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Designed for disinfection

Posted by Guilford of Maine on August 6, 2020

When selecting the right fabric for your needs, texture and pattern are two important considerations. But top of the list is likely color. And for good reason: color is known to affect our mood and it can even impact behavior and productivity! Our reaction to color is deeply ingrained and is tied to our relationship with the natural environment. 

A quick rundown on colorfastness

Color is a powerful design element, so we take great care to ensure the longevity of our dyes. The ability of a fabric dye to resist fading is known as colorfastness. In today’s world, all surfaces—including fabrics—are subject to more frequent cleaning and disinfection, which can sometimes affect colorfastness. For most people, the words “bleach cleaning” and “color” are associated with words like “avoid.” Not to worry! We offer a number of bleach-cleanable textiles, so you don’t have to sacrifice color for peace of mind. How do we do it? First, let’s recap our different dyeing processes.

Colors to dye for

As mentioned in a previous blog post, there are several different ways of adding color to fabrics. In solution dyeing, polymer chips are liquified and combined with color pigments before being converted into filament fibers. With stock dyeing, fibers are compressed and saturated with dyes at high temperatures before being spun into yarn. Yarn dyeing is pretty much what it sounds like: white yarn is dyed before being woven into fabric. Finally, there’s piece dyeing, where entire swaths of fabric are dyed with a single color after they’ve been woven with white yarn.

It’s important to note that with polyester or polypropylene products, proper bleach cleaning won’t degrade the fiber itself, due to the nature of the material. Our main challenge here lies in ensuring colorfastness. Happily, solution-dyed fabrics are bleach resistant right out of the gate because the color is inherent in the fiber. For all the other dyeing methods mentioned above, bleach resistance is achieved by using different types of dye chemicals or by adjusting the dyeing process (dyeing at higher temperatures or for longer periods of time). These adjustments are made at different stages of fabric production, depending on the dyeing method used.

Bleach resistance: a finely tuned process

Like most great recipes, dyeing for bleach resistance is as much an art as it is a science, and it takes trial and error to get it right! For our yarn dyed fabrics, we’ve worked hard to expand our palette of yarns that are specifically dyed to be bleach cleanable, providing a wider range of colors and looks for our customers. As for fabrics that are dyed after weaving (piece dyeing), that’s where labdips come into play. It may sound like the latest YouTube dance craze, but labdips are actually small swatches of fabric that are dyed in the lab (hence the name!) to create a dye recipe. We may go through several labdips to discover it takes five parts blue, three parts yellow and one part black to create the newest trending green!

Putting our products to the test

Once we settle on the dye recipe, we use labdips again to run bleach tests, which allows us to ensure the dyes are colorfast. We test each and every color, and it may take several attempts before the right combination of dye and dyeing process is achieved. This lengthens the fabric development process, but the result is a product that meets strict bleach-cleaning standards.

Taking texture into account

At the top of this blog post, we mentioned the importance of texture. When choosing fabrics that will be frequently cleaned or bleach cleaned, it’s good to remember that flatter, smoother fabrics are easier to maintain, since they have fewer nooks and crannies for dirt and germs to hide in. This allows disinfectant to cover the entire surface of the material.

Safety and cleanliness go hand in hand

Not all fabrics can be bleach cleaned. But we continue to invest significant time and effort in testing dyes and fabrics to expand our range of bleach-cleanable textiles. And for good reason: deep cleaning is now a major part of safety protocols in many settings, increasing the need for bleach resistance. Speaking of which, be sure to check out our next blog post for some tips on best practices for safer environments.