Some Like It Soft - Wacker Chemie AG

Some Like It Soft

More Wearer Comfort Desired

Fabric softeners came on the market around half a century ago. This was due to higher consumer demands on the wearer comfort of laundry and was facilitated by the fact that manufacturers had been changing the formulation of their detergents since the late 1950s. Soaps that had previously been used were replaced by anionic and nonionic surfactants. These surfactants are very powerful and, unlike soap, they do not leave residues of calcium soap and unsaponified fats on textile fibers. However, while this makes fabrics extremely clean, they remain hard and scratch. So, as a sort of “balancer,” the fabric softener must contain cationic surfactants.

Fabric softeners are added in the final rinse cycle. Not only do they impart on laundry the softness and wearer comfort that consumers are looking for, they also accomplish many other tasks. For example, fragrances give laundry a fresh smell. In addition, fabric softeners reduce friction between textile fibers, thus protecting the fabric during the spin cycle and making it wrinkle-resistant. Moreover, they decrease the static charge in synthetic fibers. During ironing, the friction between fibers and the metal of the iron is also reduced, which makes for faster ironing and reduces energy consumption.

Easier to Cleave Biologically

In the 1990s, the cationic surfactant and main active ingredient of choice for fabric softeners was distearyl dimethyl ammonium chloride (DSDMAC). That substance, however, is poorly biodegradable. This disadvantage was remedied by the development of the so-called esterquats widely used today. Esterquats are based on quaternary triethanol-methyl-ammonium or diethanol-dimethyl-ammonium compounds in which the long-chain fatty acids are linked via ester bonds, which are easier to cleave biologically.

This does not, however, mark the end of fabric-softener development: “Manufacturers today are looking for new ingredients to enhance the performance of existing formulations and allow them to offer even more benefits to consumers,” explains Patrik Fransehn, head of the Care & Coatings business team at WACKER SILICONES. The softening properties of silicones have been known for a long time and they find application in textile finishing in the form of silicone fluid emulsions. With WACKER® FC 218, there is a new macroemulsion of an amino-functional silicone on the market, a product from WACKER’s fabric care line that imparts beneficial properties on fabric softeners.

“Esterquats and silicones harmonize particularly well with each other, they complement and even enhance each other’s properties.”

Dr. Richard Becker WACKER SILICONES:

Since they are positively charged, protonated amino-functional silicones can deposit onto textile fibers thanks to electrostatic interaction. “This mechanism anchors the silicone molecule to the fiber, with loops consisting of the Si-O-Si backbone projecting out and away,” explains Dr. Richard Becker, head of a Household Care applications laboratory at WACKER SILICONES in Burghausen. “As this backbone is highly flexible, the fibers can easily slip past each other. This lowers both fiber-fiber friction and friction between fibers and the skin or the metal surface of an iron.”