Every so often we get reports of fabrics showing holes/runs after washing or seem to be breaking down.

The problem could be related to the stitching, or the wash routine and excessive use of bleach, but often we have seen damage by decomposition. It is important to remember that fabrics can be damaged by sun exposure, washing chemicals, and they will start decomposing if left too long in a damp or soiled state. Let’s take a look at the reasons your fabric could be breaking down:

  1. Poor Machine Maintenance 
    Wrong or Bad Needles From time to time we see fabrics that have been damaged during sewing by either the machine or using damaged needles.

    If the fabrics are sewn with a damaged needle the evidence may not be visible immediately. The damaged needle or an incorrect size needle will damage the fibers that make the fabric and eventually cause fabric holes / tears and damages. Small nicks in a needle or on the machine surface can produce small run lines that appear after a few washes. This is particularly evident in finer fabrics like FOE, and Pique.

    Another problem is using sharp needles as opposed to ball points for sewing knits. Sharp needles cut the connecting yarns of the knits as they punch through the fabric.

    If the stitch used is too tight that could also weaken the fabric at the seams. It is important to use a stitch that suits the thickness of the fabric.

    How to recognize: If you see runs in the fabric after washing or seam lines degrading prematurely or runs starting at stitch lines, it's likely the wrong needles were used.

  2. Washing with sharp object or with hook tape
    If fabrics are washed with items that have hook tape/Velcro type hook that can completely destroy fabrics, esp. Knit fabrics. This type of damage will not have a pattern, it could be anywhere. It can cause runs, fraying and completely destroy the face of fabrics like 3D Zorb and others.

  3. Using an acidic detergent
    If the detergent used has an acidic component or salts that release an acid during the wash, it can damage the cellulose materials like bamboo rayon over time. Multiple washed will dissolve the cellulosic fibers.

  4. Sunlight and line drying
    Drying in the sun is great! It's energy efficient, heat and moisture stay outside, and the sun's rays are great for reducing stains and killing bacteria. However, flapping around in a strong breeze can put pressure on fibers and in some cases weaken them; Too much sunlight can also damage fabrics, so be sure to being them in as soon as they are dry.

    When material is damaged on the line you can usually notice a distinct whiter fade to the outer facing side of the fabric. There will also be tenderness on that side, so fraying around snaps, seams and hook/loop tapes will be evident on one side of the item but not the other.

  5. Bleach Damage
    Bleach tends to damage fabric first at the seams them equally across the whole surface of the fabric. Look for fraying along seam lines, then general tenderness throughout the garment.

    Damage due to bleach will show up as a uniform lightening and fading on mildly damaged material, and whitening and shredding on badly damaged material. If bleach has been used on spots you will see the lightning around the damaged areas.

  6. Fabric Breakdown by microbial action
    Cellulose-decomposing bacteria are present everywhere and can decompose natural fiber fabrics very easily. If left damp for 2-3 days cellulose digesting microorganisms can multiply to billions. At that point they generate a serious appetite and begin digesting cotton, bamboo and hemp. At the end of day 4, studies on cotton show accelerated deterioration, around 9% decomposition after 4 days, and up to 50% decomposition by day 6.

    The decomposition is much faster if the temperature is more than 24deg C/75 deg F. Hemp and bamboo will decompose slightly faster than cotton.

  7. Zorb - Decomposition Damage
    Occurs in a characteristic circular pattern in the early stages of bacterial decomposition. In Zorb the fine face yarns of bamboo/cotton will get decomposed, and will expose the heavier infilling yarns of polyester, cotton etc.. that have not decomposed.

    We have seen examples of serious decomposition. In one case an item was left damp and 'forgotten' for days then washed. It was damaged beyond repair. The face fabrics were completely eaten away and the inner filling also had holes and turned brown.

    Microbial damage can be identified under a microscope or a magnifying glass. To the naked eye fabric damage is first visible as irregular round frayed blotches. Each blotch signifies a bacterial colony. Deep staining and some darkening of the fabric is often visible as the bacterial colonies multiply and fibers become damaged. Most times the damage cannot be seen in the unwashed damp/wet items when they are taken for washing. It takes the agitation of washing and drying to disintegrate the weakened yarns.

    Also, fabrics made with Organic yarns have a tendency to be easily destroyed by microorganisms as there is no pesticide or any chemicals in them that can inhibit the bacteria. Fabrics made with viscose from bamboo have a greater possibility of damages as the bamboo fiber is softer than cotton and hence is more delicate.