Research/ Review Paper | Textile Articles

Eco-Friendly Textile Finishes: Finishes for Well-being

Published: June 10, 2015

Khushboo Shrimali, Ph.D. Scholar, Shrimati Nathibai Damodarji Thackersaey University, Mumbai

Guide Name: Prof. Ela Dedhia, Nirmala Niketan College of Home Science, Mumbai


The processing of textiles consumes vast amount of water and chemicals, and release numerous harmful volatile agents into the atmosphere.  From an environmental point of view, the clothes we wear can cause a great deal of damage. A new concept of fabric finishing with plant extracts having medicinal values is emerging now days with a fair degree of acceptability. Now the treatment doesn’t only means consuming medicines, but we can actually wear the medicated fabric and get good results in return.

In this article, an attempt has been made to explore the possibility of finishing textiles from medicinal plant extracts from material like Basil leaves, Neem, turmeric, sandalwood, etc. These extracts are a pure form of eco-friendly material and have already had a successful application on textiles. Apart from this, various other finishing techniques that are termed as “Environment Friendly” has also been discussed, which includes Nanotechnology, Enzymatic finishing, Plasma treatment and Microencapsulation.


It is well known that every customer product has less or more impact on the environment, which the consumer does not know. Any product, which is made, used or disposed of in a way that significantly reduces the harm it would otherwise cause to the environment, could be considered as eco-friendly product. Slowly, consumers in India are taking lead in prompting manufacturers to adopt clean technologies to produce eco-friendly products.In the same way, the textile industry is shared between natural fibres such as wool, silk, linen, cotton and hemp, and man-made ones, the most common of which are synthetic fibres (polyamide, acrylic) made from petrochemicals. A vast amount of water and chemicals is consumed in the process of dyeing and printing. Along with this, numerous volatile agents are released into the atmosphere that is particularly harmful to our health.  From an environmental point of view, the clothes we wear and the textiles they are made from can cause a great deal of damage1.

It is expected that due to rapid change in customer’s demands, the textile finishing industry is challenged to use high quantities of dyes and auxiliaries. Because of the high cost of conventional animal tests, most of the chemicals involved in the present manufacturing technology have been poorly tested for their toxicity, which is a complex biological phenomenon (Ggrosblatt 1984)2. Only bio tests can fully distinguish between what is or is not harmful to living organisms.

Textiles are the result of a complex series of manufacturing processes, in the course of which an extremely diverse range of chemicals may be used. Some examples of hazardous chemicals are:

  • Pesticides
  • Pentachlorophenol
  • Acidity/Alkalinity (pH)
  • Dyestuffs
  • Dye carriers (chloro organic)
  • Loose dye
  • Volatile compounds
  • Odours
  • Formaldehyde
  • Extractable heavy metals
  • Flame retardants
  • Biocides

Under this situation, how can consumers assure themselves of product safety?

Finishing of fabrics in an eco-friendly manner is getting very advanced these days. Science has come up with many technologies for the eco processing of textiles, which includes, Enzymatic Finishing of textiles, Plasma Technology, Finishing by Natural products and a very interesting technique which is now days gaining high popularity is “Finishing of fabrics with herb and plant extracts that are of great medicinal value”. Various properties like anti-microbial, anti-itching, fragrance, anti-allergic, anti-septic, wound-healing, coolness and freshness etc. can be incorporated in the fabric by the application of herbal extracts. In this article, an effort is made to explore the possibility of the herbal finishing. Basil leaves, Pomegranate rind, Aloe-vera, Neem, Jatropha curas etc. are among some of the eco-friendly material which had gain successful application in textile field.

Many attempts have been made to develop medicinal herb extract treated garments using alternate medicinal concepts to cure selected disease. Many herbs have the potential of curing diseases like allergic dermatitis, psoriasis, asthma, liver disorders, headache, joint pains etc. 3.  The medicinal properties of a herb can be incorporated in a fabric by the process of dyeing, finishing, micro-encapsulation etc. The comprehensive focus on plant based natural dyes and other bioactive natural extract in textile coating as antimicrobial textile finish has gained significant momentum. The major antimicrobial agents for textile coating are chemical agents which have toxic and environmental issues. There are many natural dyes obtained from plants that exhibit strong antimicrobial properties. Therefore, coating of antimicrobial plant natural dyes and bioactive plant extract on to cotton fabrics is an emerging technology in the production of medical cloths4. Recently, there has been upsurge interest in apparel technology all over the world for much demanding functionality of the products like wrinkle resistance, water repelling, fade resistance and resistance to microbial invasion. Among these, development of antimicrobial textile finish is highly necessary and relevant since garments are in direct contact with human body (Sathianarayanan et al 2010).

Textiles with anti-microbial finish not just protect the fabric, but also the user from microbial infestation. Hygiene has become the priority on textiles as they are termed as the ‘second skin’ and are closest to the human body. This aspect calls for the great importance given to anti-microbials in textiles24.

