The Inevitability of Fabric Fading

The argument can certainly be made that color is the single most influential factor in the salability of a fabric— whether in clothing, carpet, or upholstery. It is the first aspect of a textile product that most designers or consumers notice. Unfortunately, the loss of color during use and laundering is one of the most frequent cases of consumer complaints in the world of fabric. Despite what some after-market treatment manufacturers may claim, an effective cure to fabric fading has remained elusive to date.

Causes of Fading

The main contributors to the lightfastness, or fade resistance, of dyes include but are not limited to: the chemical state of the dye, the physical state of the dye within the fiber, the fiber substrate, environmental factors, and of course the source and intensity of illumination. Darker shades of heavier dyed fabrics are more resistant to fading than lighter shades or lighter concentrations. Visible light can and does cause dye and fiber damage, particularly to natural dyed fabrics. UV radiation from the sun is both destructive to these and to other classes of dyes— and to a much greater degree.

UV Absorbers

Over the years, the textile industry has used various compounds to slow down both the degradation of dyes and the yellowing of fibers and finishes. UV absorbers and antioxidants are two of the most common chemistries used for this purpose.

UV Absorbers restrain the destruction of dyes in several ways. Some of these compounds absorb the UV radiation and emit it as harmless infrared energy. Others function as “quenchers”, reacting with photoexcited dye molecules before other reactions can occur.

The Controversy

Researchers have not always agreed on the usefulness of these compounds. Some experiments have claimed to achieve improvements in fade resistance of hundreds of percentage points, while others found that UV absorbers provided little protection.

Several years ago, a handful of textile manufacturers began adding UV absorbers to their stain and soil resistant formulations. These “improved” products were advertised to significantly reduce fading.

Finding no data to support these claims, Fiber-Seal Systems decided that some additional research was in order. We turned to nationally recognized Dr. Patricia Cox Crews and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Test Results

Conclusions reached in this testing were published in the Textile Research Journal:

“While it may be possible to identify some fabric that would benefit from treatment with these multifunctional finishes [UV absorbers], we did not find any in the array of upholstery fabrics we examined in this study. Furthermore, none of the UV absorbers, antioxidants, or combinations applied to the upholstery fabrics improved lightfastness properties substantially, so they did not show promise as additives to soil repellent finishes or as topical finishes for improving lightfastness properties. Consequently, these UV absorbers and antioxidants cannot be recommended to textile service companies as additives to their finish formulations nor to consumers as a means of minimizing fading in their residential textiles.”

After seeing this research, one of the companies whose product was tested decided to discontinue its claims about reduced fading. There are, however, several companies still marketing these benefits of their products, despite the facts.

UV protected silk samples after lightfastness testing.

Our Recent Testing

Having recently run across another product claiming reduced fading of textiles, we decided to do some testing of our own. The product was applied to swatches of two different silk fabrics. Both treated and untreated swatches were submitted to an independent textile lab for lightfastness tests. As we expected, there was no significant change in fading on the two fabrics. In all, we have tested at least a half dozen different products over the last thirty years… all with the same dismal results.

What Fiber-Seal Recommends

Since there are not likely to be any useful topically applied finishes to reduce fading, intelligent fabric choices are the key to prevention. There are many fabric manufacturers offering intrinsically fade-resistant pieces. The rise in popularity of performance fabrics has been vital in reducing the concerns of fabric fading. Many of these performance fabrics consist of olefin, solution-dyed acrylic, solution-dyed nylon and solution dyed polyester – all of which are logical candidates for situations where superior lightfastness is warranted. For these and other fabrics, we suggest you consult with the manufacturer before making a final decision.

Protective window glass coverings are another option to prevent fading that effectively reduce ultraviolet entry into the home or office.

How Fiber-Seal Can Help

The experts at your local Fiber-Seal Service Center are trained to maintain all types of fabrics and floor coverings. Trust us to be your guide in “Smart Solutions for Soft Surfaces™.”

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