Application of Nanotechnology in Textile Finishing

Dr Subrata Das

By guest author Dr Subrata Das, Professor (Fashion Technology) at Bannari Amman Institute of Technology, Sathyamangalam, Erode District, Tamil Nadu 638401, India

TextileFuture is very honoured to bring this exclusive scientific evaluation of Nanotechnology in Textile Finishing with this Newsletter to our readers, and we thank the author for this valuable contribution, that is one of the best in view to a detailed oversight of the nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is an emerging interdisciplinary technology that has been booming in many areas during the recent decade, including materials science, mechanics, electronics, optics, medicine, plastics, energy, electronics, and aerospace. Its profound societal impact has been considered as the huge momentum to usher in a second industrial revolution

Nanotechnology deals with the effect that properties of materials can change drastically when the particle size falls below approximately 100nm. Properties can dramatically change when a substance‘s size is reduced to the nanometre range. One of the hottest trends in the fashion industry today is nanotechnology, which is invisible to the naked eye but is utilised to increase the performance and the functionality of textiles. Textile technology can improve such a level by using nanotechnology so that the application of this specialized textile products can be used for diversified fields like medical textile, geo textile, textiles for protection from severe environmental or washing condition, dyeing process and finishing processes. Different nano treatments or finishes can impart the textiles with significant and special properties like self cleaning, anti-microbial, breathability, water repellence, soil resistance, wrinkle free property, flame retardancy, anti static property, UV protection, wicking property etc. Recent technologies have allowed the traditional functionality of textiles to be extended. Advances in material science have added intelligence to textiles and created smart clothes.


Nanotechnology is an umbrella term covering a wide range of technologies concerned with structures and processes on the nanometre scale. Because of its potential to change fundamentally whole fields of technology, nanotechnology is regarded as a key technology, which will not only influence technological development in the near future, but will also have economic, social and ecological implications. Nanotechnology deals with the science and technology at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometres (1 Billion Nanometres = 1 Metre), although 100 nanometres presently is the practically attainable dimension for textile products and applications. [19]

The technology can be used in engineering desired textile attributes, such as fabric softness, durability, and breath ability and in developing advanced performance characteristics, namely, water repellency, fire retardancy, antimicrobial resistance, etc,, in fibres, yarns and fabrics. [9]

Enhancement of textile materials by nanotechnology is expected to become a trillion dollar industry in the next decade, with tremendous technological, economic and ecologic benefits. It was estimated that for the year 2003, the worldwide government funding for the research and development in the area of nanotechnology had increased to USD 3 billion annually in addition to the millions of dollars invested by private industries [11]

Although, textile industry is a small part of the global research in the emerging areas of nanotechnology, the fibres and textiles industries in fact were the first to have successfully implemented these advances and demonstrated the applications of nanotechnology for consumer usage.

With the advent of nanotechnology, a new area has developed in the realm of textile finishing. Nano coating the surface of textiles, clothing, and textiles for footwear is one approach to the production of highly active surfaces to have UV-blocking, antimicrobial and self-cleaning properties. The self-cleaning property can be imparted by nano-TiO2/nano-ZnO coating [14]

The textile industry is already impacted by nanotechnology. These research endeavours are mainly focused on application of nano particles for various textile finishing applications.

Application area of Nanotechnology in Textile Finishing:

1.            The recent applications of nanotechnology in textile finishing are high performance sky wax, breathable water proof sky jacket, wrinkle resistant, stain repellent garments, LED digital camera etc.

2.            The functional water repellent, protection UV, absorption property, colour fastness, abrasion safety, fire retardancy, functional hygiene, anti-microbial functional protection self-cleaning.

3.            Nano whiskers that make the fabric stained and water resistant. It also makes the fabric breathable rather than resin finishes.

4.            The more-over whiskers give water and oil repellency, superior durability, breathable fabric, remains soft and natural wrinkle resistance.

5.            The nano net completely covers the core fibres and inject linen property in synthetic fibres i.e. the absorbency of linen in polyester fibres. It alters the synthetic fibres to give a feel of cotton and linen that absorbs the body moisture and gives cooling effect.

6.            “Wrap nano sheet” wraps the fibres completely to cover it and the property. It makes fabric strong and durable. It improves the colour fastness, crease retention and static resistance.

7.            Clay nano-particles are composed of various hydrous alumina-silicates that posses various properties like chemical, heat, electrical resistance that improve flame ret ardency and anti- corrosiveness of the fabric.

8.            ZnO nano particles can impart UV shielding in fabrics that can also reduces static electricity of nylon fabric.

