The time is long gone when umbrellas were a simplistic invention made to shield us from the rain briefly. Umbrella technology is advancing at breakneck speed, faster than most consumers can catch up. The market is now full of new fabrics that use UV protection technology, water resistance, wind resistance, and much more. That means extra conveniences for a knowledgeable buyer. Read on as we explore what constitutes an umbrella today.
What kind of fabric is used for umbrellas?
Standard umbrella fabrics today include nylon, polyester, and pongee, among others. These fabrics have excellent waterproofing and UV protection capabilities.
Nylon is the most popular fabric among other umbrella fabrics. Nylon is not permeable to water and can block UV rays when tightly woven. The material is lightweight and flexible. Most umbrellas today feature nylon fabrics. The nylon material is strong and resilient and impermeable to air and water. It dries quickly after exposure to water.
Nylon umbrella materials are soft and feel like silk. There is usually zero friction and abrasion when the umbrellas rub against other surfaces. The downside of this fabric is that it shrinks when impacted by air humidity. That can interfere with the opening and closing of the umbrellas. Nylon offers high resistance to fungi, insects, molds, rot, and other chemicals. This quality makes it more durable.
Polyester refers to fabric or textile made from a synthetic polymer, commonly known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The fabric materials are incredibly durable and resistant to chemicals. Polyester is commonly used in fashion umbrellas and is resistant to stretching and shrinking. The materials also offer resistance to abrasions and wrinkling.
The synthetic fibers in Polyester are durable but also lightweight. Umbrellas manufacturers often have an easy time creating custom colors from polyester fabric because it is highly responsive to dye. The umbrellas can retain shape even when drenched or in scorching sun conditions. Polyester is an easy-maintenance fabric; the umbrellas can be washed and dried with ease.
Just like nylon, polyester can be used for outdoor commercial umbrellas because the material dries fast after exposure to moisture. However, unlike nylon, polyester umbrellas do not shrink or expand under increased air humidity, so opening and closing of the umbrella are fast and easy. When it comes to commercial outdoor umbrellas, spun polyester is usually the fabric of choice. The material is robust and feels like cotton but has the smoothness and durability of polyester.
One major downside of polyester is its static build-up. It can be a static shock nightmare if a pure polyester material comes into abrasive contact with another surface. To reduce this problem, umbrella manufacturers often mix polyester fibers with other solid materials such as cotton.
Pongee is a soft Chinese fabric made of thin unbleached threads. It is a mixture of fibers that form a dark matter that is of a high density. It is tightly woven and feels like cotton. Pongee umbrellas tend to be more expensive than nylon and polyester umbrellas. The material is waterproof, and raindrops can easily slide off without soaking. Black coated pongee umbrellas offer superb UV protection and durability. Pongee Fabric: Uses and Advantages
Plastic: PVC/POE, EVA
Plastic umbrella materials are either made of Eva, PVC, or POE fabrics. They are used to make clear umbrellas that fall into the fashion category. The plastic material makes it easy to customize colors and designs.
The PVC material is super durable and has an excellent ability to resist distortions. Umbrella manufacturers love the versatility, cost-effectiveness, waterproof nature, and longevity of this material. PVC umbrellas are less costly because of the production of the fabric takes less energy.
The downside is that PVC fabric can shrink when it becomes too hot or during storage. Manufacturers use talcum powder inside to minimize this problem. POE is also a better alternative.
On the other hand, EVA material is opaque and much softer than PVC. EVA is a polymer made from vinyl acetate and ethylene. This fabric material has elastomeric properties such as softness and flexibility. It has a glossy appearance and is resistant to stress and UV radiation. Its major downside is that it has low-temperature endurance.
Satin fabric is another material typical in fashion umbrellas. Satin fabric stands out as soft with thick and shimmering properties. Chinese umbrella makers use satin made from silk yarns. However, most are also moving to stain made from synthetic and viscose fibers. Properties of satin umbrellas include a shiny canopy and a versatile material that has a luxurious flare. The fabric has a high elasticity and frays quickly. Maintenance of satin umbrellas is difficult.
