Next-Gen Soil Release Finish for Textiles

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Soil Release Technology Reinvented

Challenges Make Us Better: A New Soil Release Technology

It won’t come as a surprise when we tell you that clothing gets dirty. And some clothing gets very dirty — uniforms and workwear being a prime example. In the (very) old days, keeping your uniforms clean meant you had to throw out a lot of uniforms. That all changed in the 1960s, when a new generation of soil release chemistries came along and made it significantly easier to get the stains out of your workwear.

That age, though, is over. We’ve been working on next-generation soil release technologies for years, and as of 2023, are pleased to offer a new, non-pfas soil release technology.

Big Business

For workwear and uniforms, soil release is crucial. Especially for 65/35 poly/cotton blends — by far the largest category in the marketplace. It’s a durable, comfortable fabric, with a natural feel and good breathability. Industrial laundries rely heavily on poly/cotton, and its performance has a big effect on their bottom line. So the question is … is it possible to maintain solid soil release characteristics without using PFAS chemistries? 

As it turns out, the answer is yes. More accurately, better than yes. Because not only does Milliken’s new proprietary non-PFAS technology maintain the performance of PFAS chemistries — we’ve actually improved on it.

A Deeper Dive — AATCC Test Method 130

It’s important to understand that the primary objective of these technologies is not to prevent clothing from staining. “Soil release” is precisely what it says: how well does a stain come out of a garment in the wash? We can quantify effectiveness with a standard test — AATCC Test Method 130.

AATCC ratings are determined as follows: A test garment is washed/dried a certain number of times, and then a stain is applied to the fabric. The garment is then washed/dried once more, and the stain is visually evaluated on a scale of 1-5. A rating of 5 is awarded if the stain is essentially invisible after the garment is removed from the washer. And a rating of 1? The stain looks no better than before it was washed.

3.5 at 5/6 is a common industry performance specification. 3.5 is the visual rating of the stain that was applied after 5 washes, and then rated after the additional 6th wash/dry cycle. This test not only judges the ability of the fabric to release a stain but also the durability of the soil release technology. In the 1960s, garments were lucky to score better than 2 with the technologies of the time. From the 1960s and beyond, ratings of 3.5 became the norm.

How does Milliken’s non-PFAS technology fare?

Very well, indeed. We’re seeing 5/6 ratings of 4-4.5 — and what’s more, after 25-30 washes the results are still between 3.5 and 4.  Until the launch of our recent innovation, soil release chemistries typically were unable to maintain performance beyond 25 washes.

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 In our initial manufacturing trials, Milliken scientists and plant personnel ran more than 30 trials using 100,000 yards of fabric to optimize formulas and processes. Once we were confident that the new technology was ready, we ran 55 more trials during the scale-up to full production. As we develop comprehensive solutions, we’ll repeat the same process over and over.

At Milliken, we invent. Science is a huge part of who we are. Challenges drive innovation and this technology is a perfect example.

Milliken’s next-gen soil release technology gives you unparalleled performance. We have multiple formulations to address differing customer requirements. A focus on softness, for example — or durability, or wrinkle release. And that performance comes with perhaps the biggest benefit of all: non-PFAS chemistries.

It’s good for businesses, consumers, and the environment. The technology is currently available on the most commonly used fabric in the workwear business, and we are actively working to modify it for additional fiber blends. We will continue to roll out new applications — but here’s something we can say right now: PFAS is no longer the only effective option.

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We Do It All Here

At Milliken, we are not strangers to new inventions. In the case of soil release chemistry, we created something that is better than what we started with. This new technology is an innovative textile finish that we apply directly to the fabric during dyeing and finishing. Unlike older soil release chemistries, non-pfas formulations like ours can’t simply be transferred from one fabric to another without modification. It’s a complication that plays to one of Milliken’s strengths — our extensive lab and R&D capabilities. 

We do our own research, development, and testing — in-house. After finalizing a new chemistry, we send it to our on-site Rapid Prototype Center. The RPC allows us to test how the new formulations are likely to perform under true manufacturing conditions. We can also see what procedures or operations have the potential to cause errors, making the move to full-scale manufacturing a more efficient process. If the results are less than optimal, it’s back to the lab to do it again.

While it's a painstaking process to move a technology from lab to prototype, moving to full-scale production is the critical step to verify manufacturing capability.

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