Application of Chemistry & Enzymes in the Textile Industry

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Did you know there's chemistry in your clothes? In this lesson, you'll learn more about how chemistry is applied in the textile industry and how enzymes are offering a safer approach to textile techniques.

Injecting Science into Textiles

Under Armour is one of the most well-known brands of athletic apparel on the market today. Athletic endorsements from the likes of Steph Curry, Tom Brady, and golfer Jordan Spieth help to keep the brand in the public spotlight.

Under Amour uses chemistry in textiles to become a favorite brand of athletes.
Under Armour shoes

The appeal of Under Armour for many athletes are the properties built into the brand's clothing including concepts such as 'Coldblack,' 'Isochill' and 'Heat Gear.' If you've ever wondered how exactly a company like Under Armour can build apparel that promises to keep you cooler in the heat or make you feel like you're standing in the shade, look no further than the use of chemistry in the textile industry.

Why is Chemistry Important?

You may think of the textile industry involving a series of spinning, weaving, dyeing, and finishing a range of products from bathroom towels to winter sweaters. Indeed, the textile industry process is a complex one involving many steps from taking raw fibers and turning them into a product that consumers can use and enjoy.

The use of chemistry can add special properties to fabrics that live up to the claims brands project like keeping you cool in the heat or absorbing sweat.

You probably remember some basics from your high school chemistry class. Textile chemistry is an applied form of that chemistry you studied. Textile chemists have an understanding of the textile manufacturing process, such as the different types of fibers used, as well as the knowledge to apply chemistry principles to that process. Textile chemists generally work in three areas:

  • Dyeing and finishing chemistry
  • Fiber and polymer chemistry
  • Blending different textile materials

Textile chemistry can be found throughout the textile industry in research and development, environmental testing, and dyeing and finishing in a wide range of chemistry types ranging from surface chemistry to organic chemistry.

In the chemistry part of the textile industry today, chemists and engineers are making greater use of enzymes, which can act as catalysts for chemical reactions or replace chemicals altogether.

Enzymes and Textiles

Enzymes are protein catalysts produced by living cells. They have been gaining extra favor in the textile industry since the late 1980s for their non-toxic, biodegradable nature that is friendly to the environment.

When they were introduced in the 80s, they were first used for achieving the stonewashed look of jeans that was popular at the time. Today, they are used to prepare cotton for weaving, in pre-treatment before dyeing, to enhance color quality and to help eliminate impurities in fibers.

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