Why Isn’t Cling Wrap as Good as It Used to Be?


[♪ INTRO] Odds are, you probably have a roll of cling wrap tucked away in a kitchen drawer, ready for wrapping up your leftovers. For a lot of people, it’s a kitchen staple. But if you’ve been buying the stuff for years, you might’ve thought that it just doesn’t work as well as it used to. And for once, you’re not imagining it. The gold standard for cling wrap used to be the Saran Wrap brand, made by the company SC Johnson. But around the early 2000s, the company actually changed their formula to a version that was less sticky and generally less effective. Thankfully, they at least had a good reason for it. Saran Wrap was originally made out of a chemical called polyvinylidene chloride, or PVDC. It was actually discovered by accident by a chemist at another company, Dow Chemical, in 1933. It formed as a sticky residue in beakers that had been used to develop a chlorine-based dry-cleaning chemical. And not that dry-cleaning isn’t fascinating or anything, but PVDC turned out to have some interesting properties of its own. It’s a special kind of chemical compound called a polymer, a molecule in which a bunch of identical, smaller molecules are linked to form a long chain. There are all kinds of these, but PVDC was especially useful because it forms a nearly impenetrable barrier to odors, making it ideal for wrapping
and preserving food. That’s because it has a super low permeability: the rate at which it lets liquid or gases pass through it. Scientists think this is probably thanks to the densely packed, unbranched, stable structure of its molecular chains. Dow first sold this super effective Saran Wrap in 1953, and SC Johnson bought the formula and the brand name in 1998. But around that time, concerns started to surface about chlorine-containing compounds like PVDC. It turns out that when they’re thrown away and burned in municipal trash incinerators, they can release toxic chemicals. When this came to light, SC Johnson made the responsible decision to eliminate PVDC from all of its products by 2004. After some research, they made a new cling wrap formula that used chlorine-free polyethylene. It’s another polymer that’s okay, but definitely not as good at trapping odors and keeping food fresh. See, depending on the temperature, one square meter of a thin film of PVDC will let about 1 to 5 grams of water vapor pass through it in a day. But for low-density polyethylene, that ranges from 16 to 31 grams, a big difference. And the difference in their oxygen transmission rates is even more impressive, jumping from about 2 to 16 cubic centimeters per day for PVDC to almost 8,000 for polyethylene. That’s a lot of numbers, but the bottom line is that this new cling wrap just doesn’t have the same odor-trapping, freshness-preserving magic that it once did. And maybe even worse, this polyethylene mix doesn’t even seem to be quite as clingy. But if the switch means putting less toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, I think we can all probably make do. Thanks for asking, and thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon for keeping the questions coming. If you’d like to submit a question or vote
on which one we’ll answer next, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. [♪ OUTRO]

100 Replies to “Why Isn’t Cling Wrap as Good as It Used to Be?

  1. Good for them! It's good to hear of a corporation trying to do some good, even if it costs sales.

  2. I noticed the quality of kitchen film decreased rapidly when I stopped buying $5 a roll Glad brand and started using $2 supermarket brand…… Sure it's crap but it's just going in the bin anyway, who cares.
    And have you seen what a roll of baking paper costs these days? $50!

  3. In Britain we call it cling film. That is the correct term because we are British and therefore always right.

  4. Why do we keep finding these magically amazing substances that keep turning out to be unusabley dangerous…

  5. Its toxic when you burn it. So instead of just not burning it they made a socially responsible inferior product. Thanks

  6. I also think its less likely to melt. As a kid i put it in a microwave once and it melted near instantly. My niece put it in the microwave a few weeks ago for a whole minute and it did not melt at all.

  7. I'm from South America and always bought locally made cling wrap but once bought Great Value US made one because it was cheaper and I noticed how bad it was. I didn't know the reason until now.

  8. A company that actually did the right thing for once. Are we sure the sky didn't fall without us being aware of it?

  9. I knew it ….can't get it off the roll and out of the box …and trying to tearing it is ridiculous.

  10. Stupid question : comparison between the two of them is not very telling if we don't have numbers from "without cling wrapped food". If oxygen transmission goes from 2-16 to 8000, but without anything it's in the range of millions, I won't really be bothered by polyethylene's quality. Control group, always. :p

  11. This is why we can't have nice things and there are a lot of things like this. Rubbermaid bins used to be way stronger before BPA was removed from the recipe. Landscape timbers will twist and bend a lot more now because they no longer use cyanide in their treatment. I can keep going.