How are umbrellas made to be waterproof?
Most umbrellas come out as waterproof not because of the fabric used but because of the tight weaving that leaves no room for porosity. Any material that is tightly woven, including cotton, is water-resistant. It follows from the high surface tension that builds an extra layer impermeable to water. You will find that upon touching the tightly woven fabric from the inside, it releases the stresses and water starts to soak through. Therefore high-quality umbrellas do not depend on the surface tension alone for water resistance.
To further enhance the waterproof nature of umbrellas, manufacturers may use silicone sprays, which add a thin layer that repels moisture on the canopy surface. Instead of the raindrops sipping into the fabrics, they will roll faster off the thin silicone coat on the umbrella fabric.
Nylon and polyester are durable waterproof fabrics mostly used in this case. With or without the silicone spray coating, these fabrics have a unique ability to keep off rainwater. Other manufacturers may use patented fabric technology, as well.
What is common in all water-proof fabrics is the fact that umbrellas can withstand moisture and wrinkling in conditions of high humidity. Walking in a rainy and windy situation can minimize the surface tension on most ‘waterproof parasols,’ and with time, raindrops start passing through the fabric. Real water-resistant materials are impermeable to moisture.
Quality waterproof umbrella fabrics generally have an outer layer known as face fabric. These could be nylon or polyester. There is also an additional laminated membrane made up of ePTFE, also known as Teflon (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene). The face fabric works to protect the whole canopy and make it appear stylish. The material is treated so it cannot soak up moisture.
The laminated membrane does the water-resisting job. The Teflon additive features tiny holes that cannot let in even small drops of liquid water. To protect the fabric from destruction by oil and other chemicals, manufacturers also use an extra layer of Polyurethane on the Teflon.
Teflon makes fabrics waterproof and resistant to oils and fouling as well. Teflon additives also make ordinary materials stand out in beauty. Teflon fibers have anti-staining properties and can keep umbrellas clean and dry for a long time.
UV fabrics refer to sun-protective materials used in umbrellas, swimwear, and other applications. A considerable level of sun protection can result from innovative weaving structures, and a high number of thread counts in a fabric. In other cases, manufacturers attain UV protection by treating the whole material with UV-blocking ingredients.
Similarly, fabrics that contain high blends of natural fibers such as linen, cotton, and hemp or synthetics such as nylon and polyester, have superb UV blocking properties. The denser a fabric is, the more UV protection it offers. The idea is to block all holes through which the sun’s rays can penetrate through the material. The UV protection levels drop when all fabrics are exposed to moisture. That is why the best UV protective umbrellas are also water-resistant.
In the course of fabric manufacturing, material makers can also achieve UV resistance by adding several UV absorbers into a fabric. These may include titanium oxide nanoparticles that increase the sun protection properties of nylon. Nano-diamond particles are another alternative. Fiber makers can also synthesis their polymers with UV-resistant chemical structures from the word go.
Most fibers naturally have some level of UV protection, especially those that have elastic threads and a tight weaving of the fibers. That helps to reduce the spaces through which the sun’s rays can pass through. Synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, and nylon are more UV protection than cotton and semi-synthetic fabrics.
Most umbrella fabrics do not often need UV treatment owing to their fiber structure, weave density, and dying. Darker and Indigo shades are excellent UV blockers. The only downside is that these colors absorb too much heat that may weaken the basic structure of the fabrics.
Most dyes can block or absorb UV rays and reduce exposure. Darker shades are better absorbers of UV rays as compared to lighter shades. Lighter colors, on the other hand, may block UV by reflecting it away. The fabric structure also matters a great deal.
The bottom line
Umbrellas serve many purposes today, including offering shade, protection from rain and UV rays, marketing, and promotion and as fashion accessories, among others. The intended use of an umbrella determines its design and materials used. Water-resistant and UV protection properties improve usability and the value-added price points of an umbrella.
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