Permanent Press: The Fabric with a Memory


To stay well-groomed all day, wear the garment with a memory! A dress or a blouse, slacks or shirt in permanent press keeps an unwrinkled appearance throughout the day. Garments treated with this special finish—given a memory—tend to go back to their original, well-pressed condition after long wear, or after washing and drying. There is no more ironing or pressing. Less than 2 percent shrinkage is noticeable and the fabric lasts longer. This is permanent press, the fabric with the memory burned in.

Fabrics selected for permanent-press articles are processed with resins similar to those in wash-and-wear products. Because cotton, a natural fiber, is weakened by the special resins applied and by the high temperature and the long curing time needed, man-made fibers that give the requisite strength are used.

Acrylics and acrylic blends treated with a permanent-press finish have a wool-like look and good wrinkle resistance. Some of the trade names for acrylics on the market are Acrilan, Creslan, Orlon, and Zefran.

Nylon, another fiber used in permanent press, has been an easy-care fabric for a long time. Combined with cotton, for example, in permanent-press denims, nylon adds strength to the fiber blend.

For the best all-around permanent press performance, polyesters are most often blended with cotton or rayon in a 6 65/35 ratio. Some trade names of polyester fibers are Dacron, Fortrel, Kodel, and Vyeron.

Two basic methods achieve permanent press—post-curing and pre-curing. The basic fundamental principle is the heat setting, or curing, of chemicals previously applied to the fabric.

In the post-curing method the fabric is “sensitized,” or treated with chemicals dried at a temperature that is low enough not to set or cure the chemicals. After the fabric is cut and sewn and the completed garment is pressed, it is baked in a special oven for approximately five to fifteen minutes at a temperature of 300 to 360 degrees Farenheit. At this point the chemical reaction of crosslinking takes place between the molecules of the fibers and those of the chemical, and the garment’s wrinkle-free appearance and shape and the sharpness of pleats or creases are set.

In the pre-curing method the chemicals with which the fabric is treated are set or cured at the mill, enough to form a partial bond with the fibers. The partially cured fabric is then made into garments, just as in post-curing; and a special type of pressing—on presses that apply great pressure and temperatures as high as 500 degrees—completes the permanent set. After the garment has cooked, its smoothness and shape are set.

Not long after the first permanent-press garments were introduced, permanent-press fabrics entered the market. Because of the finish, the fabrics do not fray or stretch, and they are easy to cut. However, the woman who makes a permanent-press dress at home sometimes finds it a little difficult to stitch and press a fabric that has been treated to remain flat.

Since its introduction in 1965, the permanent-press finish has taken over 80 percent of the clothing market and 50 percent of the bed-linen market. The fabric was first used in manufacturing men’s and boys’ slacks; then came shirts, blouses, and dresses for women and children. Permanent-press bed linens, with their 5 50/50 blend of polyester and cotton, far out-wear all cotton linens, which is enough to justify their higher cost. Even better than the 5 50/50 blends are the 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton blends.

Unfortunately, in bed linens the permanent-press processing presents a problem. Before the press is heat set, the fabric is resin treated. This reduces the natural absorbency of the cotton fibers. Since the polyesters are not very absorbent to begin with, the result is a somewhat clammy feeling. The buyer must carefully weigh this factor against the benefits of longer wear, ease of care, and good looks when buying bed linens in the fabric with a memory.

Since the quality of permanent-press garments, fabrics, and linens varies, the buyer must inspect all articles carefully. Important points to consider when buying are:

1. Inspect the article carefully for wrinkles. If it is wrinkled before you buy it, chances are it will stay that way.

2. When buying clothing, watch for puckers at seams and around collars and cuffs, for these may pucker even more after laundering. When purchasing sheets, check for any undue puckering around the seamed edges.

3. When buying clothes, select the garments in proper sizes so that no alteration is necessary. If changes must be made, take a larger size rather than a smaller one, since lengthening skirts and trousers or letting out seams usually shows—the crease marks remain.

4. Buy from reliable stores, and consider well-known, dependable blends.

Along with the importance of careful selection in buying permanent-press articles, it is equally important to know how to care for them properly after they’ve been purchased. Points to remember are:

1. Check for stains before washing. One problem with polyester/cotton permanent press has been its tendency to grab and hold stains. This has been minimized, however, with soil-release finishes that allow water to penetrate the fabric and loosen the soil more easily. If the fabric has not been treated with a stain-release finish, treat stains with a little concentrated liquid detergent and/or solvent before laundering.

2. Wash clothes frequently. Soil allowed to remain in fabrics becomes increasingly difficult to remove.

3. Many of today’s washers have special cycles for permanent press that allow for washing in hot water, rinsing in cool water, and spinning at a slow enough speed to keep wrinkles at a minimum. If your washer does not have this cycle, choose a wash temperature that is suitable for the color and fabric of the garment and then switch to a cool rinse.

4. Use any all-purpose laundry detergent, in the amount recommended by the manufacturer.

5. When necessary, bleach with chlorine bleach unless the garment hangtag specifically warns against it; if this is the case, an all-fabric bleach can be used.

6. If you have hard water, use more detergent or add a water conditioner.

7. With fabrics that tend to cling, add fabric softener to the last rinse.

8. Never overcrowd the washer or dryer—this may cause unnecessary wrinkles.

9. Remove clothes from the dryer as soon as they are dry and place them on hangers.

10. Turn the garment inside out before laundering. This will help prevent discoloration and wear along crease lines.

Permanent-press finishes have already become important in many households, and the future promises even more advances and improvements in permanent-press products. Experiments are underway to deal more effectively with soil retention, and researchers are seeking effective ways to remove and reset permanently set creases, seams, and pleats. Until these processes are perfected, reliable permanent-press garments and fabrics are still some of the best buys on the market.

[illustrations] Art by Phyllis Luch

Sister Paulsen graduated in fashion merchandising from the University of Utah this year. A daughter of Paul and Martha Paulsen, she teaches a Junior Sunday School class in Valley View Sixth Ward, Valley View Stake.