Life has been made easy by certain inventions. One of such inventions is that of waterproof or water-repellent fabrics. Now one does not have to think twice before going out in a bad rainy weather cause raincoats or umbrellas are there for protection. The valuable possessions that have to be kept out of house such as cars or boats can also be covered with tarpaulins which are again water-repellent fabrics. Not only this, they are in fact used for making water products such as inflatable boats. These water-repellent fabrics are also used widely in the home textile segment for making tablecloths, wall papers and other upholstery for their water and oil resistant quality.
Water-Repellent Fabrics- The Invention
Water-Repellent Fabrics, as the name suggests, are the fabrics that repel water or that which can withstand water and protects the body or any other item covered by it. It was Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist, who invented the method for making waterproof fabrics. He discovered that coal-tar naphtha dissolved rubber. So, he painted one side of a wool cloth with the dissolved rubber preparation and placed another layer of wool cloth on its top. He was honored for this invention by referring raincoat by his name- “ The Mackintosh Raincoat”
However, there were certain problems with the newly invented fabric. It easily punctured when it was seamed, the natural oil in wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate. In cold weather the fabric became stiffer and in hot weather, it got sticky. Then the vulcanized rubber was invented which proved a boon for the new fabric as it could withstand temperature changes.
Modern Water-Repellent Fabrics and Products
Today's water-repellent fabrics are treated with various substances such as insoluble metallic compounds, paraffin, bituminous materials, and drying oils to impart them water-repellent finishes. Some of these fabrics have only some degree of resistance to water. They are used for clothing purposes as they are comfortable to wear because fabric pores remain open. Others are made impervious to water and permanently waterproof. They are first coated with rubber or plasticized synthetic resins, and then vulcanized or baked. They are mostly put to industrial applications or used for making such products that need high degree of water resistance. Tarpaulin, Vinyl, Inflatable Boat Fabrics are some of such water repellent fabrics and products of the modern day.
Vinyl:Polyvinylchloride (PVC) or Vinyl is a synthetic fabric made from chlorine and ethylene. It is water resistant and looks like leather to some extent and therefore it is widely used as replacement for leather in certain items such as seats of chairs or automobiles etc. It is not very popular for making garments as it is not breathable like leather. However, some textile product companies use it for making inexpensive belts, bags, gloves, place mats etc. since it can be easily wiped clean. One of the quality of vinyl is that it can be recycled, which makes it beneficial for environment over other synthetic materials.
Acrylic: This synthetic fabric made from acrylic fibers uses chemically produced acrylonitrile, which is also used in the production of plastics. Acrylic fabric is widely used for making upholstery covering, socks etc. and sometimes woven to make rugs. It is often used as a substitute of wool as it is very soft and light weight. Acrylic is widely used to coat such fabrics as nylon and polyesters. Acrylic coating lends water repellent property to these fabrics which are then used to make textile products like umbrellas and awnings.
Inflatable Boat Fabrics: For manufacturing inflatable boats, stronger, lighter, thinner and less expensive fabrics such as plastomers, polyurethanes etc. are used. Most fabrics consist of strong, close-weave mesh of polyester or nylon material that is placed between two coatings to give flexibility, superior air and water resistance, as well as resistance to abrasion and UV rays of sun. Some inflatable boats are made from heavy duty rubber based fabric, Hypalon. Although there are certain problems in using this fabric such as poor bonds, delamination of seams as it can only be joined by gluing, which is done manually, still for boats made for rescue, military or other such purposes, Hypalon is used as it is stronger and more durable than polyurethane.
Awning Fabrics:Solution-dyed acrylics, vinyls, vinyl coated polyesters, polypropylene, cotton duck, acrylic-coated polyesters, all types of water repellent fabrics are used to make awnings of different varieties. These all have qualities of abrasion resistance, UV blocking, light weight or heavy weight, and durability in different degrees based on the fabric meant for commercial or residential purposes.
There are many other products that are made water repellent by using water proof fabrics. In fact, Textile manufacturers are always engaged in research for developing more and more efficient water resistant fabrics so that the normal day to day activities may not be hampered by weather conditions.