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Bio-Polishing of Polyester and Polyester/Cotton Fabric
Novozymes North America, Franklinton, North Carolina 27525, U.S.A.

Enzymatic bio-polishing offers a finish for pill prevention. The present study demon-
strates that a cutinase can be used for bio-polishing of polyester fabrics and can be
combined with a compatible cellulase to treat polyester and cotton blended fabrics. Two
different cutinases were investigated with 100% polyester woven fabric. One cutinase and
one cellulase were tested separately and in combination with 50%/50% polyester/cotton
blend knit fabric. Following enzymatic treatment, weight loss, high-performance liquid
chromatography (HPLC) analysis of the treatment liquor and pilling note were evaluated.
An improvement in pilling note for both polyester and polyester blends was demonstrated.
Additionally, HPLC analysis of the treatment liquors indicated polyester hydrolysis due to
cutinase activity which correlated well with pilling note results

Pilling is a fabric flaw defined as a build-up of pills, or bonding agent to the surface thus creating a flexible
balls of entangled fibers that are anchored to the fabric network on the surface of the fabric [7]. A limiting
surface by one or more fibers [6]. According to Hatch in option is to select a fabric construction that results in
Textile Science, the mechanism of pilling is as follows: lower pilling propensity.
(1) mechanical action causes fibers to migrate out of the Polyester is often added to cotton fabric to improve
fabric body to the surface; (2) further action causes the product economics while increasing tenacity and resil-
surface fibers to rotate around other protruding fibers iency. This increase in tenacity can be troublesome with
forming pills; and (3) additional action may continue to respect to pilling. Cotton fibers have a lower tenacity,
form more pills or to sever fibers anchoring pills. The and as the pills are formed the anchor fibers can be easily
pilling propensity of the fabric depends on the surface broken with further mechanical action. Once the tenacity
fuzz formation, the rate of fuzz entanglement, and finally of the fabric is increased with added polyester, the pill
the rate of pills breaking off. The rate of the pills break- break-off rate is much lower. Furthermore, 100% poly-
ing off is directly related to the tenacity of the anchor ester fabrics can be notorious for pilling problems and
fibers. because of the high tenacity of the polymer the anchor
Pilling of fabric changes the aesthetic properties. The fibers rarely break releasing pills [6, 9].
smoothness, color and general hand of the fabric can be Bio-polishing is a finishing process in which a fabric is
compromised. Pilling prevention is an ongoing challenge treated with an enzyme to impart properties such as
for manufacturers of cotton, polyester and blended fab- anti-pilling, softness and smoothness. This concept was
rics. Currently there are several technologies for pill initially developed in Japan where the first experiments
prevention. Low-pill (low tenacity) polyester can be were performed on cotton woven fabrics using cellu-
manufactured by lowering the degree of polymerization lases. Improved properties were obtained without using
of the homopolymer or by adding a co-monomer like traditional chemical treatments [13]. Further work was
pentaerythritol to the polymerization process. The result done on knitted fabrics where fuzz removal was added to
is a polyester with lower tenacity; pills still form, but the the processing benefits [3].
anchor fibers are easier to break [1, 8, 12]. Another Additional work published by Bazin and Sasserod [4]
modification is a chemical treatment. A harsh caustic revealed a reduction in fuzz level which resulted in a
treatment or aminolysis of the polyester fiber will result dramatic reduction in pilling on both 100% cotton and
in a more hydrophilic fiber that may have some pill polyester cotton blends using cellulase. Further studies
resistance as the surface fibrils have been removed [5, 6]. were performed to illustrate the durability of properties
An alternative finish for polyester is the application of a and process variables to impart certain characteristics [7,
10, 11]. Although much work has been published on
To whom correspondence should be addressed: tel: ⫹1 919-494- cellulosic bio-polishing and even some polyester cotton
3000; fax: ⫹1 919-494-3422; e-mail: blends where the cellulosic component of the blend has

Textile Res. J. 75(6), 480 – 484 (2005) DOI: 10.1177/0040517505053846 © 2005 Sage Publications
JUNE 2005 481

