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The Rise of Functional Textiles: An Exploration of Advanced and Specialized Textile Varieties

Functional textiles make people’s lives more comfortable, convenient, and safe. People’s demands for textiles are not only about fashion but also require higher functionality, extending beyond clothing to a wider range of applications. China is a major consumer of textile fabrics, and with the comprehensive improvement of residents’ incomes, there is a growing demand for high-end, quality branded fashion with enhanced functionality. The finishing technology of functional fabrics needs further development to drive new developments in China’s textile and apparel industry. The variety of amazing functional textiles is extensive. Below, let’s explore textiles closely related to a healthy lifestyle: anti-mite, antibacterial, antifungal, flame-retardant, stain-resistant, aromatic, skincare, UV-resistant, and smart color-changing textiles.

Antibacterial and odor-resistant fabrics

Humans are closely related to microorganisms. Microorganisms provide us with many benefits, but harmful ones can also infiltrate the body, posing serious health risks. Antibacterial and hygiene-treated fabrics can be widely used in underwear, socks, sportswear, shoe fabrics, diapers, hospitals, hotels, household bedding, blankets, towels, bath towels, decorative fabrics, carpets, work uniforms in the medical and food service industries, as well as military uniforms, providing significant social benefits.

To date, antibacterial finishing agents can be classified into two major categories: leaching and non-leaching. Leaching antibacterial agents do not chemically bind to the fabric but are washed away upon contact with water. These agents are mainly used in disposable textiles. Non-leaching agents, on the other hand, chemically bond to the fabric through chemical bonds, providing durable finishing. Their functionality is not affected by the number of washes, making them widely applicable.

Antibacterial effectiveness is evaluated according to the national standard GB/T 20944-2007 “Textiles – Evaluation of antibacterial properties”, by testing the inhibition rate of antibacterial fabrics. The efficacy of antibacterial fabrics is judged based on the tested inhibition rate. This testing must be conducted by microbiological testing institutions.

Anti-mite finishing fabrics

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, consumers’ perceptions when purchasing textiles have dramatically shifted towards prioritizing health, environmental friendliness, and safety. Green and healthy clothing and bedding have become the new favorites in the market, serving as people’s preferred choices for home consumption. In recent years, diseases caused by mites have been extensively discussed across various media platforms, making mite infestation an increasingly concerning issue. Mites are commonly found in nature, with their presence in the air and dust, along with their secretions, capable of causing allergic diseases. Dust mites in living spaces can lead to conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, nephritis, allergic rhinitis, and allergic dermatitis.

Anti-mite-treated fabrics are a novel type of fabric with functional finishing that effectively controls the harm caused by mites and bacteria to humans, ensuring clean living environments and safeguarding human health. Therefore, the development and application of anti-mite and antibacterial finishing technologies for fabrics hold vast prospects. Anti-mite treated fabrics involve applying anti-mite agents to fabrics post-production to achieve mite-repelling effects. This is a commonly adopted technique, with implementation methods including spraying, immersion, and coating. The key to this technology lies in the selection and formulation of anti-mite agents. The most effective approach involves encapsulating anti-mite agents into nano-microcapsules, which can bind with fabrics through resin and other film-forming materials, or incorporating anti-mite agents into coating paste for fabric coating.

The anti-mite effectiveness is evaluated according to the national standard GB/T 24253—2009 “Textiles – Evaluation of anti-mite performance”, by testing the mite repellency of anti-mite fabrics. This testing must be conducted by microbiological testing institutions.

Negative ion far-infrared health fabrics

Negative ion far-infrared health fabric is a newly emerging functional textile in recent years, possessing functions such as warmth retention and healthcare. There are two main types of processing for far-infrared fabrics: one is made from far-infrared fibers, and the other is processed through post-finishing. These fabrics exhibit good warmth retention, health benefits, as well as excellent hand feel and durability, making them suitable for the development of various medical and healthcare textile products, which have gained favor in the market.

The functionality of negative ion far-infrared health fabrics is primarily determined through testing two indicators: negative ion concentration (per square centimeter) and far-infrared emissivity (%). This testing must be conducted by professional testing institutions.

Fragrance-treated fabrics

In China, fragrance treatment technology is continuously advancing. SCM, developed by Beijing Jie’er Shuang Company, is an outstanding example, characterized as a fully encapsulated microcapsule fragrance. It releases fragrance through friction and other means, suitable for fragrance treatment of cotton, wool, silk, linen, and synthetic fabrics. The fragrance is pure, pleasant, long-lasting, non-toxic to the human body, non-irritating to the skin, without allergic reactions, convenient to use, and the process is simple and feasible. Main fragrance types include forest, floral, jasmine, rose, green apple, lemon, etc.

