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Over time, the effects of hydrolysis cause subtle damage to your product and eventually cause total failure. While all textile products have a projected useful life, hydrolysis can shorten their life span significantly. Although certain fabrics are manufactured to withstand heat, moisture and general wear, a hydrolysis test for fabric is an effective tool for determining whether a specific material is suited to the intended application.

The wrong material choice can accelerate hydrolysis, leading to frequent replacements and the associated costs. Hydrolysis resistance is essential for many applications, including recreational vehicles (RVs), outdoor furnishing, aircraft and marine surfaces, poolside upholstery, and even restaurants where the material must withstand frequent use.

What Is Hydrolysis?

Hydrolysis is the chemical breakdown of a compound as a result of a reaction with water. The process can cause specific fabrics, such as polyurethane-coated fabrics, to degrade and lose strength. As the molecules in the material break down, they can also change properties, becoming more vulnerable to breakage.

Water molecules can interact with textile fibers, influencing the chemical bonds. This interaction can break the bonds, disintegrating the fabric structure. The fabric weakens over time, losing its shape and structure. This process is known as hydrolysis failure. When polyurethane fabric fails due to hydrolysis, the film of the material can crack, flake off or delaminate.

Various factors influence fabric hydrolysis resistance, from temperature and pH levels to the fabric’s chemical composition. As a result, textile manufacturers take preventive measures to repel water and other liquids from entering the fabric. Achieving longevity in textiles exposed to the elements involves extensive hydrolysis testing to decelerate decomposition.

What Is Hydrolysis Failure?

Hydrolysis failure means the fabric can no longer perform or hold its shape. The signs may differ depending on the fabric composition, but common indications of hydrolysis failure include:

  • Cracking
  • Flaking
  • Delaminating
  • Holes
  • Sagging

Hydrolysis failure is often widespread, particularly in fabrics used in RVs and marine and aviation applications. As some fabrics are more prone to decomposition than others, many manufacturers follow voluntary guidelines on hydrolysis resistance testing for textiles such as polyurethane-coated fabrics, as these often vary depending on the chemical content and manufacturing processes.

What Is Hydrolysis Resistance?

Hydrolysis resistance is a textile’s ability to withstand heat and humidity exposure for extended periods. Certain materials must perform in challenging conditions, including performance fabrics and those used in humid locations. Depending on the application, hydrolysis resistance can be one of the most critical elements in textile choice. For example, seats in RVs or airplanes and fabrics exposed to open water must have excellent hydrolysis resistance to avoid premature degradation.

Polyurethane-coated fabrics can be vulnerable to moisture, heat and humidity due to their polymer chemistry. Some are so sensitive that they react to the heat and moisture transferred by people sitting on them. Many polyurethane materials are a blend of resins, and as each combination is different, their composition affects the hydrolysis resistance. Materials purposely built to withstand moisture and temperature have a higher hydrolysis resistance.

Any business wishing to provide furniture and other textiles in hot, humid and heavily used areas relies heavily on hydrolysis testing to determine the resistance of these fabrics. The better the hydrolysis resistance, the more suited they are to applications involving high temperatures, moisture and humidity.

Hydrolysis Testing Methods

Hydrolysis testing determines how effective a material is at resisting the effects of hydrolysis. Manufacturers can determine the suitability of a material for use in hot and humid environments through active and passive testing. Two principal hydrolysis tests exist to determine the hydrolysis resistance of polyurethane fabrics.

ISO 1419:2019(E) Tropical Test Method C

This test is commonly referred to as the jungle test. It involves subjecting the fabric to a temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 95% for several weeks. The sample is also monitored weekly for the duration of the test.

The test fabric is then compared to a control sample, allowing manufacturers to assess the decomposition. Materials designed for residential upholstery should withstand at least three weeks in the testing chamber, and those prepared for commercial use should withstand a minimum of five weeks.

ASTM D 3690-02

This testing method also involves a test chamber, but the material is tested inside before and after a predetermined 15-day period. Before entering the chamber, testers assess adhesion in warp and fill directions and document the results. The material is subject to a 24-hour reconditioning period at a controlled room temperature at the end of the 15 days. 

The third phase of testing occurs after the reconditioning period. The fabric is tested for adhesion, abrasion and flex resistance. While the jungle test is passive, this test is active, allowing manufacturers to administer a simple pass or fail.

ISO 1419:2019(E) test

The Importance of Fabric Hydrolysis Resistance

Investing in high-quality fabrics is essential for many commercial and residential applications. RVs are a prime example of the need for hydrolysis-resistant material. The right fabric choice from the outset ensures your customers receive the best possible products.

Some of the many benefits of quality hydrolysis-resistant fabric include:

  • Increased longevity: Hydrolysis resistance ensures that textiles can tackle the challenges associated with specific environments without experiencing premature hydrolysis failure. Extending the useful life of upholstery fabric makes it a better purchase for the end user, who associates your brand with quality and reliability.
  • Improved strength and durability: When fabrics have the appropriate protection, they also have excellent toughness and abrasion resistance, making them even better suited to challenging environments. 
  • Chemical resistance: High hydrolysis resistance is effective in fabrics that undergo repeated exposure to sanitizers, cleaning products, alcohol and bleach solutions. These materials can withstand frequent cleaning without becoming brittle or discolored.
  • Better visual appeal: High hydrolysis resistance provides an aesthetically pleasing gloss and a more vivid, long-lasting color.
  • Enhanced versatility: Materials with excellent hydrolysis resistance are highly versatile and suited to various applications, from RV interiors to indoor pool areas. Using these options provides a sense of continuity throughout your application.
  • Elevated reputation: When people purchase a product, they rely on a promise of quality. Hydrolysis-resistant materials ensure the product can function as intended, even in challenging environments. Customers enjoy the benefits of longevity, durability and versatility, creating a trusting relationship with your brand. They are more likely to work with you and recommend you to others, improving your reputation and increasing profitability.

Working with experienced professionals in the textile industry means you have access to quality fabrics with different levels of warranties — at Swavelle Group, we offer warranties of up to 10 years. The right partnership ensures you choose optimal materials, providing your business and the end user with significant long-term benefits. You can elevate the customer experience, improve your sales, boost your brand image and encourage repeat purchases.

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Find the Best Textiles for Any Application With Swavelle Group

Polyurethane vinyls may all look similar, but they don’t perform with the same durability and reliability. As a leader in the textile industry, Swavelle Group specializes in durable fabrics for multiple applications. If you want to provide your customers with weather, humidity, UV- and moisture-resistant textiles, our quality selection can provide the solution. Our range of performance fabrics is ideal for indoor and outdoor use. 

Our experts work with you to create unique and functional textile designs aligned with your needs. Whether you need hydrolysis-resistant options for RVs, outdoor seating areas, resorts or health facilities, our team can help you find the perfect balance between durability and aesthetics. Browse our selection or contact us to learn more about our services today.