been modified, little work has been published on poly- The cutinase activity was measured according to No-
ester bio-polishing. A patent published by Andersen et vozymes analytical method 2001-07992-01. In this as-
al. [2] describes a method to reduce pilling propensity say, glycerol tributyrate was incubated with the cutinase
and improve color clarification by enzymatic treatment composition in 0.1 mM glycine buffer (pH 7) at 30°C
on polyester fabrics in the presence of detergents. over time. The lipase unit (LU) is the amount of enzyme
In this study we have evaluated bio-polishing polyes- which releases 1 ␮mol of titratable butyric acid per
ter and polyester blends with cotton using enzymatic minute. The incubation is held for a minimum of 2
technology. The enzymes used in this study were two minutes and the resulting activity is calculated and ex-
different cutinases for 100% polyester fabric treatment pressed in LU/g.
and a blend of cutinase and cellulase for polyester cotton
blended fabric treatment. After treatment, fabric samples BIO-POLISHING
were evaluated for weight loss, pilling note and high- Bio-polishing was carried out in a Launder-O-Meter
performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analysis of (LOM) LP2 from Atlas Electric Devices Company.
the treatment liquors for degradation products of poly- Twenty steel balls, buffer and enzyme were added to 500
ester. On both fabrics a significant improvement in pill- mL steel beakers. The 50 mM sodium bicarbonate buffer
ing prevention was demonstrated. was adjusted to pH 8 and used for all experiments. The
liquor ratio was 20:1 and the enzymes were dosed as
Experimental U/ml (LU or ECU per liquor volume). Two swatches
with a total weight of 7.0 ⫾ 0.1 g were used in each
FABRIC beaker and each treatment was run in duplicate. The
Both 100% Dacron type 54 woven fabric and a 50%/ beakers were loaded into a LOM preheated to 70°C and
50% polyester cotton single knit were obtained from incubated at 42 rpm for a specified time.
TestFabrics Inc. The 100% polyester fabric was scoured, Following enzyme treatment, the residual enzyme ac-
rinsed and dried as a preparation for enzymatic treat- tivity on the swatches was inactivated at 80°C in 2 g/L
ment. The blended fabric was used as received. Fabric soda ash solution for 10 minutes. After inactivation, the
swatches were cut to 14 cm ⫻ 14 cm. All swatches were swatches were rinsed and centrifuged in a conventional
conditioned overnight at a constant temperature and hu- home washer and tumble dried for 60 minutes. All
midity [70 ⫾ 2°F, 65 ⫾ 2% relative humidity (RH)]. The swatches were conditioned overnight at a constant tem-
weight was then measured and recorded. perature and humidity (70 ⫾ 2°F, 65 ⫾ 2% RH).

Two experimental cutinases and one commercial cel-
lulase preparation each produced by Novozymes were Weight loss is indicative of fabric hydrolysis resulting
investigated in this study (see Table I). The cellulase in the release of water-soluble low molecular weight
activity was measured according to Novozymes analyt- degradation products (i.e. terephthalic acid salts for poly-
ical method 302.02/01. In this assay, carboxymethylcel- ester and glucose and cellobiose for cotton). Final swatch
lulose (CMC) was incubated with the cellulase compo- weight was measured and recorded after conditioning to
sition in 0.1 M phosphate buffer (pH 7.5) at 40°C for 30 determine weight loss. A mean weight loss was calcu-
minutes. The reduction in viscosity was determined by a lated by averaging the weight loss data for all swatches
vibration viscometer and the result was compared to a in one treatment type.
purified standard reference cellulase and expressed in
endocellulase units (ECU) as ECU/g. A standard cellu- PILLING
lase was purified and used to generate a standard curve Pilling was measured according to ASTM D4970
for comparison. (Pilling Resistance and Other Related Surface Changes

TABLE 1. Enzymes and their application characteristics.

Enzyme Composition Organism pH Temperature

Cutinase A Mono-component Humicola insolens 8–10 50–70°C
Cutinase B Mono-component Humicola insolens 7–9 65–80°C
Cellulase Family 45 EG V Mono-component Humicola insolens 6–8.5 50–70°C

of Textile Fabrics-Martindale Pressure Tester Method).
A swatch from each beaker was tested and evaluated
after 125, 500 and 2000 revolutions on a Nu-Martindale
Abrasion and Pilling Tester from James H. Heal & Co.
Ltd. A pilling note was obtained by one expert observer
visually comparing the sample to a standard on a scale
from 1 to 5, where 5 is no pilling and 1 is severely pilled.
A mean pilling note was calculated by averaging all
swatches treated under the same conditions.


Liquor samples were taken from each beaker after
LOM incubation for HPLC analysis. The samples were
filtered and loaded into vials. The samples were then
injected on an Agilent 1100 series HPLC and detected
with a variable wavelength detector at 254 nm at 25°C.
The mobile phase was a combination of solvent A– FIGURE 1. The effect of dosage on weight loss for cutinase degrada-
filtered deionized water plus 0.1% trifluoroacetic acid tion of 100% polyester fabric. Conditions: 2 hours LOM treatment at
and solvent B–100% acetonitrile. A gradient was used 70°C, pH 8.
where solvent B increased from initial concentration of
10% up to 95% at the end of the 19-minute run time. An
Adsorbosil C18 column from Alltech was used. The flow
rate was 0.8 ml/minute. After each injection the needle
was rinsed in dimethylformamide and the column was
allowed to equilibrate for 5 minutes at initial conditions.
Peak area counts for known degradation products of
polyester (terephthalic acid and monohydroxyethylene
terephthalate) were averaged for samples treated under
the same conditions.

