Nonwovens do not depend on the interlacing of yarn for internal cohesion. Intrinsically they have neither an organized geometrical structure. They are essentially the result of the relationship between one single fibre and another. This provides nonwoven fabrics with characteristics of their own, with new or better properties (absorption, filtration) and therefore opens them up to other applications.
Introduction to Non-Woven Fabrics
Nonwovens are in fact products in their own right with their own characteristics and performances, but also weaknesses. They are around us and one uses them everyday, often without knowing it. Indeed they are frequently hidden from view.
Nonwovens can be made absorbent, breathable, drapeable, flame resistant, heat sealable, light, lint-free, mouldable, soft, stable, stiff, tear resistant, water repellent, if needed. Obviously though, not all the properties mentioned can be combined in a single nonwoven, particularly those that are contradictory.
Applications of Non-Woven Fabrics
- Personal care and hygiene as in baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, adult incontinence items, dry and wet pads, but also nursing pads or nasal strips.
- Healthcare, like operation drapes, gowns and packs, face masks, dressings and swabs, osteomy bag liners, etc.
- Clothing: interlinings, insulation and protection clothing, industrial workwear, chemical defence suits, shoe components, etc.
- Home: wipes and dusters, tea and coffee bags, fabric softeners, food wraps, filters, bed and table linen, etc.
- Automotive: boot liners, shelf trim, oil and cabin air filters, moulded bonnet liners, heat shields, airbags, tapes, decorative fabrics, etc.
- Construction: roofing and tile underlay, thermal and noise insulation, house wrap, underslating, drainage, etc.
- Geotextiles: asphalt overlay, soil stabilization, drainage, sedimentation and erosion control, etc.
- Filtration: air and gas, Hevac, Hepa, Ulpa filters
- Industrial: cable insulation, abrasives, reinforced plastics, battery separators, satellite dishes, artificial leather, air conditioning, coating.
- Agriculture, home furnishing, leisure and travel, school and office etc.
Origin and Advantages of Non-Wovens
The origins of nonwovens are not glamorous. In fact, they resulted from recycling fibrous waste or second quality fibres left over from industrial processes like weaving or leather processing. They also resulted from raw materials restrictions e.g. during and after the Second World War or later in the communist dominated countries in Central Europe. This humble and cost dominated origin of course lead to some technical and marketing mistakes; it is also largely responsible for two still lingering misconceptions about nonwovens: they are assumed to be (cheap) substitutes; many also associate them with disposable products and for that reason did consider nonwovens as cheap, low quality, items.
Not all nonwovens end in disposable applications. A large part of production is for durable end-uses, like in interlinings, roofing, geotextile, automotive or floor covering applications etc. However, many nonwovens especially light-weight ones are indeed used as disposable products or incorporated into disposable items. In our view this is the ultimate sign of efficiency. Disposability is only possible for cost-efficient products that concentrate on the essential required characteristics and performances and provide them without unnecessary frills.
Most nonwovens, disposables or not, are high-tech, functional items, e.g. with ultra-high absorbency or retention for wipes, or with softness, strike-through and no wetback properties for those used into hygiene articles, with outstanding barrier characteristics for medical applications in the operation room, or better filtration possibilities because of their pores dimension and distribution, etc. They weren’t manufactured with the aim of disposability but in order to fulfil other requirements. They mainly became disposable because of the sectors they are used in (hygiene, healthcare) and of their cost efficiency. And disposability very often creates an additional benefit to the users. As disposable items have never been used before, there is then a guarantee that they do possess all the properties required as opposed to reused laundered fabrics.