9.            TiO2 and MgO have photo catalytic activity. These particles are able to break the toxic, harmful chemicals and biological agents. Hence impart self-sterilizing functions to the fibres.

10.         Silver nano-particles posses anti microbial and anti mould property. The particles are used to impart anti odour and ultra fresh finishes to the undergarments and socks.

There is no accepted international definition of a nano particle, but one given in the new PAS71 document developed in the UK is: “A particle having one or more dimensions of the order of 100 nm or less”. There is a note associated with this definition: “Novel properties that differentiate nano particles from the bulk material typically develop at a critical length scale of under 100nm”. The “novel properties” mentioned are entirely dependent on the fact that at the nano-scale, the physics of nano particles mean that their properties are different from the properties of the bulk material. This makes the size of particles or the scale of its features the most important attribute of nano particles.

Some nano-particles currently available are as follows: [2, 27, 28]

1. Metals:   Pd/Pt, Ag, Fe, etc.

2. Compounds:

Organic: Vitamins, DNA, Hydroxylapatite,

Colour pigments.

Inorganic: TiO2, ZnO, Fe2O3, MgO, SiO2 etc.

3. Polymer:

Cellulose nano-whiskers

Carbon nano-whiskers.

Applications of Nanoparticles in Textiles

Due to the advancement of nanotechnology in the manufacturing of fiber or yarns including the development of fabric finishes, the applications and scopes are widespread in the area of textiles for the last few decades.

Self-cleaning textiles

The German researcher Wilhelm Barthlott of the Bonn Institute of botany discovered, in 1990, that the lotus plant, admired for the resplendence of its flowers and leaves, owed this property of self-cleaning to the high density of minute surface protrusions. These protrusions catch deposits of soil preventing them from sticking.

Self cleaning Lotus leaf

Examples of self-cleaning surfaces in nature

When it rains, the leaf has a hydrophobic reaction. Water rolls around as droplets, removing dust as it moves. Reproduced for nano technological process on the surface of woven fabrics, this self-cleaning property can be developed as a technological innovation. The fabric will have specific applications such as sails or certain garments.

A self-cleaning cotton fabric known as nano-care was developed and is marketed by an American Company, Nanotex and stain-resistant jeans and khakis are available since 1990. Nano care fabrics are created by modifying the cylindrical structure of the cotton fibres making up the fabric. At the nano scale, cotton fibres look like tree trunks. Using nano techniques, these tree trunks are covered in a fuzz of minute whiskers which creates a cushion of air around the fibre. When water hits the fabric, it beads on the points of the whiskers, the beads compress the air in the cavities between the whiskers creating extra buoyancy. In technical terms, the fabric has been rendered super-non wettable or super-hydrophobic. The whiskers also create fewer points of contact for dirt. When water is applied to soiled fabric, the dirt adheres to the water far better than it adheres to the textile surface and is carried off with the water as it beads up and rolls off the surface of the fabric. Thus the concept of “Soil-cleaning” is based on the leaves of the lotus plant.

 “Self-cleaning” clothes are expected to be on the market within the next five years, according to the researchers. Self-cleaning fabrics could revolutionize the sport apparel industry. The technology has already been used to create t-shirts and underwear that can be worn hygienically for weeks without washing. More research is needed before self-cleaning clothes are available at high street shops, but manufacturers are said to be watching developments closely [4].

Water Repellency Property

Nano-Tex improves the water-repellent property of fabric by creating nano-whiskers, which are hydrocarbons and 1/1000 of the size of a typical cotton fibre, that are added to the fabric to create a peach fuzz effect without lowering the strength of cotton. The spaces between the whiskers on the fabric are smaller than the typical drop of water, but still larger than water molecules; water thus remains on the top of the whiskers and above the surface of the fabric [15, 8, 12]. However, liquid can still pass through the fabric, if pressure is applied. The performance is permanent while maintaining breathability.

Apart from Nano-Tex, the Swiss-based textile company Schoeller developed the Nano Sphere to make water-repellent fabrics. Nano Sphere impregnation involves a three-dimensional surface structure with gel-forming additives, which repel water and prevent dirt particles from attaching themselves. The mechanism is similar to the lotus effect occurring in nature. Lotus plants have super hydrophobic surfaces, which are rough and textured. Once water droplets fall onto them, water droplets bead up and, if the surface slopes slightly, will roll off. As a result, the surfaces stay dry even during a heavy shower. Furthermore, the droplets pick up small particles of dirt as they roll, and so the leaves of the lotus plant keep clean even during light rain [15]

