Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Design

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How ‘green’ is your waterproof jacket?

July 6th, 2017

A raincoat in action

New research from the School of Design suggests that the use of controversial fluorochemicals in the manufacture of waterproof jackets may be unnecessary.

Research published in the journal Chemosphere, has for the first time compared the performance of fabrics with newer, alternative finishes alongside ones treated with fluorocarbons. As well as posing potential risks to the environment, fluorocarbons have also been associated with health problems in humans.

“Most studies just look at technical aspects or environmental pollution, but we wanted to see what consumers considered the most important factors in choosing outdoor clothing,” said Philippa Hill, whose PhD research is the subject of the paper.

“We found that 82% of people considered water repellency to be the most important factor, but the majority of people were indifferent to levels of stain resistance and oil repellency – one participant even said ‘I don’t get oily when walking’,” added Miss Hill.

Dr Richard Blackburn heads the Sustainable Materials Research Group at Leeds, a world-leading centre in sustainable textiles research.

He said: “We concluded that the use of fluorochemicals in outdoor apparel represents over-engineering, providing oil repellency that is in excess of user requirements.

“Significant environmental and toxicological benefits could be achieved by switching outdoor apparel to non-fluorinated finishes without a significant reduction in garment water-repellency performance.”

School of Design has a long-standing relationship with the outdoor industry and used world-class in-house clothing testing facilities to compare the performance of fabric samples supplied by various manufacturers and brands, which were finished with either fluorochemicals, non-fluorinated chemistry, or were untreated.

Performance clothing lecturer Dr Mark Taylor said: “We found water repellency ratings were similar across the range of all finished fabrics tested. Non-fluorinated finishes provided no oil repellency, as expected.”

The team’s conclusions are being explored by further research into the effects of laundering, abrasion and aging on the various fabrics.

 

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