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Increasing cotton's nonwoven market.

Increasing Cotton's Nonwoven Market

Chances are, the "cotton" ball used to remove the day's makeup is an imposter.

The cosmetic puff is just one of many nonwoven products where synthetic fibers, such as polyester, polypropylene, and rayon, have replaced cotton fiber. But ARS scientists are studying ways to make products with 100 percent cotton to improve on cotton's 4 percent share of the nonwoven market.

Nonwoven cotton fabrics are made directly from a mesh of fibers that are bound together by machines with needles or adhesives.

Cotton fibers must be cleaned of debris and bleached. This process removes natural waxes, so a lubricant finish must be applied to aid in processing. Better lubricants are needed for improved processing.

Synthetic nonwoven fibers can be processed faster than cotton, but industry is turning to cotton for other reasons.

"These days, the consumer wants a product that doesn't create environmental concerns," says Jerry P. Moreau, a research chemist at ARS' Textile Finishing Research unit in New Orleans. "Waste disposal, which is a major worry for users of synthentic nonwovens, would not be a problem with cotton. It's biodegradable," he points out.

Moreau has tested cotton biodegradability by placing fabric samples in sterilized trays and exposing them to soil fungi. Five types of fungi are used, and the fabric is exposed to controlled temperature and humidity. His results show that 100 percent cotton completely degrades after 14 days.

Biodegradability is not Moreau's only interest in cotton nonwovens. He thinks cotton's favorable properties of comfort, feel, softness, and absorbency lend cotton nonwovens to use as medical disposables such as hospital and surgical products.

Cotton nonwovens could also be used to make apparel, head rests, bibs, bed sheets, pillow slip covers, towels, wipes and even liners for computer floppy disks, he says.

Moreau is concentrating on disposable diapers, looking for ways to replace the synthetic coverstock (inside lining) of diapers with 100 percent cotton. Such an improvement in degradability would be a boon for the nation's landfills. More than 18 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills each year, according to a Kansas City firm that studies waste disposal.

The main technique Moreau is using to make cotton nonwoven fabric is heat bonding. This process requires at least 10 percent synthetic fiber, which melts to bind cotton fibers.

However, other techniques - such as needlepunching and hydroentanglement - offer opportunities to make 100 percent cotton nonwovens. Needlepunching, one of the oldest mechanical ways of making nonwovens, binds fiber when notched needles move up and down, penetrating and entangling fibers.

Moreau says hydroentanglement "is the technique of the future." This involves high-pressure water jets to entangle fibers, resulting in fabric that closely resembles traditional woven cotton fabric. - By Bruce Kinzel, ARS.

PHOTO : Exposed to various soil fungi, cotton samples show varying biodegradability when blended with synthetic (polypropylene) fibers. Left to right: 25% cotton and 75% synthetic, 50%/ 50%, 70% cotton and 30% synthetic, 80/ 20 and 100% cotton. White strip is 100% synthetic fiber.

Jerry P. Moreau is at the USDA-ARS Textile Finishing Research Unit, Southern Regional Research Center, 1100 Robert E. Lee Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124 (504) 286-4331.
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Title Annotation:cotton nonwoven fabrics
Author:Kinzel, Bruce
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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