April 22, 2024

Chemistry of Fabric: Exploring the World of Textile Processing Chemicals

From fiber production to fabric formation to finishing processes, chemicals are essential at every step to impart desirable properties to the textiles. In this article, we will take a detailed look at some of the major types of chemicals used in textile processing and their functions.

Fiber Production Chemicals
The very first stage in textile manufacturing involves the production of fibers that will later be spun into yarns. Whether natural fibers like cotton, wool or silk or man-made fibers like nylon, polyester or acrylic, chemicals play a crucial part right from the beginning.

Cotton Production – Cotton grows as a fluffy bundle of fibers wrapped around the cotton seed. In order to separate these fibers, defoliating and defatting chemicals are used. Defoliants remove leaves and vegetation so only cotton bolls remain on the plant. Defatting chemicals dissolve wax and pectin on cotton fibers to make the fibers smoother and easier to process.

Man-made Fiber Production – Synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, acrylic etc are polymerized from petroleum-based raw materials using catalysts and other chemical additives. Monomers are polymerized to create long molecular chains which are then extruded through spinnerets to form fibers. Spin finish chemicals are applied to impart characteristics like luster and spinning consistency.

Yarn Manufacturing Chemicals
Once fibers are produced, they are further processed into yarns using various techniques like spinning, twisting etc. Chemicals play an important role at this stage as well.

Spin Finish Chemicals – These are applied to fibers before spinning to reduce friction between fibers and prevent breakage. Spin finishes lubricate fibers, provide antistatic properties and ensure uniformity in yarn formation. Common examples include oils, fatty acids, silicone derivatives etc.

Sizing Chemicals – Natural fibers like cotton have a tendency to fibrillate or split during weaving. Sizing chemicals like starches coat yarn fibers and fill gaps to reinforce the yarn structure and prevent breakage during weaving. This improves weavability.

Wax and Organic Polymers – Applied as coatings on core spun yarns for characteristics like strength, softness and moisture absorption regulation.

Fabric Processing Chemicals
Once yarns are formed, they undergo further processing like weaving, knitting to make fabrics. A whole range of chemicals are applied during fabric manufacturing and treatment.

Bleaching Chemicals – Used to remove natural color/impurities from fibers and whitening fabrics. Common bleaches include sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide.

Mercerizing Chemicals – Treatment of cotton yarns/fabrics with caustic soda solution to improve luster and absorbency. The process causes fibers to curl and swell.

Sizing and Desizing Chemicals – Applied before weaving for easier processing. Removed later using enzymatic desizers.

Printing and Dyeing Chemicals – Dyes and pigments along with assistants and catalysts are used for applying color and designs on fabrics. Natural dyes as well as synthetic reactive, direct, pigment dyes are used.

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Finishing Chemicals
The final stage of textile processing involves finishing of fabrics using different chemicals to impart required properties and handle. Some major fabric finishing chemicals include:

Water Repellent and Oil Repellent Finishes – Fluoropolymer and silicone based formulations applied using pad-dry-cure technique or exhaust method. Examples include Scotchgard, Zelan etc.

Softeners and Antistatic Finishes – Chemicals like quaternary ammonium compounds added for soft feel and reduced static cling. Example – SANICIZE.

Antimicrobial and Anti-odor Finishes – Use of silver, triclosan and other actives to make fabrics resistant to bacteria and odor causing microbes.

Crease Resistant and Wrinkle Free Finishes – Resins that cross link cellulose fibers forming a rigid framework preventing creasing. Formaldehyde based durable press finishes are commonly used.

Flame Retardant Finishes – Apply chemicals like phosphorus, bromine or inorganic salts that can inhibit or slow down combustion. Used in industrial workwear, home furnishings etc.

Water, Stain and Oil Repellents impart grease and moisture resistance. Examples include fluorochemical and silicone based products.

Other Mechanical finishing processes that use chemicals include calendaring, sanforizing, decating etc. The selection depends on the fabric properties required for end-use.

Role of Textile Chemicals in Sustainability
With rising environmental consciousness, the Textile Chemicals industry is working towards developing eco-friendly and sustainable chemical solutions. Some notable trends include:

Use of Organically Produced Materials -Natural and plant-based raw materials grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Enzyme-Based Processes – Enzymatic treatments that work at room temperature without using harsh chemicals. Example – enzyme bleaching, desizing and bio-polishing.

Bio-based and Biodegradable Chemicals – Renewable biopolymers, fatty acids, polyesters, proteins and amino acids that are biodegradable.

Water-Based Formulations – Solvent-free, water-based chemicals and finishes reducing dependence on VOCs.

Closed-Loop Recycling – Reprocessing used textile waste into fibers and recovering chemicals.

Advancements in textile chemical manufacturing is enabling sustainable innovations across the industry’s supply chain. With focus on green chemistry principles, the sector is optimizing resource efficiency.

Textile chemicals play an instrumental role in determining the characteristics and performance of fabric materials. From raw material extraction to post-processing finishing – a multitude of physico-chemical and mechanical processes are involved utilizing various categories of specialty chemicals. With growing demand for high-quality textiles, innovation in chemical formulations remains a critical success factor for stakeholders. Sustainability is also a key priority area to develop eco-friendly chemical technologies going forward.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it