Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, have been used for decades in many products, including to produce stain-resistant and water-repellent fabrics. They offer the advantage of covering the performance required in nearly every outdoor and protective material.
This “one size fits all” profile explains why PFCs have become the go-to technology to finishing textiles today.
In parallel, there are exciting things happening in the field of fabric repellent technology, with huge technological strides being made.
PFCs offered today by fore-runners, such as Archroma with its short-chain C6 Nuva® N range, have been developed to eliminate PFOA, a manufacturing by-product undesirable for its potential persistence in the environment. And the chemical industry introduced the first fluorine-free repellence finishing agents, such as Archroma’s Smartrepel®.
Maybe it’s time we step back and assess this landscape objectively, with the aim of producing better end results for all. Is eliminating PFCs altogether really a reachable goal?
Fluorine-free finishes for all: Still a dream?
While there is much focus today on developing fluorine-free chemistry, there is still a long way to go before such solutions can equal the performance of fluorine-based C6 chemistry. Fluorine-free solutions have made tremendous progress for water repellency.
They are however not suitable for oil and dirt release and repellency – yet.
No matter what chemistry is being applied, it’s vital that we aim to lower the environmental impact of all chemicals used in our industry.
That’s why Archroma continuously invest to accompany the market with the right technology, the technology that is “fit for purpose”.
A reality achievable now: From “one size fits all” to “fit for purpose” sustainable approach
It’s time that brands look more closely at each product’s likely end use and life cycle, and critically assess its true performance requirements. Clearly, there is room to challenge the “one size fits all” approach to applying PFC finishes to all textiles.
What does that mean? Well, we should consider a given garment and ask, for example, “Do I really need that outdoor jacket to offer the same water-proof or mud-proof finish as the tent I use to go camping?”
Medical wear and other workwear – used to protect the user from potentially dangerous spills or from being soaked under heavy rain – are likely to require high levels of repellence, and be subject to frequent washing. But a lesser-used or more casual garment is unlikely to be subjected to similar cleaning procedures – and hence could meet all its performance needs without requiring such a demanding repellent finish as PFCs.
There is room in textile finishing for the wider use of more sustainable fluorine-free finishing solutions. It’s time we opt for a more sustainable “fit for purpose” approach.
Pursuing the dream
We all need to take steps not to “over-engineer” our textiles for given applications, and to focus on minimizing our generation of waste. At the same time, modern textiles are such complex composites that every small change can greatly impact both processability and final performance. This will continue to require significant research, many trials and endless formula adaptations to yield products that are acceptable in today’s textile market.
Where some see insurmountable obstacles, I see opportunities to differentiate our products, in terms of performance, look, feel, pricing and more. Archroma’s R&D pipeline is packed with many new ideas that address all these factors.
Personally, I see these advances in chemistry as just one of the factors moving our world in a better direction.
It is difficult to foresee if there will ever be a technology that completely replaces the existing platform. But through innovation, perseverance and a commitment to a cleaner environment, the textiles industry can make huge strides toward achieving the goals we all desire.
What do you think? Is a world without PFCs a dream or reality?