have the cute cotton print as the outer layer, then the slick side of PUL facing inside, and the softer side against baby’s skin, facing out. I’m not sure if I’m using the PUL wrong, or… Read more »
Hi Rachel – we’ve never done any diaper projects, so can’t give you an “expert” opinion on that, but reading your description, it sounds like you are layering correctly. I do know on the printed PUL products that the print is meant to be the “outside” layer. Perhaps the seaming of the pocket is causing some leakage? Again – without having made a diaper project, it’s hard to be sure. If you have time for more research, specific DIY diaper making projects and/or YouTube videos might offer additional info.
Hi Liz, Thank you for all of this helpful information! I have question about leakage. If you have leakage through your PUL fabric, is there anything can be done at that point? Is there some way to “spot” seal the area if hot wash dry doesn’t help?
Hello – we have not experimented with “repairing” a tear/hole in PUL so really can’t give you an answer on that question. The only thing to maybe consider – if the hole/tear is a larger one – is possible a vinyl repair kit, the type of thing you’d find for repairing outdoor gear.
You may need to increase absorbent layers inside. I used ready made PUL diapers. When they were “soaked” or leaking, the cause was almost always not enough absorbency or a fit issue.
Hi Eva – thanks for adding your expertise 🙂
Hey! I’m sure you have figured it out but if not, I have done extensive research. Soooo… you could put the diaper in the dryer for 20 minutes on med/high to reseal any small holes from the sewing process. There is also stuff called “Seam Sealing Tape – WBM FX-800 – Hot Melt – Waterproof PU Coated Fabric Repair Tape”, it’s an iron on seam seal, you would want to use a pressing mat, or Ive seen people use parchment paper. In regards to leakage and absorption, Id recommend a hemp/bamboo fleece in combination with higher grade microfiber (such as… Read more »
Should PUL fabric be pre-washed before using it in projects?
Hi Brenda – PUL does not shrink so it is not necessary to prewash it before sewing. But if there are non-PUL elements in your project, like a quilting cotton – those likely would need to be pre-washed. Below is a link to our pre-wash/pre-shrink tutorial.
I’m interested to know if Polyurethane laminate is safe to use in making face mask. Since the fabric is breathable I was thinking about using it as an inside liner along with 100% cotton as the outer fabric. Not knowing what goes into making this fabric I don’t know if it gives off any chemical smell or otherwise that would be harmful for breathing in through a face mask. Thanks for any and all information available to help me know about this application.
@Louise – We don’t have specific information or research on using PUL for this situation. We did post a good chart in social media on Thursday (both FB and Instagram) that shared the filtration capabilities of a number of household fabrics. You can find out more in this article: https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/best-materials-make-diy-face-mask-virus/
That’s the same info I am looking for. Searching the internet and haven’t seen any evidence on use for this. It does make a lightweight less cumbersome mask lining. Not sure if I should be sucking air through it for hours.
@Linda – So sorry – we do continue to scour the web for info and update our main article several times a week, but other than the link shown above in my response to Louise, there hasn’t been a lot of filtering studies out there. Everyone is probably just too busy with the day to day right now. Keep checking the main article when you can; that’s where we put our latest info: https://bit.ly/DIYFaceMaskInfo
Hello! I have a question. I am not a sewer but needing some information for an idea I have. I work in a dental office and we use either disposable gowns or scrub jackets. In this day and age either we have to.do a lot of washing or throwinf away a lot of gowns after each latient. Either way costing money. I am wondering if I had someone make us aprons from a pul fabric if we could simply wipe them down between patients to disinfect them. Saving time and money but still being safe! Also it would need to… Read more »
@Lisa – I don’t know that I’m really qualified to give you an answer about something being sanitized enough for use in a dental office. PUL is indeed lightweight. It is not particularly “breathable” so for something as all-encompassing as a gown or jacket even being lightweight it could get warm after a extended period of time. But for just an hour or so, it would likely be okay. In terms of “wiping it down” that is a question I’m just not sure of. When we use it in a project – for example in the lining of a diaper… Read more »
PUL was made for the medical industry and was originally used because it was autoclavable. It is lightweight and breathable. It is laminated to a knit fabric and remains waterproof with the stretch of the knit. I hope this helps.
Thanks for posting about all your expertise and research!