Since the fragrance is encapsulated in microcapsules, it can maintain a long-lasting release period. Additionally, the microcapsules can achieve a good bond with the fibers through adhesives, ensuring a lasting fragrance release effect.

Mosquito-repellent fabrics

Harmful insects pose significant risks to human health. Eradicating them is an important component of disease prevention and improving human health. Mosquito-repellent fabrics serve this purpose. Nano mosquito-repellent microcapsules are adhered to the surface of the fabric, forming a mosquito-repellent film. This fabric exhibits highly efficient and rapid killing effects on mosquitoes and provides excellent repellent properties. Mosquito-repellent treated fabrics can be widely used in bedding textiles, carpets, mosquito nets, curtains, decorative fabrics, socks, summer clothing, and military textiles.

The efficacy of mosquito and moth-proof treated fabrics is tested according to the national standard GB/T 30126—2013 “Textiles – Testing and evaluation of mosquito-repellent performance”, by evaluating the repellency rate of the fabric against mosquitoes.

Anti-static and electromagnetic radiation protection fabrics

The occurrence of static electricity in textiles is primarily due to friction. Frictional electrification is essentially caused by the contact between two objects. When two objects come into contact and undergo friction, and then separate, the excitatory energy between their surfaces causes electron transfer, resulting in static electricity. Anti-static treatment essentially accelerates the dissipation of static electricity and reduces the accumulation of charges.

Furthermore, with the widespread use of high-tech electronic products in people’s work and daily lives, the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation on human health have become well-established. Electromagnetic wave radiation has become the world’s fourth-largest pollution after water, air, and noise pollution, often referred to as the “invisible killer.”

Fabrics for anti-electromagnetic radiation fabric can utilize silver fiber produced by Beijing Jie’er Shuang High-Tech Co., Ltd., which has highly effective anti-static and electromagnetic radiation protection properties. Additionally, washing it 200 times has no impact on its functionality. This radiation protection clothing series has passed the quality standard tests conducted by the Beijing Institute of Labor Protection, capable of shielding 99.99% of electromagnetic radiation.

Anti-static and electromagnetic radiation protection fabrics need to be tested for attenuation values within the 1000-4000MHz microwave frequency range, typically exceeding 20Db.

Moisture-wicking and sweat-absorbing finished fabrics

The comfort of fabric wear refers to the characteristics of the fabric satisfying people’s physiological and psychological needs and generating a sense of comfort when it comes into contact with the body during wear. Besides the basic characteristics of the fabric, the wearer’s psychological condition also influences the wearing comfort.

The key indicators for evaluating the comfort of fabric wear include three basic factors: the fabric’s heat transfer performance, moisture transfer performance, and air permeability.

Fabrics finished with moisture-wicking and breathable agents exhibit the following properties:

  1. Moisture-wicking and breathability: Treated fabrics have excellent moisture absorption, good breathability, and superior wearability, eliminating the drawbacks of synthetic fabrics such as dryness, poor breathability, and lack of moisture absorption.
  2. Hydrophilic and anti-static properties: Treated fabrics demonstrate outstanding hydrophilicity, good anti-static performance, minimal static effects, low dust absorption, some degree of stain resistance, and ease of washing.
  3. Softness: Treated fabrics are soft, smooth, comfortable to the touch, and elegant in style.

The performance and testing methods of moisture-wicking and sweat-absorbing fabrics are mainly evaluated through tests for water absorption, moisture permeability, and quick-drying properties.

How can Moisture-wicking and Sweat-absorbing Fabrics be tested in Labs?

There are different methods to test the moisture-wicking and sweat-absorbing properties of fabrics in a lab, here are some examples:

  1. Vertical Wicking Test: In this method, samples of the fabric are placed vertically in a solution (usually distilled water). The time it takes for the fluid to move up the fabric under capillary action is then recorded.
  2. Horizontal Wicking Test: Similar to the vertical wicking test, this test is performed horizontally. The speed at which the liquid spreads out across the fabric is measured to determine the wicking capacity of the fabric.
  3. Absorbency Test: This test checks the absorption capacity of a fabric. A weighed dry specimen of the fabric is submerged in water for a defined period. It is then removed and reweighed after blotting out the excess water. The difference in the two weights will give the weight of the water absorbed.
  4. Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR) Test: This test measures the rate at which moisture passes through a fabric, regardless of the mechanism (evaporation, wicking, etc.). It helps in determining how well a fabric can breathe.
  5. Moisture Management Tester (MMT): It a multifunctional testing instrument to measure the liquid transport properties of textiles such as knits, wovens, and nonwovens. It can measure the one-way transport capability of textiles and the liquid moisture management properties.