The inherent properties of the textile fibres provide room for the growth of micro-organisms. Besides, the structure of the substrates and the chemical processes may induce the growth of microbes. Basically, anti-microbial finish is applied to textile material with a view to protect the wearer and the textile substrate itself.

In a research conducted to test the microbes it was found that bacteria isolated from clothing are similar to those isolated from normal skin flora such as 

  • Under shirts contain Staphylococcus epidermis and Coryneform bacteria responsible for body odour
  • Trouser, legs and pockets contain Bacillus and lesser amounts of Staphylococcus epidermis and Micrococcus.
  • Skin of grain, perineum and feet contain Staphylococcus aureus, gram negative bacteria, yeast and fungi Candida albicans which produce skin infections as those areas are normally moist and dark

In the past few decades the search for new anti-infection agents has occupied many research groups in the field of Ethnopharmacology. Recio et al.(1989) reviewed the most relevant articles on this subject in which the author has established the activity of the plant extract along with both the spectrum of and the principles responsible for this activity. In general, the review showed that phenolics are the predominant active chemicals in these plants, with gram positive bacteria being the most sensible germs5.

The term Herbal Textile is used for a textile material which is dyed or finished entirely with herbal extractions, without using any sort of chemicals. These herbs are different from vegetable dyes as they are natural and also have medicinal value. These herbs have a direct application on the fabric with the help of natural ingredients, so that the medicinal value of the herbs can be kept intact. The concept of herbal textiles is derived from Ayurvastra – a branch of Ayurveda, the ancient 5,000 year old Indian system of Vedic healthcare.  “Ayur” is Sanskrit for health, “veda” means wisdom, and “vastra” is cloth or clothing. Ayur vastra clothing is made from organic cotton fabric that has been permeated with special herbs and oils that promote health and cure special diseases depending upon the blends of embedded herbs and oils.

Herbalists tend to use extracts from parts of plants, such as roots or leaves but not isolate particular phytochemicals. They argue that the different phytochemicals present in many herbs will interact to enhance the therapeutic effects of the herb and dilute toxicity 7.

The healing value of herbal treated textile (or herbal garment) and its usage is based on the principle of touch. When the body comes in contact with the herbal cloth, it loses toxins and its metabolism is enhanced. These garments help in fighting many common and prevalent diseases such as hypertension, heart ailments, asthma, diabetes and skin diseases. For diabetes, Mimosa pudica (touch-me-not), cumon/cumin seeds, Magnolia champaca (champa flower) and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis or shoe flower are combined in the herbal dye. The main herbs used in the herbal dye for arthritis are curry leaves and apocynceae. Whereas, for skin diseases, the herbs used are turmeric, neem, indigo and sandalwood. Rubia cordifola, majith are known to be effective against diseases like leprosy. Katha, catechu is used for treatment of parasitic infestation and itching.

Textiles treated with medical herbs can be used in medical gown, operation room theatre fabric etc. also by application of wound healing herbals on cotton have a scope in wound healing/ wound dressing manufacturing.

In the recent years, new developments in functional and smart textiles took place. These textiles are capable of sensing changes in environmental conditions or body functions and responding to these changes. The attitude and demands of consumers towards hygiene and active lifestyle has created wide range of textile products finished with antimicrobial properties, which in turn has stimulated intensive research and development. There is an endless resource of natural antimicrobial peptides which can be exploited for imparting antimicrobial properties to textile substrates9. The main advantage of antimicrobial substances is that they are small molecules that can be impregnated or covalently bound to textiles in a very effective and homogeneous deposition. Textile finishes with added value particularly for medical cloths are greatly appreciated which has created challenges for apparel researchers4.

However, apart from herbal textiles and finishing done by plant extracts, there are other textile finishing techniques also which are termed as “eco-friendly”. Discussed below are some textiles finishing techniques that gives a significant contribution in the protection of environment.

Plasma treatment of textiles:

Textile has now become a domain for interdisciplinary approaches such as application of nano-technology, development of conductive fabrics and smart fabrics. The techniques used in surface modification are performed either with chemicals or high energy radiations. Surface modification of textiles using gamma rays and plasmas are catching up the research front in a fast pace.

Plasma is defined as a partially or wholly ionized gas with an equal number of positively and negatively charged particles. It is often called the “fourth state of matter”. Plasma can also be created artificially by exposing the gases such as oxygen. This treatment has been employed as an eco-friendly technique to improve efficacy of textile chemical processes, it is the most attractive alternative as being a clean, simple and multi-functional process10.

Plasma exists in two types as High temperature plasma and Low temperature plasma. High temperature plasma is the plasma found at an atmospheric pressure in its man-made form as plasma torch in stainless steel deposition or occurring naturally as lightning. Low temperature plasma are the ionized gases generated at pressures between 0.1 and 2 torr used in surface modification and organic cleaning.

