We have been asked many times, what the difference is between the main types of coated tablecloth which can collectively be described as 'wipe clean'.

The first of which, oilcloth was introduced in the 18th century, initially as a floor and roof covering. The waterproof fabric was made by stretching linen or canvas fabric across a wooden frame then coating it with linseed oil. The fabric would then be rubbed over with a pumice stone and further coats of linseed oil applied. Over time the use of this oil coated fabric widened and outdoor clothing and table coverings were produced making full use of its water resistant properties. The production of oilcloth specifically for the use tablecloths developed when brightly coloured cotton fabrics became readily available and the commercial production expanded to meet the ever increasing demand.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) took over as a coating from linseed oil. It was cheap to produce and gives a consistent durable finish. However over the last 20 years concerns have been raised about some of the chemicals used in the production of PVC. Chloride, lead stabilisers and phthalates used to make the tablecloth more flexible are seen as problem chemicals that may be harmful to health. The EU, chemists and manufacturers have been working hard to find alternatives to these potentially harmful additions and a voluntary agreement is in place to have them eliminated from PVC products by 2015.

In many other European countries the production of alternatives is already well advanced and the use of lighter acrylic coatings has largely replaced the use of controversial PVC in coated tablecloths. Acrylic coating is a more expensive treatment where products such as the trademarked Teflon are used to provide a highly resistant and durable coating. Not only is this considered to be a hardwearing green treatment but it also allows the fabric to retain more of its natural feel and drape and retain its wipeable properties even after washing.

It will be interesting to see how the coating of tablecloth develops over the next 20 years. What fabric will be covering our tables in 2035?