Outdoor and protective clothing ‘should be greener’

Water repellency and durability are most important to consumers of outdoor clothing.


Rain-repulsing fluorochemicals utilized in waterproof attire can and ought to be eliminated as superfluous and ecologically destructive, textile specialists contend.

In any case, the compound remains the main powerful choice for doctors and emergency service personnel.

New research exhibits how waterproofs utilizing exceptionally fluorinated synthetic substances are over-designed for consumers, working in unnecessary protection from oil and different stains when just protection from water is required.

In a new study, the team – from Leeds and Stockholm – say effective alternatives to harmful fluorochemicals used in durable water repellents (DWRs) for waterproof clothing are readily available.

Dr. Richard Blackburn, who heads the Sustainable Materials Research Group at the University of Leeds’ School of Design, said: “Environmentally-friendly and biodegradable solutions are available, but are being resisted by some manufacturers and retailers. The reasons for this were unclear, putting it down to a lack of information and appropriate technical research demonstrating the effectiveness of sustainable alternatives, as well as a lack of engagement with consumers.”

In the new research, a survey of 300 outdoor clothing users revealed that most consumers only look for water repellency from their gear, not stain resistance.

Fluorochemical repellents were shown to be the only effective option for clothing worn by medical staff to protect against infection spread by bodily fluids and by military, firefighting or oil and gas industry personnel seeking protection against chemical contamination.

The study’s co-author, Philippa Hill, a Ph.D. researcher from the School of Design at Leeds, said, “There was still room for innovation when it came to eliminating fluorochemicals from protective clothing worn by people in working in hazardous circumstances.”

“Currently, only fluorinated chemicals can provide the high levels of protection needed from other types of liquids such as oils, chemicals, and bodily fluids, so there is a major opportunity for future innovation in that area.”

Scientists developed an innovative new testing method and applied different waterproof finishes to test fabric before measuring resistance to a wide range of fluids – water, orange juice, red wine, olive oil, synthetic blood and gastric fluid, and cough medicine.

Fabric treated with non-fluorinated repellents was shown to be resistant to water-based stains such as orange juice and red wine but gave no repellency to oil-based stains.

When it came to medical fluids, non-fluorinated repellents showed some resistance to synthetic blood and cough medicine but none for gastric fluid.

This innovative roll=off method assessed repellency with movement, which more accurately reflected clothing as it was worn. The study highlights that the textile and clothing industry uses a quarter of all chemicals produced globally and is known to be a large contributor to environmental pollution.

Co-author Professor Ian Cousins from Stockholm University said, “We want to help textile producers and retailers to develop better garments that also have a minimal environmental impact. It is important to look into the necessary functionality and durability, otherwise, people won’t buy the greener alternatives.”

The study is published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

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