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Textile Chemicals: Essential yet Controversial

ashwini bakhade
Textile Chemicals: Essential yet Controversial

While we admire the beautiful fabrics and latest designs in clothing, very few of us stop to think about the complex chemistry behind the scenes that makes it all possible. Textile chemicals play a key but often unseen role in the production, processing and care of the fabrics we wear every day. In this article, we will explore the various types of chemicals used at different stages of textile manufacturing and their importance.

Pretreatment Chemicals

The very first stage in textile manufacturing involves preparing the raw materials like cotton, polyester, nylon etc using various pretreatment chemicals. These chemicals clean, brighten and process the fibers before weaving or knitting.

Desizing Chemicals

For cotton and other natural fibers, an important initial step is desizing. This involves the removal of sticky natural substances like starches, gums and waxes from the fibers using desizing chemicals like sodium hydroxide. Without desizing, the fibers would cling together and be difficult to further process.

Scouring Chemicals

Next up is scouring, where chemicals are used to thoroughly clean the fibers, removing natural and artificial impurities. Scouring chemicals typically contain surfactants and alkaline solutions to detach dirt, pigments and other contaminants from the fiber surface. This prepares the clean fiber for dyeing and other processing.

Bleaching Chemicals

Many fibers also undergo bleaching at this stage to enhance their appearance by removing any residual coloration. Bleaching agents used are oxidizing chemicals like sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide that help produce brighter, colorless fibers for dyeing applications.

sizing Chemicals

Once pretreatment is complete, size or protective chemical coatings may be applied to the fibers or yarns before weaving. Sizing helps lubricate the warp yarns during weaving to reduce breakage. Commonly used sizing chemicals are plant-based starches or synthetic polymers.

Dyeing and Printing Chemicals

Dyeing Process

With pretreated and clean fibers ready, the next major stage involves application of dyes and pigments using various dyeing techniques such as yarn dyeing, piece dyeing or print dyeing. Dyes are aromatic organic chemicals that impart color, while mordant or fixing agents help improve dye uptake and colorfastness. Common types of dyes used are reactive, acid, disperse, basic etc. depending on the fiber.

Printing Paste Formulations

For printed fabric, specific printing pastes containing pigments, binders, thickeners along with other additives are formulated to transfer the color design onto the fabric substrate. The printing technique may involve flat, rotary or digital printing using specialized printing pastes and chemicals optimized for the process.

Finishing Chemicals

After dyeing and printing comes finishing - where additional chemicals are employed to impart desired textile properties and finishes. Let's look at some of the major types of finishes and their roles.

Softening and Anti-static Agents

Chemicals like quaternary ammonium compounds are used in softening finishes to reduce static cling and enhance soft handfeel of synthetic fabrics. Others like glycerol may also be included.

Water and Oil Repellents

For applications requiring resistance to water, oil or stains, durable water repellent or soil release finishes are applied using fluorocarbon or silicone based chemicals attached to the fiber.

Flame Retardant Finishes

Special flame retardant chemicals containing phosphorus, bromine, or nitrogen are applied where the fabric is intended for uses necessitating flame resistance like furnishings or safety apparel.

Antimicrobial and Anti-odor Finishes

Specialized biocide finishes infuse the fiber with silver, zinc or other antimicrobial ions to prevent bacterial/fungal growth and odors over multiple washes. These find use in health-care textiles, socks etc.

UV Protective Finishes

UV absorbers incorporated into resin or polymer finishes help protect colored fabrics from fading due to sunlight exposure when used in outdoor applications.

Laundry and Home Care Chemicals

Even after manufacture, Textile Chemicals play a role throughout the lifecycle of apparel and fabrics with formulations designed specifically for laundry and home care. Detergents, fabric softeners and other treatments aid in cleaning and maintaining the appearance, feel and lifespan of textile products in everyday use.

While unseen, the vast array of textile chemicals perform critical functions at each manufacturing stage and continue supporting fabrics through their useful life. Advances in textile chemistry contribute significantly to the vibrant and innovative nature of the apparel industry. Understanding their roles offers valuable insight into the science that underlies the clothing and home textiles we interact with daily.


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ashwini bakhade
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