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The most common type of fabric used in homecare equipment is nylon, since it is slightly less expensive than vinyl, especially when purchased as replacement upholstery.
Nylon, a synthetic fabric, is somewhat porous, and offers breathability when a patient sits. It is used commonly on ultralight, lightweight and rehab wheelchairs that are usually more expensive overall than standard wheelchairs, due to its porous nature.
Nylon takes longer to reach maximum body heat reflection, thus insulating the user better than vinyl.
A downside is that nylon is harder to clean. Because it is so porous, it absorbs more liquids like body fluids, which it almost permanently retains. This translates into more frequent upholstery replacement depending on the continence needs of the user, or other issues.
Vinyl: Here’s What You Should Know
Vinyl is also a synthetic material. It was created to simulate leather. That’s why it is also known by another nickname: leatherette. Vinyl is a non-woven material that is normally used in hospital settings.
It is non-breathable since it is not porous. As a result, it tends to be warmer than nylon, causing patient perspiration, since it does not allow airflow or ventilation.
Vinyl, a slightly more expensive material than nylon, is used for almost all standard wheelchair upholstery. Colors vary by manufacturer, with black and navy blue the most common. Vinyl upholstery comes in a much broader color range than nylon.
Health Considerations to Keep in Mind
As people age, they lose skin collagen and elastin, decreasing the skin’s tensile strength and making it more susceptible to tears or wounds. Also, this contributes to circulatory issues like the advance of vascular atrophy. If an individual uses a wheelchair for most of their mobility needs, they will have a tendency to develop pressure ulcers due to skin deterioration or muscle loss and pressure on extremities.
All of these issues should be points of discussion with a medical professional in the decision process for what type of wheelchair seat to get, along with the type of upholstery material used on the wheelchair.
Caring for Your Graham-Field Wheelchair
Normal wear and tear will cause all seat and back upholstery to stretch on a wheelchair. Room temperature does not affect nylon, so it takes longer to stretch than vinyl does. Vinyl is affected by temperature changes, and with normal wear and tear, vinyl seat and back upholstery will tend to stretch naturally, and much faster than nylon does.
The most important decision factor in choosing your wheelchair’s upholstery, though, is how easy the fabric is to clean and maintain from a hygiene standpoint.