Results and Discussion
Initial work was performed to study the enzymatic
degradation of 100% polyester fabric comparing both
cutinases (see Table I). Cutinase B gave higher weight
loss than that of cutinase A, whereas cutinase A gave
little to no weight loss compared with a blank (Figure 1).
FIGURE 2. The effect of dosage on pilling note at 2000 revolutions
A blank is defined as a treatment performed where no for 100% polyester fabric. Conditions: 2 hours LOM treatment at
enzyme is added. 70°C, pH 8
Both cutinases gave improvement on pilling note com-
pared to the blank at 2000 revolutions (Figure 2). The
values for 125, 500 and 2000 revolutions were measured (Figure 3). Cutinase B showed considerably higher deg-
with respect to pilling; however, only the data for 2000 radation according to HPLC area count of degradation
revolutions is shown. The trends for all revolutions mea- products of polyester. This correlates with higher pilling
sured were the same. Although there was little to no note and weight loss. However, Figure 3 does illustrate
weight loss for cutinase A, an improvement in pilling that both enzymes are acting on the polyester as a sub-
note was observed as compared to the blank. Weight loss strate and the pilling prevention data is an enzymatic
was measured for the additional experiments; however, it hydrolysis effect, decreasing the likelihood of simply an
was not used as an indicator for pilling prevention. effect of protein adsorption.
Additionally, the HPLC results were measured to de- Cutinase B has a higher specific activity toward poly-
tect enzymatic degradation of the polyester polymer ester fiber than cutinase A. A higher specific activity
JUNE 2005 483

TABLE 2. Bio-Polishing of 50%/50% Polyester/cotton blend,
LOM treatment, 2 hours, pH 8 at 70°C

Enzyme treatments Evaluations

Dose Dose HPLC area
cellulase cutinase A Weight Pilling at count at
(ECU/ml) (LU/ml) loss % 2000 rev. 254 nm

0 0 1.0 1.25 9
0.75 0 1.1 2.5 8
0.75 10 1.3 3 1888
0.75 20 1.4 2.3 2713
0.75 30 1.4 3 3058
0.75 50 1.6 3 3503
0 50 1.3 1.5 3699
0.25 50 1.6 2.8 3616
0.5 50 1.6 2.5 3524
0.75 50 1.6 3 3530
1 50 1.7 3 3559

FIGURE 3. The effect of dosage on HPLC area count of polyester
degradation peaks for 100% polyester fabric. Conditions: 2 hours LOM
HPLC results were measured to detect enzymatic deg-
treatment at 70°C, pH 8. radation of the polyester polymer due to cutinase activ-
ity. Not surprisingly, the area count of degradation prod-
ucts of polyester increased as the enzyme dose increased.
explains why there is an overall higher level of perfor- As the cellulase dose increased, the area count did not
mance of cutinase B as compared with cutinase A with change because the dosage of cutinase A was constant.
respect to pilling note, weight loss and degradation prod-
ucts via HPLC.
BIO-POLISHING OF POLYESTER/COTTON BLENDS Both the 100% polyester fabric and polyester cotton
Additional trials were made to investigate enzymatic blended fabrics fuzz and pill when exposed to abrasion.
degradation of 50%/50% polyester cotton blend fabric Some cotton fabrics are industrially bio-polished with a
combining cutinase A and a cellulase. Cutinase B was cellulase in order to remove surface fibers and prevent
not available for the blended fabric trials. Two dose– pilling. This study demonstrated that 100% polyester
response trials were performed. The first dose–response fabric can be treated with a cutinase to impart a bio-
trial was maintaining a 0.75 ECU/ml dose of cellulase polished finish. Furthermore, a polyester cotton blend
and increasing the dosage of cutinase A from 0 to 50 fabric can be treated with a cellulase combined with a
LU/ml. The second dose–response trial was maintaining cutinase to impart a bio-polished finish. The addition of
a 50 LU/ml dose of cutinase A and increasing the dosage this technology to polyester finishers and the bio-polish-
of cellulase from 0 to 1 ECU/ml. ing world offers an environmentally friendly and mild
All data from polyester/cotton blend bio-polishing is alternative to the chemical and mechanical finishes cur-
shown in Table II. The weight loss measured for each rently being used in industry.
dose–response increased with increased dosage of both
enzymes. This result is expected as the dosages selected Literature Cited
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