The need for waterproof clothing and accessories is something that most of us will have, especially when living in the UK. However, traditional methods of coating to make fabrics waterproof have actually been found to be bad for the environment, as well as human health. This is due to the presence of polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in the coatings, which break down extremely slowly once they are released into the environment.
To combat this, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a solution that not only overcomes the potentially hazardous impact of current coatings, but also performs better as well. The main issues with current techniques are firstly, that long polymers are used for the coating and it is longer polymers that cause the potential hazards to the environment and human health. The second major issue is that the current options are primarily liquid based, meaning the fabrics have to be soaked in the solution, which then results in the fabric providing much less air circulation due to it essentially being sealed by the coating.
The MIT teams solution solves both of these issues, by combining the use of shorter polymers with enhanced hydrophobic properties, which don’t have the associated potential hazards of the longer varieties and by utilising a non-liquid based coating application. The new coating method utilises a process that was produced by members of the MIT team, called initiated chemical vapour deposition (iCVD). This iCVD coating is applied in a very thin layer, which does not completely seal the pores of the fabric, allowing it to circulate air much better.
This new coating process has been tested at length and has withstood repeated washings, as well as being subjected to abrasion testing, none of which had any impact on the coating itself. All of the above points to a huge potential future for the new hydrophobic coating, with the benefits to the environment clearly being a major step forward and the improved performance being a welcome addition.