Advantages of plasma technique:

  • It is an eco-friendly technique as it consumes low energy and chemicals and there is no problem with the disposal of waste.
  • Optimisation of the surface properties without altering the bulk characteristics.
  • The time required for the treatment is short.
  • No chemical products and gases are produced and it is considered as operator friendly technique.
  • Applicable to all substrates suitable for vaccum processes.
  • The process is performed in a dry, closed system and excels in high reliability and safety.
  • The surface properties of the polymers which are unable to modify with wet chemicals can also be changed by using plasma technique.

Application of plasma in textiles:

The plasma modified polymeric materials can be used as textiles, membranes, foils, non-wovens, composites and so on.

Enzymatic Finishing:

The term Enzyme is derived from the Greek word “Enzymos” which means “in the cell or ferments”. They are complex protein ferments secreted by living organisms and are believed to be as old as life itself. They are naturally occurring high molecular weight proteins capable of catalysing the chemical reactions of biological processes and hence are known as bio-catalysts.

Enzymes can be isolated from animals, plants or microbial origin where they play an important role in the function of cells and can be considered as living catalysts. They are able to grow and multiply themselves independent of the parent bodies under favourable conditions of time, temperature, concentration, pH, salt, nutrients and in the absence of antiseptics and other inhibitors of enzyme action 13.

  • Sources of Enzymes 14-16

Pancreatic enzymes are prepared from slaughter house waste such as pancrease, clotted blood, liver, etc. whereas malt extracts are made from germinated barley. Bacterial enzymes are produced by growing cultures of certain micro-organisms in sterilised wort, providing an excellent supply of enzymes.

  • Use of enzymes in Textiles:

Textile industries use various chemical agents in their different processes like desizing, cotton softening, denim washing, silk degumming, etc. these chemicals after their use, cause pollution in the effluents; some of them are corrosive which could damage equipment and the fabric itself. With the introduction of enzymatic processes in textiles, the scenario has changed in recent times ensuring eco-friendly production and are successfully used in various textile processes like pre-treatment, dyeing and finishing.

Enzymes being natural products are completely bio-degradable and accomplish their work quietly and efficiently without leaving any pollutant behind. Also, the process would operate at relatively low temperatures and atmospheric pressure with little by-product formation14-16

Crease resistance of cotton garments can be improved by enzyme catalysed cross-linking reactions at room temperature, e.g. lipase class of enzymes can be used to promote cross-linking reactions

Nanotechnology is the science of the small with big potential. It is one of the most rapidly emerging key technologies of the 21st century. In recent years, noble metal nanoparticles have been the subject focussed research due to their unique electronic, optical, mechanical, magnetic and chemical properties that are significantly different from those of bulk materials 18. Therefore, metallic nanoparticles have found use in many applications in various fields. Materials in the range of 1 nm- 100 nm hold much interest because it is in this range that a number of newer properties become effective. The most widely used example of textile finishes by nanotechnology is of anti-microbial finishing. Though the use of textile finishing agents have been known from decades, it is only in the recent years that attempts have been made on finishing of textiles with nano-particles as antibacterial compounds. Due to increase in awareness about health and hygiene, people increasingly want their clothing to be hygienically fresh.

Many of the anti-microbial agents available in the market are synthetic based and may not be environmentally friendly. Due to this, many of the consumers are opting for herbal anti-microbial finishes for textiles19-20. It must be ensured that these substances are not only permanently effective but also that they are compatible with skin and environment.

Complex metallic compounds based on metals like copper, silver, zinc etc. cause inhibition of metabolism 20. Among these metals, silver compounds are very popular and have already been used in the preparation of anti-microbial drinking water.

Microencapsulation Method:

Microencapsulation is one of the novel methods of getting functional finishes on textiles. Microencapsulation is a micro-packaging technique involving deposition of thin polymeric coating on small particles of solid or liquid. This process is more advantageous to conventional process in terms of economy, energy saving, eco-friendliness and controlled release of substances. The anti-bacterial agents reside in colloidal suspension with the amorphous zone of the polymeric binder so that a reservoir of agent is present in solid/ solution within the polymer matrix.


There are many plant extracts having a great medical importance. Up till now, these extracts and herbs were only taken orally or have been applied directly on skin to treat various ailments. But now, there has been a new mode of medical treatment by the use of these herbal extracts in textile application also.

Plasma technique, Enzymatic finishing, Nanotechnology and Microencapsulation are also very good processes for giving eco-friendly finishes. The plasma technique has been proved very effective as it consumes low energy and chemicals and there is no problem with the disposal of waste. Enzymes being natural products are completely bio-degradable and leave no pollutant behind. With the introduction of these processes in textile processing, the scenario has changed in recent times ensuring eco-friendly production.

With the increase in the pollution, the environment related problems are increasing day by day. And the textile industry holds a major position in this environmental pollution. So, it is a moral duty of every individual to adapt such technologies that imparts in the well-being of environment which in turn will be the well-being of living organisms too.


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