Geotextile Fabric: Function & Uses

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Why would some textiles be buried underground? In this lesson, learn about special textiles called geotextile fabrics, how they work and how they're used.

What Are Geotextile Fabrics?

We wear textiles and decorate our homes with them. So why would we bury some of them underground? Well, some textiles are made for special industrial purposes like separating rocks from soil. They're called geotextile fabrics.

Geotextile fabric being used to separate layers of materials
Geotextile fabric as a barrier layer

Geotextile fabrics are synthetic or man-made materials that are strong, resistant to rot, and have varying degrees of permeability. Permeability means their surfaces have very small openings that allow liquid or gases to pass through.

Geotextile fabrics are made from many kinds of materials, including polyester and polypropylene. These special fabrics were first used in the 1950s, and the term 'geotextiles' was coined in 1977 at a Paris engineering conference.

Geotextile fabrics are usually made in two ways:

  1. Woven geotextile fabrics are made by interlacing flat or round strands of material at right angles.
  2. Non-woven geotextile fabrics, which resemble felt, are often made by needle-punching, where barbed needles push through layers of fibrous webs of material over and over again. This repeated action creates very permeable textiles that are also known as filter textiles.

Functions of Geotextile Fabrics

Geotextile fabrics have five basic functions. They can:

  • Separate layers of materials and keep them from sinking or disintegrating into each other.
  • Drain areas where water pools while keeping soil in place.
  • Serve as effective filters, catching some materials to prevent drains from clogging.
  • Reinforce earthen structures like drains and dikes by holding layers in place.
  • Protect and guard against erosion in places like roads and beaches.

These functions make geotextile fabrics useful in many industries, especially construction and civil engineering.

Uses of Geotextiles

Among their many uses, geotextile fabrics provide erosion control, help with drainage, and help with soil stability. Concerned about high water runoff and soil erosion? Geotextiles might be the answer. They're are used below ground layers to reinforce roadbeds and airport runways. They cover and protect soft subsoils on construction sites.

They're also used in places we enjoy like beaches, where they help with seawall reinforcement and reduce beach erosion. They can also protect us from areas that are not pleasing like in lining systems for landfills.

Geotextile fabrics come in many different types and weights of fabric. Lightweight geotextiles are used in drainage, landscaping, and filtration where they help allow water to escape but don't need to support structures.

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