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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

New coatings make natural fabrics waterproof

A team at MIT has come up with a promising solution: a coating that not only adds water-repellency to natural fabrics such as cotton and silk but is also more effective than the existing coatings.
The new findings are described in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, in a paper by MIT professors Kripa Varanasi and Karen Gleason, former MIT postdoc Dan Soto, and two others.
“The challenge has been driven by the environmental regulators” because of the phaseout of the existing waterproofing chemicals, Varanasi explained. But it turns out his team’s alternative actually outperforms the conventional materials.
“Most fabrics that say ‘water-repellent’ are actually water-resistant,” said Varanasi, who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering. “If you’re standing out in the rain, eventually water will get through.” Ultimately, “the goal is to be repellent — to have the drops just bounce back.” The new coating comes closer to that goal, he says.
The coatings currently used to make fabrics water repellent generally consist of long polymers with perfluorinated side-chains. The trouble is, shorter-chain polymers that have been studied do not have as much of a water-repelling (or hydrophobic) effect as the longer-chain versions. Another problem with existing coatings is that they are liquid-based, so the fabric has to be immersed in the liquid and then dried out.
This tends to clog all the pores in the fabric, Varanasi says, so the fabrics no longer can breathe as they otherwise would. That requires a second manufacturing step in which air is blown through the fabric to reopen those pores, adding to the manufacturing cost and undoing some of the water protection.

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