Woven vs. Non-Woven Geotextile Fabric

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.

What kind of fabrics get buried underground? How are they made? In this lesson, explore the differences between woven and non-woven geotextile fabrics.

What Is Geotextile Fabric?

We use fabrics for many reasons. You find them in the clothes we wear and the colorful curtains we hang in our homes. But some fabrics have purposes you might not expect. Have you ever heard of fabrics being used to reinforce earthen structures like roads and culverts, or fabrics being buried underground to guard against erosion? There's a whole variety of textiles used in these ways, and they're called geotextile fabrics.

Geotextile fabrics are fabrics made especially for uses in fields like engineering and construction. They're usually made of synthetic materials like polyester or polypropylene. In general, geotextile fabrics are resistant to rot and corrosion. They can be very durable, and they have varying degrees of permeability, which means the ability to allow moisture to pass through.

Many kinds of geotextile fabrics are made for different purposes. There are two basic types, called woven and non-woven geotextile fabrics. Let's look at how they're different.

Examples of geotextile fabrics. To the left are non-woven examples. To the right are woven geotextile fabrics, in which you can see the weave pattern.
Geotextile fabrics

Woven Geotextile Fabric

We'll start with woven geotextile fabrics. As their name suggests, making these fabrics uses a process similar to how other traditional fabrics are made. Woven geotextile fabrics are created on large industrial looms that interlace horizontal and vertical threads to form a tight criss-cross or mesh. The threads might be flat or rounded depending on the type of textile being made or specific materials being used. Woven geotextile fabrics tend to be lightweight and very strong, and some can have an extremely tight weave which tends to be less porous, which means moisture won't pass through them quickly or effectively.

Because of these qualities, woven geotextile fabrics tend to be used for construction projects that will be long-lasting. For example, building a new roadbed or airport runway, woven geotextile fabrics might be used in the foundation layers to separate layers of materials or reinforce the underlying structure.

There are many kinds of woven geotextile fabrics, and they're usually referred to by tensile strength. Tensile strength is the maximum amount of force a substance can take until it breaks. Woven geotextile fabrics tend to have a plastic appearance, and when you look closely at them, you can see the weave pattern on their surface.

Non-woven Geotextile Fabric

Non-woven geotextile fabrics are made in ways that don't involve interlacing threads on a loom.

Many of these fabrics are created using a process called needle-punching. In needle-punching, filaments of synthetic fibers are spread out on a horizontal web. Then, the web is pushed through a machine with many sharp barbed needles. The needles repeatedly punch the fibers, pushing them together and locking them in place.

Other non-woven geotextiles are made by a process called thermal bonding, where chemical heat is used to meld synthetic fibers to form a fabric. Either process results in a very permeable felt-like fabric.

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