Whether you are a manufacturer of the textiles, a supplier, or a retailer selling the finished garments, there is one crucial aspect you need to pay attention to – the hygiene and health associated with the textiles. Let us look at this in a little more detail. You are well aware of the different steps involved in the production of a garment. As the raw material (both natural and man-made) gets converted into the final product available on the store shelves, it undergoes numerous chemical treatments.
While the production processes have evolved over the past decades to minimize the use of chemicals, they are still abundantly used. The chemical reactions have desirable effects on the overall outcome, and hence their use continues. However, these chemical reactions are also a significant cause for the growth of microorganisms on the textile. Not all microorganisms are good for humans, and some may even have adverse effects on those coming in contact.
Once the finished products are in use, they become even more significant breeding grounds for these microorganisms. Some reasons for this include the following:
Together, all these factors prove favorable for the growth of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, etc. These can be harmful to the end-user of the products, causing foul smells, allergies, rashes, or even infections. Sometimes, the wearer may not face any problems, but the clothes become prone to discoloration and faster wear and tear due to this microbial activity. These microbial activities also pose a challenge in the transportation and storage of the finished garments.
Microbial activity causes numerous problems at different stages of the production process. Some challenges during specific stages are listed below.
Thus, there is a need for a solution that addresses these concerns. This is where the antimicrobial fabric comes into the picture.
When one refers to microbial activity, it may further be specified to which organism is causing the issue. The different microorganisms responsible for the above issues include bacteria, fungi, and others. Thus, the antimicrobial fabrics may further be classified as antibacterial fabric, antimycotic fabric, etc.
The aim of developing antimicrobial fabric is simple – to get rid of the harmful effects caused by these microorganisms. This is especially important for sportswear and the textiles used in hospitals like bedsheets and curtains. These are the two environments prone to maximum microbial growth and causing maximum damage. Having said that, the usage of antimicrobial fabric is not restricted to only these areas. It finds application in other areas like kids’ clothes, kitchen cloths, table runners, etc. These are other areas that are prone to dust, food, and liquids that provide a thriving breeding ground for microorganisms.
At this point, it would be interesting for you to know how these antimicrobial fabrics are made. These special fabrics are made using special techniques to provide an antimicrobial finish to regular fabrics. Now, let’s look at some of the methodologies used to give an antimicrobial finish to the textiles.
Before delving deeper into how the anti bacterial fabrics are made, you need to understand the differences in the antimicrobial effectiveness of different materials. This effectiveness is measured based on the mechanism these materials use to kill the microorganisms. The broad classification of antimicrobial fabrics based on the raw materials is as follows.
Next, we will get into the details of how these antimicrobial properties are achieved. We will also take a look at methods used to create antimicrobial fabrics.
The traditional method of developing antimicrobial fabrics involves a chemical procedure known as leaching. In this method, the molecules of the antimicrobial agents, applied on the surface of the fabric, diffuse through the fabric and attack the microorganisms. This movement of molecules is restricted to a small area known as the zone of inhibition. While this is an effective mechanism, there are certain drawbacks to it.
Thus, the antimicrobial finish achieved by leaching is temporary in nature. This mechanism has been traditionally used to design temporary antimicrobial fabrics.
The newer methods, designed to address the concerns caused by leaching, and improve the longevity of antimicrobial fabrics, are based on the chemical bonding of the antimicrobial substance to the fibers in the fabric. This means that there is no diffusion of the antimicrobial agents, and still, it is effective against microorganisms. The fabrics created using these finishing methodologies are thus the permanent antimicrobial fabrics.
Now that we have covered the basics of antimicrobial fabrics, let us look at the five antimicrobial finishing methodologies used in the textile manufacturing process.
This method involves using chemical agents during the manufacturing process. These agents can be added during the spinning of man-made fibers or by padding the natural fibers with these agents that incorporate the agent into the fiber. These agents are typically water-insoluble.
Using this methodology, the antimicrobial agent is polymerized with the fiber, i.e., the agent molecules form a linkage with the fiber’s polymer structure. This is a chemical reaction in which the agent becomes a permanent part of the fabric molecule, thereby increasing the longevity of the antimicrobial properties.
This is not a purely chemical process. Instead, this methodology is a physicochemical process involving the alteration of the intrinsic physical and chemical properties of the fiber. Here, a reservoir of antimicrobial material is placed between the layers of the fiber. As the active antimicrobial agent gets consumed, it keeps getting replenished from the reservoir. A typical example of such a mechanism is a mattress. The quantity of the reservoir is a key metric in defining the lifetime of a mattress.
As the name suggests, this methodology is used to chemically modify the actual composition of the fiber. This is especially applicable in the case of man-made fibers like polyester or nylon. The addition of antimicrobial agents modifies the chemical properties of these fibers, changing their properties and converting them to antimicrobial, anti bacterial fabrics.
This is a chemical reaction-based methodology, where graft polymers, homopolymers, or even copolymers are incorporated into the structure of the fabric molecule. The polymers get attached to the fabric and create a charged functional group. Further treatment with chemicals like potassium iodide causes the fabric’s chemical properties to change and gain antimicrobial characteristics.
As we saw here, most antimicrobial finishing methodologies involve chemical reactions of one type or another, which helps bind the antimicrobial agents to the fabric. While this may be an effective mechanism to get antimicrobial fabric, sufficient care should be taken to avoid harmful chemical reactions when these products are used. Some desirable properties of antimicrobial fabrics produced as a result of these finishing methodologies are listed below.
So far, we have seen why antimicrobial finishes are important for textiles and the methodologies used to achieve them. Do you want to read more such in-depth articles about the various aspects of the fashion industry? Also, would you like to keep yourself updated with all the latest happenings in the industry? If you answered yes to any of those questions, head over to Fashinza.
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