“When it comes to rain repellency, some non-fluorinated compounds have become competitive alternatives to fluorochemicals. Until recently the best option for making well-performing and durable outdoor garments were fluorochemicals. When pressure on the use of fluorochemicals increased by regulation and the media, chemical manufacturers saw potential in developing better alternatives,” says Steffen Schellenberger, PhD student at ACES, Stockholm University and co-author of the paper.

In this collaborative research – the most detailed study of its kind – a survey of 300 outdoor clothing users revealed that most consumers only look for water repellency from their gear, not stain resistance.

In addition, when the researchers applied different waterproof finishes to measure repellency to a wide range of fluids they found that fabric treated with non-fluorinated repellents was resistant to water-based stains such as orange juice and red wine, but gave no repellency to oil-based stains.

Rain-repelling fluorochemicals are environmentally harmful

The textile and clothing industry uses a quarter of all chemicals produced globally and is known to be a large contributor to environmental pollution. Moreover, concerns have been raised about waterproofing fluorochemicals finding their way into the environment during the life of a garment – through washing and microfibre shedding – and when it is disposed of.

“The advantage of using non-fluorinated chemicals in outdoor garments is that they have demonstrated good functionality but a lower environmental impact. Some of these new alternative technologies are based on biodegradable chemicals that, unlike fluorochemicals, would not persist in the environment,” says Ian Cousins, professor at ACES, Stockholm University and co-author of the paper.

The article “Highly fluorinated chemicals in functional textiles can be replaced by re-evaluating liquid repellency and end-user requirements” have been published in Journal of Cleaner Production.