Ever wonder how certain fabrics protect against the bitter cold, keep athletes cool, or stretch with you as you bend? It’s all textile chemistry!
Textile chemistry is a highly specialized field that applies the principles of chemistry to the production of textiles, such as those used in clothing, furniture, tire yarn, air bags, and much more. Textile chemists may create new products to meet specific market needs or modify existing products to become more generally marketable.
Textile chemistry can be divided into three overlapping areas: dyeing and finishing chemistry, fiber and polymer chemistry, and a newer area that intersects with materials science and involves the blending of different textile materials. In the textile industry, chemists work in research and development, process development, process modification, technical services, environmental testing, and dyeing and finishing operations.
The study of textile chemistry begins with the knowledge of fibers, both natural and synthetic. Because polymeric synthetic fibers are such an important part of today's textile business, the field includes many chemists who are trained in polymer chemistry. The dyeing and finishing aspects of textile chemistry require an understanding of both organic chemistry and surface chemistry.
The interaction between textile chemistry and materials science is also increasing. Textile chemistry includes the application of the principles of surface chemistry to processes, such as dyeing and finishing. It also encompasses organic chemistry in the synthesis and formulation of the products used in these processes.
Many chemists in the field are trained as polymer chemists. Although a number of schools specialize in textile chemistry, a textile degree is not a prerequisite for employment. Important courses of study include organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and colloid chemistry. Understanding the manufacturing process and familiarity with chemical engineering are important prerequisites to employment.
The application of textile chemistry is always business and product oriented. Chemists may work in the lab, in the plant, in multidisciplinary teams, or with customers to assess needs and help them develop new products. As the business becomes more global, scientists in this field must be willing to travel and to adjust quickly to different cultures and different requirements for different markets.
Chemists are employed globally by chemical companies that manufacture the basic polymers from which synthetic fibers are made. They also are employed by small dyeing houses that dye yarns, fiber, fabric, and carpets. Chemistry is important in all functions, but the technical content tends to be more challenging in the polymer chemistry side than in the dyeing and finishing end
In industry, chemists tend to move between companies every five to seven years. Many industrial textile chemists eventually move into fields that are chemistry adjacent, such as project management or process improvement, that use their chemical knowledge, but also include managerial or business-related responsibilities
Textile chemistry is a small niche market. Many traditional jobs at dye companies have moved offshore. New textile research and materials science offer challenging new opportunities.
The job outlook is mixed for textile chemists in the United States but is more promising internationally. Jobs are harder to find at dye companies; there are still a few U.S.-based dye companies, but many have moved offshore.
Textile chemists are generally persons interested in the intersection between chemistry and the kind of engineering that goes into textile marketing. They enjoy the modification and improvement of basic polymers and like using their knowledge of materials to solve problems.
Many traditional jobs at dye companies have moved offshore. New textile research and materials science offer challenging new opportunities.