UV Fabric Protectors & The Truth Behind Fabric Fading

In today’s fast-paced, consumer-driven world, we are always seeking out the next groundbreaking innovation. In the realm of fabric care, the allure of UV fabric protectors as a solution to prevent fading has increasingly gained attention. The promise of an affordable and simple way of shielding fabrics from the effects of UV light sounds like a great safeguard for luxurious textiles used in high-end interiors. However, through years of experience and testing, Fiber-Seal challenges the beliefs surrounding these UV fabric protectors.

What Causes Fabric Fading?

The lightfastness of dyes, crucial for color preservation, is influenced by various factors, including the chemical and physical states of the dye, fiber substrate, and environmental conditions. Ultimately, these factors contribute to the breaking down of bonds between dyes and fibers. While lighter shades are reflective, darker shades and heavier dye concentrations are more prone to color loss from fading.

There are three kinds of light emitted by the sun: visible light, infrared light (which we feel as heat), and ultraviolet (U.V.) light. While we cannot see or feel it, U.V. light is the main contributor to the breaking down of dyes in our upholstery fabrics.

Fabric protection
UV Fabric Protectors: Absorbers & Antioxidants

In response to fading concerns, the textile and fabric care industry has employed U.V. Fabric Protectors to combat both the degradation of dyes and the yellowing of fibers and finishes. U.V. absorbers and antioxidants are two of the most common chemistries used for this purpose. Some of these compounds absorb U.V. radiation and emit it as harmless infrared energy. Others act as “quenchers”, reacting with photoexcited dye molecules before other reactions can occur.

The controversy surrounding their effectiveness has fueled debates among researchers. While a number of manufacturers claim significant improvement in lightfastness, several researchers assert little protection from U.V. Fabric Protectors.

Fiber-Seal wanted to find out firsthand what the truth behind these claims was, so we partnered with nationally recognized experts, including Dr. Patricia Cox Crews and the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The findings, published in the Textile Research Journal, are summarized by the following:

“The results showed that neither the fluorocarbon nor silicone-based soil repellent finishes containing U.V. absorbers significantly reduced fading in the upholstery fabrics. Furthermore, none of the U.V. absorbers and antioxidants applied to the upholstery fabrics improved lightfastness properties substantially, so they cannot be recommended as additives to soil repellent finish formulations.”


In-House Testing Results of 4 silk fabric samples after lightfastness testing

Each sample was treated with UV Fabric Protectors

Considerations for Preventing Color Loss in Upholstery Fabrics

Upholstery Fabric and Color

The most important factors to consider when talking about the fading of fabrics should be discussed during the selection process. As is the case with most issues that arise with upholstery fabric, intelligent fabric choices are the cornerstone of prevention. Synthetics such as olefin, solution-dyed acrylic, solution-dyed nylon, and solution-dyed polyester stand out as logical candidates for situations requiring superior lightfastness (ability to withstand change due to light exposure). Many synthetic fibers are solution-dyed at the time of production, giving them substantially stronger lightfastness than their natural counterparts.

In natural fabrics, the bonds formed during the dyeing process are weaker than those in solution-dyed synthetic fabrics. Silk fabrics are especially susceptible to color changes caused by exposure to light. It is well known that dyed silks will fade upon exposure to sunlight – but did you know that white silks exhibit an equally dramatic sensitivity to light? Instead of fading, these fabrics tend to yellow. This yellowing process, while it can occur in other fabrics, happens rapidly in silk fabric.

The image above is an off-white 100% silk fabric sample. The image on the right is the result of just 15 hours of exposure to direct sunlight.

Location of Upholstery Fabrics

The location in a home or office in which an upholstery fabric will be installed plays a huge role in the selection process. We know that furnishings with natural fiber-makeups and darker colors are less lightfast, so if the room in question is drenched in sunlight, consider natural, lighter tones made from synthetic fibers. For your movie room with blackout curtains, it is okay to express your taste with those vibrant silk ottomans.

For outdoor upholstery, fabric choice becomes even more crucial for the sustainability of your furnishings. There are plenty of other issues to worry about with outdoor upholstery fabric, like mold & mildew or insect damage. Do yourself a favor and use a fade resistant fabric, such as a solution-dyed synthetic fabric discussed above.

Other Solutions for Preventing Fabric Fading in Sunlight

While your upholstery fabric choices and location of those fabrics contribute most to lightfastness, there are other options that can help preserve the original color of your furnishings.

Flip and Rotate Cushions

During your periodic freshening up of your interior furnishings, including vacuuming and damp dusting, cushions should be rotated and/or flipped to ensure a more even wear and exposure to sunlight. Try to do it on a regular basis to ensure uniform exposure.

Window Treatments and Accesories

You don’t need to cover your entire window with blackout curtains to control the influx of sunlight into your home. Numerous options are available to filter out harmful UV rays for both you and your upholstery. Window screens or film, such as those from Glass Doctor, can reduce glare, increase energy savings, and most importantly block up to 99% of UV rays.

Fiber-Seal is Your Fabric Care Resource

Not only will we be happy to help you in your upholstery fabric selection process, but we will be there every step of the way for the preventative maintenance and care throughout the life of your furnishings. Fiber-Seal provides industry leading luxury fabric protection services and cleaning, including complimentary spot cleaning on protected soft surfaces! Contact your local Fabric Care Center today!

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