When 1-naphthol incorporated polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) films are allowed to swell in water, there is a loss of fluorescence intensity of the neutral form with a concomitant increase of the anionic form fluorescence intensity. This fluorescence response due to the excited state prototropism (ESPT) of 1-naphthol is very sensitive to the initial stage of hydration of the PVA. Using an existing model of hydrogel swelling and DSC experiments, it was reasoned that 1-naphthol senses the bound-water component of PVA hydration. Thus, 1-naphthol is proposed as an ESPT fluorescent sensor for the specific sensing of bound-water hydration of PVA hydrogel. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.