Source: Americos Industries
KEEPING the colors, design and price of a garment or fabric
aside, what ultimately a customer generally considers to choose a particular
textile product in a retail shop is the handle and appearance of a garment.
Practically everyone who examines a textile automatically touches it with
their fingers to get an impression of the hand. Hence, almost all apparel and
home furnishing textiles are treated with softeners. Only a few specialty
fabrics do not receive a softener finish, consequently, it is easier to state
which fabrics are not softened. These include wall coverings, carpeting and
most industrial textiles. Therefore, softening of textiles becomes an
important finishing process of many after treatment processes in a textile
chemical processing industry. The hand of a fabric is a subjective sensation
felt by the skin when a textile fabric is touched with the finger tips and
gently compressed. e perceived softness of a textile is the combination of
several measurable physical phenomena such as elasticity, compressibility and
Almost all the natural fibres, by providence arrangement, have some percentage of wax which makes fibre naturally soft, the classical example is cotton, the most widely used fibre. However, the presence of wax both on the surface and on the bulk of fibre makes it resistant for wetting. Unfortunately, the lack of water absorbency makes the fibres unsuitable for dyeing and printing which are the primary objectives of a textile processing unit. Therefore, in order to make the fibre suitable for dyeing, various preparatory processes such as desizing, scouring, bleaching, etc. are carried out, which actually remove the natural softening agents to make the fibres more absorbent. Therefore, generally after dyeing and printing the fabrics become harsh and stiff. Finishing with softeners can overcome this deficiency and even improve on the original suppleness. The softening treatments impart soft handle (supple, pliant, sleek and fluffy), smoothness and enhance flexibility, drape and pliability. Other properties improved by softeners include the feeling of added fullness, antistatic properties and sew ability.
With chemical softeners, textiles can achieve an agreeable, soft hand and some smoothness. However, the disadvantages sometimes seen with chemical softeners include reduced crockfastness, yellowing of white goods, changes in hue of dyed goods and fabric structure slippage. Most softeners consist of molecules with both a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic part. Therefore, they can be classified as surfactants (surface active agents) and are to be found concentrated at the fibre surfaces 1. Most softeners have low water solubility. Therefore softening products are usually sold as oil in water emulsions containing 20-30% solids. The softener molecules typically contain a long alkyl group, sometimes branched, of more than 16 and up to 22 carbon atoms, but most have 18 corresponding to the stearyl residue. Exceptions to this molecular structure are the special categories of silicones, paraffins and polyethylene softeners. About one-third of the softeners used in the textile industry are silicone based as it imparts excellent soft hand combined with various other properties such as water repellency, superior smoothness, greasy feel, excellent body, improved crease resistance, etc. The silicones were actually first utilized by the textile industry primarily as lubricants in fibre and fabric manufacture. Silicone softeners are also applied with permanent press finishes to improve garment wear life and permanent press finish durability 2. It can also be used with other finishing agents for multifunctional finishes, for example, it can be used in resin finishing of textiles to have a soft wrinkle resistant fabric. Recently, by Americos Industries, silicone softeners are also formulated with special polymers to impart a unique leather soft finish. This article, therefore, discusses the fundamental principles behind silicone finishing, various developments in silicones and their corresponding textile applications. This paper includes the contribution from Americos in the field of silicone finishing of textiles.