From our clothing, to car upholstery, to rugs, and beyond, textiles are one of the cornerstones of our daily lives even if they are rarely thought of. Good textiles may be overlooked, but it is certainly apparent when we encounter a bad one. A shirt that only lasts one or two washes before tearing apart or a hand towel that bleeds dye when in use can have a noticeable negative impact on our experience when using textile products. Textile testing attempts to combat these negative qualities by creating a set of standards that textiles can be held to. In this article, we will outline what textile testing is, who regulates the production of textiles, and some of the most common methods and conditions for testing.
What is textile testing?
Textile testing is a broad term for the different quality tests that may be performed on a textile product before it is released to the market. As consumers, we want to have confidence in the quality of our clothing and other textile products we use. We want them to feel good when we wear them, maintain their color vibrancy, resist fraying and disintegration, and to be free from any chemicals that may not be suitable for human contact. In the case of textiles such as flame-resistant protective gear or industrial use fabrics, we also want to be assured that the product will perform as intended and serve its functional purpose.Textile testing ensures that our products will retain their intended physical and chemical properties and will not harm us.
Who regulates textile testing?
The production of textiles often involves processes that span many different facilities from countries worldwide. Organizations like ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), as well as other regional regulatory bodies, aim to bring standardization and good quality practices to the textile industry. The goal of these organizations is to ensure an acceptable final product no matter where it has been produced. In some cases, government agencies may also impose regulatory requirements for textiles. In the United States, the FTC regulates aspects of fabric production such as garment labeling and environmental claims.
ISO and ASTM textile testing standards
Both ISO and ASTM International are voluntary, committee-based standards organizations. These technical committees are typically composed of individuals who work in the designated industry themselves. The ISO and ASTM International textile committees work to create standards for textiles and offer guidelines to improve manufacturing processes. The standards are compiled and may be published online or in a physical book that is available for purchase. These organizations are not mandatory, but following their guidelines may help textile manufacturers ensure consistent quality and create a set of standard operating procedures.
Methods of textile testing
Being that there are many different types of fabric tests to satisfy various regulatory requirements, there are also many different methods for textile testing depending on the application. However, we can organize methods of textile testing into a few broad categories:
Physical testing: When conducting physical tests on textiles, quality professionals will examine a fabric for its physical characteristics.The purpose of this testing is to obtain as much physical data on a textile sample as possible so that consumers can be assured of its contents and that it will be suitable for its intended purpose. During physical testing, fibers are identified and may be assessed for their weight (also known as GSM), the unit length of both individual and bundled fibers, stiffness, fabric count for woven materials, coatings, and more.
Mechanical testing: Mechanical testing of textiles refers to a number of tests that aim to determine the strength and durability of a fabric. This is important because as consumers, we want assurance that our textiles will withstand reasonable wear and tear for their expected lifetime. There are many different mechanical tests for textiles, but some of the most common ones are as follows:
- Tensile Testing – Determines the maximum force a fabric can withstand when under constant, controlled tension. During this testing, special tensile testing equipment is utilized to continually pull at a fabric from different angles until there is a rupture. Tensile testing helps determine a textile’s breaking point, how far it’s able to be stretched and still return to form, its puncture strength, and more.
- Abrasion Testing – Tests a fabric’s resistance to surface wear and tear by way of continual rubbing. There are two primary methods used for abrasion testing: the Wyzenbeek method and the Martindale method. For Wyzenbeek testing, a material is pulled taut on a Wyzenbeek machine and continually rubbed back and forth with an approved abrasive material. The number of “double rubs” is recorded until two yarn breaks occur or significant wear is apparent. Martindale testing is similar, but involves a piece of fabric being mounted and rubbed in a figure eight shape using a piece of worsted wool as the abrasive material. Although the two tests are related, a high or low rating on one test does not necessarily imply the same rating on the other.
- Pilling Testing – Tests a fabric’s resistance to pilling. Pilling is the tendency for a fabric to form tiny, fuzzy balls of loose fibers on its surface and is typically the result of wear and friction over time. Quality professionals evaluate a textile’s tendency to pill primarily through the ICI Box Pilling Test. This test involves attaching textile samples onto specialty polyurethane tubes. These samples are then placed in a pilling box and tumbled together for a predetermined number of rotations and assessed for any pill formation. In some cases the Martindale method may also be used to evaluate pilling.
Chemical testing: One of the primary goals of chemical testing of textiles is to ensure that a fabric is free from harmful substances that may not be suitable for human contact. Chemical tests for lead and other heavy metals, harmful dyes, phthalates, and more may be implemented to ensure a fabric’s safety. In addition to keeping us safe, chemical testing of textile samples may be used to test a fabric’s pH and color fastness in reaction to elements including light, heat, perspiration, or chlorination. This is especially relevant for textiles such as athletic wear to ensure their optimal performance on the body during physical activity. Also included in chemical testing of textiles are tests for flammability. Passed in 1953, the U.S. Flammable Fabrics Act outlines several classifications of flammability for fabrics:
|Class||Plain Surface Textile Fabric||Raised Surface Textile Fabric|
|Class 1 – Normal Flammability||Burn time is 3.5 seconds or greater –
Acceptable for clothing
|(1) Burn time is greater than 7.0 seconds; or
(2) Burn time is 0-7 seconds with no base burns. Exhibits rapid surface flash only. –
Acceptable for clothing
|Class 2 – Intermediate Flammability||N/A for Plain Surface Textile Fabrics||Burn time is 4-7 seconds with base burn –
Acceptable for clothing
|Class 3 – Rapid and Intense Burning||Burn time is less than 3.5 seconds –
NOT acceptable for clothing
|Burn time is less than 4.0 seconds with base burn –
NOT acceptable for clothing
In addition to these fabric flammability guidelines, there is even great attention paid to textiles used in children’s sleepwear to ensure their resistance to catching flame. For children’s sleepwear, flammability is measured by char length instead of burn time. If a fabric’s char length exceeds 17.8 cm. (7.0 in.) it is not considered to be acceptable for children’s sleepwear. These textiles are also subject to more scrutiny in terms of how much fabric needs to be tested, the number of launderings they must undergo during testing, and the required labeling on the finished product.
Textile testing equipment and conditions
Equipment applications for textile testing can vary just as much as the test methods themselves. There is specialized equipment for nearly every type of textile testing. One common condition that fabrics may be tested at is 22° C / 65% RH to meet ASTM & ISO test specs. Quality professionals use this standard to condition textile samples, test for color consistency, and to measure for loss of tensile strength. To meet this condition, precise humidity control equipment such as a rapid textile tester chamber or a hanging sample chamber may be utilized. Read our blog for more information on textile conditioning.
Textile testing is a broad field that encompasses many different aspects of textile production. Understanding the properties of textiles and adhering to standard practices helps ensure good quality products that are both pleasing and functional.To learn more about what testing solution may be right for you, please visit our textile industry page.