Pro's Corner

Protection for Fabrics

Fabrics are diverse in composition, and the level of use varies significantly from home to office.  However, the focus of protection needs to be on body oils and liquid spills.  That’s because, generally, most of us do not walk on our furniture or sit on it while wearing dirty work clothes. 

Fluorochemical protection lowers the surface tension to below 20 dynes/cm., which repels oil and water. Silicone protectors lower the surface tension to around 30 dynes/cm., which repels only water.  The surface tension of water is around 70 dynes/cm., and the surface tension of oil is around 25 dynes/cm. Fabric protectors are either water-based or solvent-based. This distinction is important as some high-end fabrics with nap (silk velvet) can be damaged by water, causing shrinkage and fiber distortion. This is problematic since most protectors with solvent are not legal to sell in many states.

Soft surface protectors are evaluated on these key functions: oil repellency, water repellency, stain resistance and soil resistance. Stain resistance is very important for nylon and wool carpet as they have open dye sites that can be filled with a light amber dye (acid dye resistor) so that any staining is limited. The acid dye resistor does not work on cotton so it can be readily stained. Nylon and wool are not used widely in upholstery fabrics so stain resistance needs to rely on a high level of water repellency. As previously mentioned, soil resistance is not necessary to the same degree as carpet protector since foot traffic should not be a concern except for pets.  Many fabric protectors are not designed to limit soiling, so their use on carpet can create re-soiling issues. Solvent-based fabric protectors, both fluorochemicals and silicone, are known to create re-soiling situations on carpet and rugs.

In short, fabric protectors need to be evaluated for oil repellency, water repellency, safety for the fabric and safety for the applicators. Water-based fluorochemical protectors provide all of the above, except for a small class of high-end fabrics.  Special additives can be added to a water-based fabric protector to limit bleeding, but not shrinking.  Solvent-based fluorochemical protectors provide for all of the above as long as the applicator wears the proper respirator and has a proper air exchange system during the drying process.  Solvent-based silicone protectors provide for water repellency and safety for the fabric.  The applicator also needs to wear the proper respirator and use a proper air exchange system during the drying process.  Solvent-based silicone protectors when applied safely do no harm, but only do half of the job.  They only provide water repellency and not oil repellency.


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