  12. The new Saran wrap/shrink wrap is BETTER.
    It's less finicky. It only sticks to itself.
    This makes it more useful.

  13. I used to be able to buy yellow corn on the cob from the 1960s on. But then seemingly overnight only a white corn was available, in my Southern California supermarkets. Why the switch?

  14. You know, that might have made sense in the 60's when every city had a municipal incinerator. Now you would grow old and grey before you found any incinerators … anywhere. So it is a non problem. The stupidity of the eco-nuts never ceases to amaze me.

  15. I hate cling film you end up throwing it away because it is so clingy and tears easily and gets torn around the roll. Plastic food wrap is not so stickyon the roll, thicker and does a fine job.

  16. Glad brand wrap is garbage. It doesn’t cling to anything except itself. That’s the only thing it SHOULDNT cling to.

  17. I just stick to Aluminum foil… Never liked the shoddy plastic strip used to 'cut' the saran wrap, which ultimately made you sit there for 10 minutes peeling it apart. Aluminum Foil works perfectly fine, heck, Tupperware is even more effective.

  18. It's definitely gone down in quality but that doesn't mean it's useless. You just have to try a little harder to apply it. If you are bad at this you could try pushing it down on top of whatever your wrapping. If that isn't an option, like maybe it's a liquid, get the press & seal stuff. It's more expensive but easier to use so ppl have higher success rates with the stuff.

  19. For everybody congratulating SC Johnson, please stop. They probably silently changed it so 1. they wouldn't have to pay for any damages the old product might have caused and 2. The new stuff clings worse so you use more of it so you end up buying more of their crap product, and most likely 3. cheaper for them to manufacture. So it was a win win all around for them to change it. It's just too bad that it's still plastic so therefore still harmful to the environment, and since you're using more now theres more of it out there to pollute, and it doesn't even work so your food doesn't stay fresh… I'm sorry, what the hell is the point of it at all now? Ah yes, so SC Johnson can make a profit off nostalgia for a product that did work in the past. Seems to be the new business model.

  20. Oh no! If you burn it, it will release chlorine! Like we shower and swim in! They just wanted to use a cheaper material.

  21. Make due? More like switch to aluminum foil entirely. There's no point in using a cling wrap that doesn't effectively protect food!

  22. Yea. Definitely not worth it for me. The environment would have been just fine. God damn liberals ruin everything.

  23. Another person snared by pseudo-environmentalist claptrap. The pertinent question is, how many people got sick with what for how long through incineration of PVDC, and how many get sick from what for how long because of spoiled food or because of more wasted food. You know, all these years I've heard bitching about our landfills filling up with plastics that won't deteriorate; now I find out that no, they were being burned in incinerators. Oh, only a certain percentage were being burned? Then just how small a problem was the toxic emission? Does the convenience and well-being of the consumer count for nothing? Oh, of course it doesn't. We must not have any emissions of any kind. All power to the environmentalists!

  24. If we have to produce more food because stuff goes bad faster how has anything been improved (especially when you can just bury the stuff instead of burning it until we find a better way to recycle.)

  25. It has become almost useless now. It only sticks to itself, and they make it incredibly thin now. This makes it next to impossible to cut a sheet cleanly. The crap is not even worth using any more. I'm sure they thought it was better for the environment, but now I just use ziploc bags. Pretty sure that's using a lot more plastic usage.

  26. Aw, and here I thought I was getting better at not having it stick to itself and being able to tear it off more evenly all these years… it’s just less sticky.

    (I also call it plastic wrap) 😀

  27. I can get the original Saran Wrap made from PVDC on the black market. It's very expensive and increasingly harder to get, especially in larger quantities. I've been hoarding my stash in my bunker, and I have enough to last me for decades, and even spare some as a barter item.
    Pay attention to legislation that would ban even Polyethylene, forcing people to go back to wax paper or cellophane. Apocalypse Soon!

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