These tests are usually performed in specialized textile testing labs, which have precise equipment and controlled environments to ensure the accuracy of the results. Also, these tests are generally carried out under atmospheric conditions which are defined by specific standards like ISO, ASTM, etc.

Remember that different fabrics may be tested using different methods, and the selected method may also depend on the specific requirements of the product that the fabric is being used for.

Auto Water Vapour Permeability Tester TF165B

UV-resistant treated fabrics

With the continuous advancement of textile ecologic research, people are becoming increasingly aware of the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on human health. In the solar spectrum, UV radiation accounts for approximately 60%. UV radiation not only causes fading and brittleness of textiles but also stimulates the production of melanin and pigmentation on the skin, and more seriously, it can induce carcinogenesis, necessitating protection. The harmful effects of UV radiation on human health have garnered attention worldwide, with countries like Australia explicitly requiring sun protection features in student clothing. Standards for UV-resistant textiles have also been established in China.

The principle of UV protection involves treating fibers or fabrics with UV absorbers and reflectors. UV absorbers absorb high-energy UV radiation and convert it into lower-energy thermal energy or shorter-wavelength electromagnetic waves, thereby eliminating the harmful effects of UV radiation on humans and textiles. UV reflectors increase the reflection and scattering of UV radiation by fabrics, preventing it from penetrating the fabric. These treatments are safe, non-toxic, non-irritating to the skin, and hypoallergenic. They possess efficient UV absorption capabilities across the spectrum, excellent wash resistance, stability to heat, light, and chemicals, and minimal impact on the fabric’s hand feel, breathability, color, whiteness, and strength.

The efficacy of UV-resistant treated fabrics is primarily determined by testing the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value. According to national standards, UV-resistant fabrics generally have a UPF value greater than 40.

Flame-retardant treated fabrics

With the densification of urban populations, the construction of high-rise buildings, the concentration of social wealth, and the modernization of material life, the consumption of various textiles has rapidly increased. Consequently, incidents of fires caused by textiles are also on the rise, resulting in injuries, fatalities, and significant economic losses. Especially, indoor decorative fabrics such as curtains, drapes, wall coverings, carpets, furniture fabrics, and bedding are prone to combustion. Therefore, fire retardancy for industrial, aerospace, and military textiles is urgently needed. According to statistics, the annual sales volume of flame-retardant textiles in China is only about 2 million meters, far from meeting the growing market demand. Currently, flame-retardant textiles in certain fields still rely on imports.

Cotton fabrics treated with durable flame retardants exhibit excellent flame-retardant effects, are formaldehyde-free, have a soft feel, and are highly wash-resistant.

flammability tester“Chameleon” fabrics

“Chameleon” fabric, also known as temperature-sensitive fabric, temperature-indicating fabric, or thermochromic textiles, can rapidly change color with variations in environmental temperature, thereby creating dynamic color effects on colored objects.

The main components of “chameleon” fabric include color-changing pigments, fillers, and binders. Its color-changing function primarily depends on the color-changing pigments, which exhibit drastically different colors before and after heating. This characteristic serves as a basis for verifying the authenticity of the fabric.

In conclusion, functional textiles are not just a trend, they’re a revolutionary solution to our everyday needs. From anti-mite to antibacterial, flame retardant to UV-protective, these textiles have moved beyond fashion to become integral in enhancing our health and comfort. As China’s demand for these materials surges, we’re inspired to continue elevating textile technologies, driving the industry’s evolution. The rise of functional textiles is more than just progress – it’s a testament to how we strive for better living standards, ensuring that fashion is not just about style, but also about wellness and practicality. A more comfortable, healthier lifestyle is woven into the very fabric of these remarkable textiles.

Alaric Vaughn

In my role as a textile engineer and content specialist, I specialize in crafting informative articles of fabric testing. I'm committed to providing readers with valuable insights and actionable knowledge in textile industry that empowers them to make informed decisions.

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