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Mercerizing cellulosic fibres & its effects

Md. Rashaduzzaman Mithun

Issue February, 2013

Volume 06, Issue 02

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Mercerization is one of the most important finishing processes of cotton with a strong caustic
alkaline solution in order to improve the lustre, hand and other properties. It imports gloss to the
fibre, increases its hygroscopicity, strength and improves its dye affinity. Mercerizing improves
the reactions with a variety of chemicals and elongation of the fibres and also improves the
stability of form. Mercerizing process consists in treatment of cellulosic materials with
concentrated solutions of caustic soda at a temperature of 15 to 18C. Mercerised cellulose is
hydrated cellulose, i.e., a product which from the chemical point of view is identical to the
original cellulose, but differing from it in physical properties. This method was patented in 1850
by the English calico printer John Mercer and hence forth this process has been called as
Cellulose Mercerizing Process:
Mercerizing can be done in both yarn state and fabric state. Woven fabrics are mercerized in full
width and mercerizing of knit fabric is possible in both full width and tubular form. In the past,
knitwear was made with mercerised yarn, but this process was very expensive. Tubular fabric
can be mercerized, but this process offers no control over the technological data of the finished
fabric. In addition, the consumption of caustic soda, water and steam is significantly higher than
with a modern, open width mercerization system. Stages at which cellulose mercerization is
possible are- On greige goods, After desizing, After desizing and scouring, After bleaching, After
dyeing Usually sodium hydroxide concentration varies from 20% 30%.
The process, done in a continuous way, involves four subsequent steps:
a. Impregnation of the material in relaxed state, cold caustic solution of required strength and
b. Stretching while the material is still impregnated in the caustic solution.
c. Washing off the caustic soda from the material while keeping the material still in the stretch
d. Neutralizing with acids and rinsing.
Physico-chemical changes during mercerization:
Under the action of concentrated alkaline solutions chemical, physico-chemical and structural
modifications of cellulose take place. Native cellulose (Cellulose I) forms alkali cellulose I with
concentrated sodium hydroxide. On washing and neutralisation cellulose II is formed.

As a result of the penetration of the alkali into the lattice, internal hydrogen bonds are broken and
in Cellulose II the number of available hydroxyl groups (-OH) is increased by around 25%. The
treatment with alkali and subsequent washing may be performed so that the fabric or yarn may
either freely contract or they may be held under tension. In both cases the mercerised cotton has
an increased affinity for both reactive and direct cotton dyes, water and an increased strength.
Cotton yarn or fabric mercerized without tension contracts, but if held under tension it retains its
original dimensions and the lustre is increased. Major changes during Mercerization can be
divided into three levels.

At Fibre level, Swelling; Cross sectional morphology changes from beam shape to round shape
and Shrinkage occur along with longitudinal direction. At Molecular level, It will have Hydrogen
bond readjustment, Orientation (parallelization) of molecular chains in amorphous region along
the direction of fibre length and Orientation of the crystallinity in the direction of the fibre
length. On the other hand it facilitates Chemical Changes like, Increased rate of reaction on
hydrolysis and oxidation; Liberation of heat during the caustic treatment (heat of sorption and
heat of reaction; Increase in the alkali absorption and Increase in the absorption of iodine.

Different mercerizing machinery/technology:

The fabrics undergo value addition by special mercerizing process. At present different types of
mercerizing machines are installed in different manufacturing unit. Different types of machine is
available depending on the fabrics required to be processed (Knit, Woven), expected quality
level, energy efficiency, addition of caustic recovery unit, form of fabric (open width, tubular)
etc. Some categories of mercerizing machines are

Knitted fabric mercerizing m/c.

Woven fabric mercerizing m/c.

Automatic hank yarn mercerizing m/c.

Chainlesss-padless mercerizing range.

Clip mercerizing m/c.

Open width fabric mercerizing m/c with caustic recovery unit.

Dornier (Germany) and Goller (China) are the prominent brand or manufacturer of mercerizing
machines. Goller introduced their latest mercerizing range consists the features of counter
current flow, dipping washing, low energy consumption and power spray.
Mercerization increases fibre lustre:

Concentrated solutions of caustic soda cause considerable swelling of cotton fibre. The changes
in cellulose physical properties are being irreversible. When the fibre swells, its volume
undergoes considerable changes; at maximum water absorption, the cross section of cotton fibre
is increased by 40 to 50% with inconsiderable increase in length (about 1 to 2%). Swelling of
fibre changes its cross section from squashed circular pipe shape to an oval shaped.

Lustre of a fibre is due to the regular reflection of light incident on the fibre surface, which
depends on the cross-section of the fibre. If the fibres are placed under a tension or stretched
position in the swollen state and then washed to reduce the caustic concentration below a
particular limit, then there is an increase in the lustre of the fibre.
The main factors influencing the factors of selling are temperature of treatment, the
concentration of the alkali in the solution and additions made to the solution.
Mercerization increases tensile strength:
When cotton fibre, yarn or cloth is mercerized, its strength increased by 10-50%. The tensile
strength increase depends on various factors, such as temperature of impregnation, concentration
of alkali in impregnating bath, construction of yarn etc. Lower the temperature of mercerization,
greater is the tensile strength (breaking load of the yarn). Increase of alkali concentration up to
520 Tw, tensile strength increased gradually and further increase of alkali concentration decrease
the tensile strength. For long staple fibre yarn, greater the twist, greater is the tensile strength of
mercerized material.
Ecological impact and recovery of Sodium hydroxide:
The main ecological impact in mercerizing is the high concentrated residual lye. Treating cotton
materials with strong sodium hydroxide and washing it off gives a large volume of dilute NaOH
solution, which cannot be discharged into the drain for economy and pollution points of view. By

suitable means it is possible to recover/reuse 90-95% of NaOH used in mercerizing. The alkaline
load of waste water is reduced drastically and acid required for waste water neutralisation is
minimised. Wash liquor may be used for the preparation of sodium hypochlorite solution (for use
in bleaching). NaOH from the impregnated fabric may be recovered by washing using countercurrent principle and by using steam in a recuperator.
Looking at the information presented so far, we can conclude that mercerized cotton absorbs
more water and dye than unmercerized cotton, and that the twist in yarn will affect the water
handling properties of that yarn proportionate to the amount of twist. Mercerized cotton gains
more lustrous surface than unmercerized cotton. Tensile strength and hygroscopicity also
increased by mercerizing cellulose materials.

Technology of textile processing, vol:3, Technology of bleaching and mercerizing, Prof.

V.A. Shenai

Mercerising, J.T Marsh

Dyeing and Chemical Technology of Textile Fibres, Trotman

Introduction to Texile Finishing, J.T.Marsh

Mercerization of cellulosic fibres

Mercerization of cellulosic fibres



Open width mercerising of knitwear, The Indian Textile Journal

Recovery of alkali from mercerising, The Smart time, Textile processing guide

Chemical Technology in the Pre-Treatment Processes of Textiles, By S.R. Karmakar

- See more at: http://www.textiletoday.com.bd/mercerizing-cellulosic-fibres-itseffects/#sthash.W2WK6gUE.dpuf

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