On the other hand, a hydrophobic property can be imparted to a cotton fabric by coating it with a thin nano particulate plasma film. The audio frequency plasma of some kinds of fluorocarbon chemical was applied to deposit a nano particulate hydrophobic film onto a cotton fabric surface to improve its water repellent property. Super hydrophobicity was obtained due to the roughness of the fabric surface, without affecting the softness and abrasion resistance of cotton fabric [26]

UV-Protection Property

Inorganic UV-blockers are more preferable to organic UV-blockers as they are non-toxic and chemically stable under exposure to both high temperatures and UV. Inorganic UV-blockers are usually certain semi conductor oxides such as TiO2, ZnO, SiO2 and Al2O3. Among these semiconductor oxides, TiO2 [22, 3, 17, 25] and ZnO [16, 23] are commonly used. It was determined, that nano-sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide were more efficient at absorbing and scattering UV radiation, than the conventional size, and were thus better able to block UV, This is due to the fact that nano particles have a larger surface area per unit mass and volume than the conventional materials, leading to the increase of the effectiveness of blocking UV radiation. For small particles, light scattering predominates at approximately one-tenth of the wavelength of the scattered light. Rayleigh’s scattering theory stated that the scattering was strongly dependent upon the wavelength, where the scattering was inversely proportional to the wave-length to the fourth power. This theory predicts that in order to scatter UV radiation between 200 and 400 nm, the optimum particle size will be between 20 and 40 nm.

Various research works on the application of UV-blocking treatment to fabric using nanotechnology were conducted. UV-blocking treatment for cotton fabrics was developed using the sol-gel method. A thin layer of titanium dioxide is formed on the surface of the treated cotton fabric, which provides excellent UV-protection; the effect can be maintained after 50 home launderings.[6]  Apart from titanium dioxide zinc oxide nano rods of 10 to 50 nm in length were applied to cotton fabric to provide UV protection [21] According to the study of the UV-blocking effect, the fabric treated with zinc oxide nano rods demonstrated an excellent UV protective factor (UPF) rating.

Anti microbial finish:

It is an old concept that “silver” molecules have a power to resist bacteria and microorganism. Hence the food, water, any other substance have great weakness to bacteria or microorganism were kept in the utensils of silver metal. This antibacterial property of silver particles has been proved scientifically. This finishing procedure is carried out by the encapsulation of the silver compounds i.e. the nano particles of silver are encapsulated in the fibre reactive polymer.

2AgC₆H₈O₆——–⇢2AgO + C₆H₆O₆ +2H⁺

A capsule having two parts, one is inner core and other is outer layer. Two parts have two functions. Steps are as follows:

a.            Encapsulation of an emulsified solution of perfume with melanin pre-condensate.

b.            The silver nano particles are dispersed in water soluble styrene maleic anhydride polymer solution. Here a solution will be prepared.

c.            The micro capsules, prepared at the step “a” are treated with the solution of “b”.

Anti-Pollen finish:

A few marketing companies around the world have introduced anti-pollen fabrics and garments. It is claimed that particles of 30 nm sizes are attached to the surface of yarns thus the smoothness of the finish on the surface and the anti-static effect does not let pollen or dust come close. This is achieved by using the polymer which has antistatic or electro conductive composition e.g. Fluoro alkyl – methacrylate polymers). It is used in coats, blouses, hats, gloves, arm covers, bedding covers, etc.

Hence, the microcapsule having functions both of silver and melanin. Then the yarn or fabrics are treated with the microcapsules.

Wrinkle resistance finish:

Wrinkling occurs when the fibre is severally creased. In case of when fibre or fabric is bent, hydrogen bonds between the molecular chains in the amorphous regions break and allow the chains to slip past one another. The bonds, reform in new places and fibre or fabric is held in the creased configurations. To impart wrinkle resistance to fabric, resin was used previously in conventional methods. The disadvantages of conventional resin applications include in the decrease of the strength of fibre and in abrasion resistance, water absorbency and dye-ability, as well as breathability. To overcome the boundaries of using resin, some researchers have employed TiO2 nano particles and nano-Silica to improve the wrinkle resistance of cotton and silk, respectively. TiO2 nano particle was employed with Carboxylic acid as a catalyst under UV irradiation to catalyze the cross linking reaction between the cellulose molecule and the acid. On other hand, nano-Silica was applied with Maleic anhydride as a catalyst; the results showed that the application of nano-Silica with Maleic anhydride could successfully improve the wrinkle resistance of silk. [5, 20, 18]

Flame Retardant Finish:

Nyacol  nanotechnologies TM developed colloidal antimony pentoxide which has been applied for flame retardant finish in textile. Colloidal antimony pentoxide has been offered as fine particle dispersion, for use as a flame retardant synergist with halogenated flame-retardants (the ratio of halogen to antimony is 5:1 to 2:1). Nano antimony pentoxide is used with halogenated flame-retardants for a flame retardant finish to the garments.

