A technical garment is defined as such because it possesses high performance qualities, primarily designed to protect the user from discomfort. Technical garments are typically used in sports, during which the wearer must be able to rely on protection from phenomena such as cold, rain, perspiration, and wind. All of which go under the name of thermophysiological comfort.
How can a technical garment guarantee thermophysiological comfort?
Protection from water: water repellency and waterproofing
There are two aspects to be considered in evaluating the ability of a technical garment to insulate the wearer from moisture.
The first concerns the tendency of a fabric to absorb liquid when subjected to light precipitation (for example: rain or snow). This characteristic is known as water repellency. A fabric is water repellent when the drops resting on it tend to form beads and run off.
How does a fabric become water repellent? By applying a chemical product to its surface, typically this is a fluorocarbon resin, which prevents water drops from flattening out and penetrating the fabric. This treatment however is not entirely effective and, with the accumulation of rain, the fabric will eventually become wet. Furthermore, the treatment is not permanent and tends to be removed during laundering.
A second aspect concerning protection from water is so-called impermeability, that is: the ability of the fabric to prevent the penetration of water from the outside to the inside of the garment.
How is a garment waterproofed? By applying a polymeric protective layer on the under-side; this can be a simple coating (the analogy in building would be like painting a wall), or laminating with a membrane (that would be like applying wall paper).
The result of both coating and laminating is the closing of pores in the fabric and creation of a physical barrier to penetration of water.
Following are images of sections of two fabrics to which different types of membranes have been applied.
Protection from the rain and penetration by water is not enough to guarantee the user thermophysiological comfort. There is another basic aspect to take into consideration, and that is the proper management of perspiration. Since performance garments are typically worn in conditions of (even intense) physical activity, it becomes immediately clear why management of the condensation that forms inside the garment (so-called moisture management) plays a crucial role in the wellbeing of the wearer.
The technical garment must be able to allow the perspiration vapor that forms during physical activity to escape, and the ability of the membrane or coating to enable this is defined as breathability.
At left is an illustration of one way, but not the only one, of how breathability of a membrane is achieved. The membrane acts like a sieve, blocking the water droplets – that are much larger than the water vapor molecules – which manage to pass through the micropores of the membrane and exit.
Notice that the membrane is also able to protect the wearer from penetration of air from the outside to the inside, ensuring wind-resistant performance and protection from wind chill, where unshielded wind causes the temperature to feel colder (cooling effect of wind).
Caring for a technical garment
A technical garment is, by its nature, an article with a certain degree of structural complexity, given the presence of various materials: external fabric, micro-grid knit, membrane, binding agents, inserts, fill and accessories. These garments often feature contrasting colors (dark/light) which, in some cases, could be the source of problems during laundering.
Professional care of a technical garment must follow the care label instructions to the letter. Often these garments can only be washed in water since the use of any solvent, especially perc, could lead to damaging the seal between the membrane and the fabric, causing significant loss of performance.
Use of powdered detergents, professionally and at home, is strongly discouraged, due to the “clogging” effect on the porosity of the membrane and the excessive alkalinity that develops.
It should be emphasized that these technical materials, especially in cases where the membrane is not protected by micro-grid material, can be damaged by the mechanical stress from abrasion that occurs during laundering. Thus, it is necessary to protect the garment from excessive friction by using appropriate machine loads.
As far as ironing is concerned, use of steam is not advised, in order to avoid damaging the bond between the membrane and the fabric and to take advantage, wherever possible, of the revitalizing effect of dry heat on water repellency. Indeed, the water repellent effect of the resins applied to fabric can in some cases be reduced considerably after laundering, but dry ironing is able to fully restore performance levels.
Detergo Magazine February 2015