Finishing agents

I read a recent article concerning a controversy over the term sizing and retexturizing. This prompted me to write this article to expand the concept, clarify and hopefully not confuse the issue. The proper term that describes agents or procedures that are added to fabrics to enhance the properties of the fabric is called finishing agents. Manufacturers use finishing agents when producing fabrics and drycleaners restore these finishing agents that may be lost during wear, drycleaning or wetcleaning. The drycleaners job in restoring finishing agents is not an easy one since the desired look and feel of the fabric must be considered before application. The problems associated with not using proper finishing agents might prompt these common complaints from the customers:

  • Garment lost it’s feel
  • Feels limp and looks like a rag
  • Looks wrinkled and can not be properly pressed

Finishing agents provide fabrics with the following desirable characteristics:

  • Feel and hand
  • Drape
  • Sheen and luster
  • Softness
  • Water Repellency
  • Presses easier and holds the press longer

The finishing agents that provide these characteristics are starch, vegetable-based sizing, gelatins, synthetic resins, softening agents, and (heat, moisture, pressure). These products can vary greatly when applied to some fabrics better than others. For example, starch and vegetable based sizing give cottons and linens a nice crisp feel. Gelatin is used on rayon because it does not detract from the luster, but enhances it and gives rayon a nice hand and drape. Softening agents lend itself to wool while synthetic resins lend itself to silk. Heat, moisture and pressure have a significant role in the feel and look of a fabric. For example, if I press cotton damp it will result in a stiffer feel than if I pressed it when the fabric was dry. The use of finishing agents may come in a disguised form, such as detergents. For example, we are familiar with drycleaning a load of wools and silks in clear virgin solvent. The result is the wools and silks have a harsh and dry feel, lack luster and generate a lot of static electricity. We refer to this condition as squeaky clean. We now dryclean these fabrics using a drycleaning detergent and the garments now have a soft feel and lustrous look. We can now also add a sizing either in a batch or charge and the fabrics now have added characteristics that enhance the look and feel of the fabric. We can now add a dryside sizing either in a batch or charge and this adds further characteristics to the fabric. The sizing is not used to create a stiff feel but merely to give the fabric additional body, made it easier to press and to retain the press. It is equally as important to use the proper finishing agent in wetcleaning. I will use Laidlaw products that best describe what I am referring to. I am using Laidlaw as an example since I have been using these products for many years and they have a wide range of finishing agents available. A professional cleaner must first determine the look and feel that the fabric should have and use the products accordingly.

Example 1- Wools and silks that require a soft feel would entail the use of a cationic or nonionic cleaning agent such as Soft n Brite, The use of a cationic softening agent such as Soften All will add to the soft feel and hand of the fabric. After processing the garment should be tumbled in a warm dryer for 1-3 minutes. The heat of the drying process is necessary to activate the softening agents left in the fabric. I have experimented many times using this procedure and it can be documented that the finishing agents used reduces the fabrics potential for shrinkage.

Example 2 – A pair of jeans is received for processing. If the jeans require a soft look and feel the same procedure should be used as outlined with the wools and silks. Dry garments on low heat and press when thoroughly dry.

Example 3 – A pair of jeans are received for processing and a stiff feel is requested by the customer.

Procedure-Wetclean using Power Brite. Add Aqua Size or Khaki Size. Dry garments to 90% dry and press with high heat and pressure for additional stiffness. Use a spray sizing to increase the stiffness of the fabric further.

Problem Solving (Finishing Agents)

Sometimes loss or breakdown of finishing agents used in manufacture can create serious fabric problems. The following problem solving procedures can be attempted.

(1) Difficult rings on satins and polyester

Cause-During manufacture synthetic resins are used that may break down during wear or cleaning.

Solution-Prespot the are with amyl acetate.

(2) Shrinkage on Wool

Cause-By excessive heat, moisture and mechanical action.

Solution-In order to attempt stretching and correction the wool fiber must be impregnated with a softening agent. I had several wool sweaters sent to me with problems of excessive shrinkage. I soaked them for 15 minutes in Laidlaw’s Soft N Brite and Soften All. I did not rinse them but merely extracted them. The garments were soft and pliable which made them easier to stretch and restore to its original size.

(3) Discoloration on Rayon

Cause-The sizing used on the rayon breaks down causing a whitish or discolored area.

Solution-Use the fogging method. Hold the steam gun 3-4 inches from the fabric and steam the area. Use air to dry the fabric. This will cause the disturbed sizing to blend in with the discolored area. The garment can also be steamed on a press, lightly sprayed with water and then pressed using head pressure. Footnote-I am now taking orders for my new and complete manual “The Art of Wetcleaning” which is very much in demand. The price is $95.00 which includes shipping and handling. With every order I will be sending you a card which entitles you to a free wetcleaning kit from Laidlaw.

Picture of Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen, former chief garment analyst for the National Cleaners Association, offers lecture, consultation and garment analysis service. He is the author of The Art of Spotting. He can be reached at (772) 340-0909, by email at or through his website at Dan Eisen, 274 NW Toscane Trail, Port Saint Lucie, FL 34986.

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