Nanotechnology for flame retardancy of polymers

Flame retardance

In recent years, nanotechnology has been successfully applied for flame retardancy of polymers. Two different approaches are there to enhance the flame retardancy of polymers by using specific nano materials.

a) Nanocomposites

Polymer nanocomposites based on nanometric fillers such as layered silicates, boehmite, metal oxides, layered double hydroxides, nanotubes, etc. have shown to exhibit flame retardant properties. Layered silicates, in particular, have been commercialized in organo-modified form not only for enhancing mechanical properties but also for flame retardancy of polymers. The main objective of our current projects is to contribute to the general understanding of the flame retardancy mechanisms and to investigate the corresponding structure/property relationships.

b) Advanced coatings

we propose advanced coatings such as layer-by-layer deposition of nano particles and electro spun nanofibre mats as novel promising nanotechnologies for fire protection and investigate their properties.

Anti-static property:

Static charge usually builds up in synthetic fibres such as polyamide and polyester because they absorb little water. Cellulosic fibres have higher moisture content to carry away static charges, so that no static charge will accumulate. As synthetic fibres provide poor anti-static properties, research work concerning the improvement of the anti-static properties of textiles by using nanotechnology were conducted. TiO2, ZnO and nano antimony-doped tin oxide (ATO) provide anti-static effects because they are electrically conductive materials. Such material helps to effectively dissipate the static charge which is accumulated on the fabric. On the other hand, silanenanosol improves anti-static properties, as the silane gel particles on fibre absorb water and moisture in the air by amino and hydroxyl groups and bound water. Nanotechnology has been applied in manufacturing an anti-static garment (1, 5, 6). Electrically conductive nano-particles are durably anchored in the fibrils creating an electrically conductive network that prevents the formation of isolated chargeable areas and voltage peaks commonly found in conventional anti-static materials. This method can overcome the limitation of conventional methods, which is that the anti-static agent is easily washed off after a few laundry cycles.

Anti-static Finishes:

Static charge usually builds up in synthetic fibres such as nylon and polyester because they absorb little water. Cellulosic fibres have higher moisture content to carry away static charges, so that no static charge will accumulate. As synthetic fibres provide poor anti-static properties, research work concerning the improvement of the anti-static properties of textiles by using nanotechnology were conducted. It was determined that nano-sized titanium dioxide, zinc oxide whiskers, nano antimony-doped tin oxide (ATO) and silanenano sol could impart anti-static properties to synthetic fibres. TiO2, ZnO and ATO provide anti-static effects because they are electrically conductive materials. Such material helps to effectively dissipate the static charge which is accumulated on the fabric. On the other hand, silanenano sol improves anti-static properties, as the silane gel particles on fiber absorb water and moisture in the air by amino and hydroxyl groups and bound water. [24, 29, 30, 7, 22, 10, 1, 13]

Odour fights finishing:

Tourmaline a natural substance is used for the odour fighting finishing. The tourmaline comes contact with oxygen, carbon dioxide and water molecules that allows an electrolytic dissociation that creates negative ions. The negative ions create a magnetic field that resists the bacteria so the fabric stays odor free. Also, there we see another occurrence of infrared consumption that destroys bacteria to make the fabric odour free.

Health risks in nanotechnology

Nanoparticles can get into the body through the skin, lungs and digestive system. This may help create ‘free radicals’ which can cause cell damage and damage to the DNA. There is also concern that once nanoparticles are in the bloodstream they will be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The human body has developed a tolerance to most naturally occurring elements and molecules that it has contact with. It has no natural immunity to new substances and is more likely to find them toxic. The US government safety research body NIOSH has produced a guide which states nanomaterials may interact with the human body in different ways than more conventional materials, due to their extremely small size. For example, studies have established that the comparatively large surface area of inhaled nanoparticles can increase their toxicity. Such small particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and may move to other parts of the body, including the liver and brain.

Concluding remarks

Nano technology is booming in many areas, in which nano finishes are being developed for textile substrates. The basic mechanism and applications of nano finishes for textile substrates are unique. The researchers are working on more developments for nano technology, which has a great scope in future. Nano technology has attained a significant potential for textile products now a days, in turn which gives a very high profit, high performance rating, and improvised quality. But the proper care is to be taken for finishes with nanotechnology, which may lead to ecological and health risks. For instance, silver nanoparticles may cause some harmful effects on biological organisms. Hence,   proper study and   research has to be undergone for nano particles in textiles which can prevent the effects on health and environmental risks.


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