When it comes to specifying performance textiles, it’s all simply a matter of preference—right? As long as a fabric is durable, stain resistant, flame retardant, and doesn’t fade easily, designers are essentially comparing apples-to-apples and ultimately making decisions based on pricing or patterns—right?

Not necessarily. As environmental and human health concerns have taken on greater importance in the built environment—with transparency in materials and chemicals of concern at the forefront of the trend—it is becoming clearer that not all performance textiles are created equal. And, in fact, a number of claims have been made in the industry about the superior nature of solution-dyed acrylic over other performance textiles, which designers need to examine carefully to make more informed specifying decisions.

So, what exactly do interior design professionals need to know about the differences between solution-dyed acrylic and other performance fabrics? Let’s start with construction.

Acrylic is a synthetic fiber made from polymers with a wool-like feel that is inherently colorfast and stain resistant. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO), fibers which contain a minimum of 85% acrylonitrile in their chemical structure are defined as “Acrylic Fibers.” Acrylic fiber is composed of acrylonitrile and a comonomer. The comonomer is added to improve dyeability and processing of the acrylic fiber into textiles.

The solution-dyeing process involves an intensive process in which the color permanently adheres to the fiber while it is still in a viscous form. UV stabilizers and stain-resistant finishes are often added during the process to enhance the product’s performance.

So far, so good—right? Not necessarily. According to one apparel blog:

“Acrylic is made of fibers that are made from the polymer, polyacrylonitrile. Polyacrolonitrile is a flammable, colorless liquid that is created from polypropylene. The EPA found that inhaling polyacrylonitrile yields similar symptoms to cyanide poisoning. In fact, when exposed to polyacrylonitrile, our bodies metabolize the chemical into cyanide. This metabolization can take place after exposure to the chemical through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation. Polyacrylonitrile is also cited as a potential cancer hazard.”

Indeed, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) confirms the risk of acrylonitrile exposure to humans, which in all fairness is unlikely unless you live near a factory where it’s made. However, as designers and specifiers are demanding more transparency in the materials they specify and paying close attention to Red List chemicals of concern, it’s important for them to look beyond marketing claims to better understand the composition of performance textiles.

At Crypton, we take human and environmental health seriously, and as such, our products are third-party-certified as containing ultra-low or no VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from products over time into the air, adversely affecting indoor air quality. Crypton technology also does not add formaldehyde to fabrics and contains no plasticizers. Additionally, because PFOS and PFOA are considered persistent organic pollutants (POPs), Crypton has developed an environmentally preferable C6 chemistry for all of its fabrics that avoids the use of these POPs.

As an added benefit, Crypton’s performance technology does not affect its ability to be recycled. A common outlet for recycled fabric is shoddy, which is used in making carpet padding and rear parcel shelves in cars.

None of this comes at the expense of performance, however. Approved fibers are permanently transformed with stain and odor protection through an immersion process, plus an impenetrable moisture barrier that protects the fabric from spills. Additionally, Crypton fabrics are engineered with an integrated backing that will never separate, permanently enhancing the performance of the fabric. In fact, Crypton’s technology is so stable, it has been deemed a solid surface by the EPA. In fact, Crypton is the only fabric that meets or exceeds all of the following heavy-duty requirements:

  • Stain resistance
  • Water resistance
  • Abrasion
  • Tearing strength
  • Breaking strength
  • Seam slippage
  • Flammability, and
  • Resistance to fungal and bacterial growth

So the next time you specify a performance textile, be sure to look carefully at manufacturers’ claims and ensure you’re making the best decision based on facts, not fiction.

In the groundbreaking book, Textile Technology and Design: From Interior Space to Outer Space, contributing essayist Alexa Griffith Winton explores the evolving role of textiles as “an interstitial interface” in the context of contemporary design practice “in which advanced computational and fabrication technologies combine to create textiles capable of both reacting to their surrounding environs and responding to their inhabitants.”

Winton argues this evolution is literally changing the way textiles, objects, and buildings are designed, “facilitating new ways of addressing the human body at every scale, from nano-objects to large-scale buildings. Designers and artists are making use of this technology in provocative ways and consequently envisioning new means of connecting humans to our built environment.”

She’s right.

While technological innovation and textiles may appear to be distinct disciplines, in reality, they share more in common than many realize. Advances in textile technology have enabled designers to do more with fabric than they previously thought possible—and Crypton is excited to be on the leading edge of these advancements.

As most specifiers know by now, Crypton begins with the formulation of patented chemistry that imparts permanent resistance to spills, odors, and stains. What may not be as obvious is the fact that these formulas are developed by combining a variety of active ingredients that are screened for environmental and human health concerns (no plasticizers, PVC, flame retardants (FR), or harmful chemicals) before being processed through a series of baths and ovens that encapsulate each and every fiber and integrate a moisture barrier. Breathability isn’t sacrificed in the process, however; the pores in Crypton fabric are large enough to allow the passage of individualized water molecules (e.g., vapor) but are impermeable to droplets, enabling it to meet ASTM’s E-96 standard for breathability.

Our fabrics are also treated to prohibit the growth of molds like Aspergillus niger (“black mold”) and the spread bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (“staph infection”). Additionally, they can be completely disinfected thanks to our proprietary, EPA-registered quaternary hospital-grade disinfectant that kills E. coli, hepatitis A and B, herpes simplex 1 and 2, HIV, influenza, staphylococcus, streptococcus (“strep throat”), salmonella, and more.

Other innovations we’ve pioneered include:

  • Crypton Outdoor: the first, 100% bleach-cleanable and UV-retardant Crypton fabric.
  • Crypton Green: a collection of SCS Indoor Advantage-certified fabrics that use environmentally preferable fibers and chemistry that can contribute to LEED-CI and Green Guide for Health Care credits.
  • Leather Powered by Crypton: a cleaning and restoring system for use on leather in heavy usage areas available through Conneaut Leather.
  • C-Zero Plus: our newest finish technology specially formulated for those looking for a fluorine-free solution for stain resistance on fabrics.

The beauty of it all is that none of the performance characteristics come at the expense of aesthetics or hand. Just like any other beautiful fabric or textile, Crypton Fabrics are offered innumerous textures and weaves, such as chenille, boucle, and suede.

As technology continues to transform the practice of design, so will the role that textiles play not only in making spaces more attractive, but also how well they perform. And at Crypton, we wouldn’t have it any other way—because at the heart of it, we’re inventors. We saw a need for a fabric that looks and feels beautiful, but could stand up to the demands of high-use, heavy traffic environments—and so we created one. What the future holds is unclear, but what’s certain is that Crypton will continue to take the best that technology has to offer to elevate textiles well beyond the surface.