Durable Press and Flame Retardant Cotton
1916 birth of American chemist Ruth Rogan Benerito, a pioneer in the development of wash- and-wear fabrics. Her research resulted in the development of cotton fabrics that are crease and stain resistant and better able to retard flames.
Much of the research in developing processes that led to and improved the quality of durable press fabrics was carried out at the Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. Scientists at this U.S. Department of Agriculture facility have provided the understanding of the mechanisms that impart durable press to cotton. At the same time, SRRC researchers have made significant strides in developing durable flame retardant finishes for cotton fabrics.
In the late 1950s, SRRC scientists initiated work on wrinkle resistance so that fewer wrinkles would form and those that did would fall out on hanging. The next stage was wash and wear: making a wrinkle free garment that would come out smooth after washing. But wash and wear had a problem; it would not hold a crease. That led to the next stage, sometimes called permanent press, but more accurately termed durable press, in which wrinkle resistance and durable creases could be achieved in cotton garments.
The initial impetus for research at the Southern Regional Research Center into flame resistant cotton fabrics came from the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, which was seeking fire retardant uniforms. At the same time, people in the cotton industry understood that there would be consumer demand for flame retardant textiles if they could be made durable and if the fabrics could overcome the stiffness and roughness that characterized early attempts. Research at SRRC focused on the chemical modification of cotton by the chemical reaction of flame retardants with the cellulose molecules on the surface and within the cotton fiber.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about durable press and flame retardant cotton.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program