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Absorption properties absorbent materials

One of major applications of disposable nonwovens is in absorbent materials,
which constitute a broad range of products, ranging from baby diapers, personal
hygiene & adult incontinent pads to tampons, paper towels, tissues &
sponges. Fig-1 shows anatomy of a diaper where key requirement for absorbent
materials at cover sheet is its ability to imbibe rapidly & hold large amount of
fluid under pressure. Absorbency rate & absorbent capacity are the two most
important performance parameters to be considered for absorbent applications of
nonwovens. Absorbent capacity is mainly determined by interstitial space
between fibres, absorbing and swelling characteristics of material & resiliency of
web in wet state. Absorbency rate is governed by balance between forces exerted
by capillaries & frictional drag offered by fibre surfaces. For non-swelling
materials, these properties are largely controlled by capillary sorption of fluid into
structure until saturation is reached [1]. Absorbency rate & absorbent capacity are
affected by fibre mechanical & surface properties, structure of fabric (i.e., size &
orientation of flow channels), nature of fluids imbibed, & manner in which web or
product is tested or used [2-7]. Among those factors, surface wetting
characteristics (contact angle) of fibres in web & structure of web, such as size,
shape, orientation of capillaries, & extent of bonding, are most important.

Fig. 1: Anatomy of Diaper [10]

Polymer type of fibres in fabrics, hydrophilic or hydrophobic, influences inherent
absorbent properties of fabrics. A hydrophilic fibre provides capacity to absorb
liquid via fibre imbibitions, giving rise to fibre swelling. It also attracts & holds
liquid external to fibre, in capillaries, & structure voids. On other hand, a
hydrophobic fibre has only latter mechanism available to it normally [7]. Effect of
small amount of fibre finish (generally 0.1 to 0.5% by weight) is also important
since it is on fibre surface. Particular finish applied on fibre can significantly
change surface wetting property of fibre.

Fibre linear density and its cross-section area affect void volume, capillary
dimensions & total number of capillaries per unit mass in fabrics. Fibre surface
morphology, surface ruggedness, & core uniformity can influence absorbency
performance to some extent. Fibre crimps influence packing density of fabrics &
further affect thickness per unit mass that affects absorbency of nonwoven fabrics.
Nature of crimps, whether it is two-dimensional or three-dimensional, also has
some effect.
Size of capillaries is affected by thickness per unit mass & resiliency of web, &
size, shape & mechanical properties of fibres. Resiliency of web is influenced by
nature & level of bonding of fabrics as well as size, shape, & mechanical properties
of constituent fibres [6].
Models have been built to characterize the two parameters, absorbent capacity (C)
& absorbency rate (Q). C (cc/g fluid/g) is given by volume/mass of fluid
absorbed at equilibrium divided by dry mass of specimen, while Q is given by
slope of absorbency curve divided by dry mass of specimen. Model to calculate C
is based on determining total interstitial space available for holding fluid per unit
dry mass of fibre. Equation is shown as follow [5,6]:

Where, A is the area of the web
T is the thickness of the web
Wf is the mass of the dry web
f is density of dry fibre
Vd is amount of fluid diffused into structure of fibres
is the ratio of increase in volume of a fibre upon wetting to volume of fluid diffused into

In above equation, "the second term is negligible compared to the first term,
& third term is nearly zero if a fibre is assumed to swell strictly by replacement of
fibre volume with fluid volume" [6]. Thus, dominant factor that controls the fabric
absorbent capacity is web thickness per unit mass on dry basis (T/Wf).
For absorbency rate, the Washburn-Lucas's equation [8,9] is applied.

Where, S is distance through which fluid penetrated in time t
r is mean pore radius of capillary

l is surface tension of fluid

is contact angle of fibre
is viscosity of fluid
t is fluid penetrated time
Modifications are given to Washburn-Lucas's equation when applied to
nonwoven webs in which fluid spreads radially outward from a point in centre.
Modified equation is shown as follow:

...... (3)
Where, r is mean pore radius of capillary
l is surface tension of fluid
is contact angle of fibre
is viscosity of fluid
T is thickness of web
Wf is mass of dry web
A is area of web
f is density of dry fibre
In a given web and fluid system, only mean pore radius r and thickness per unit
mass (T/Wf) in above equation are not constant. Predicted value of r by following
equation based on assumption that a capillary was bound by three fibres, oriented
parallel or randomly, and specific volume of the capillary unit cell equalled that of
parent web [3].


Where subscripts 1 and 2 represent different fibre types and

is a constant with a value of 9x105
d is fibre denier
is fibre density (g/cc)
f is mass fraction of a fiber in blend (f1 + f2 = 1)


1. L. F. Fryer, B. S. Gupta, Determination of Pore Size Distribution in Fibrous Webs and

Its Impact on Absorbency, "Proceedings of 1996 Nonwovens Conference," 1996, pp.
2. Chatterjee, P. K., "Absorbency," Elsevier, New York, 1985.
3. Gupta, B. S., Effect of Structural Factors on Absorbent Characteristics of
Nonwovens, Tappi J. 71, 147-152 (1988).
4. Gupta, B. S., and Crews, A. L., Nonwoven: An Advanced Tutorial, "The Effect of
Fluid Characteristics in Nonwovens," TAPPI Press, Atlanta, GA, 1989
5. Gupta, B. S., and Hong, C. J., Changes in Dimensions of Web During Fluid Uptake
and its Impact on Absorbency, Tappi J. 77, 181-188 (1994).
6. Gupta, B. S., Whang, H. S., Capillary Absorption Behaviors of Hydroentangled and
Needlepunched Webs of Cellulosic Fibers, "Proceedings of INDA-TEC 96:
1996, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Crystal City, Virginia, USA.
7. Gupta, B.S., and Smith, D. K., Nonwovens in Absorbent Materials, Textile Sci. and
Technol. 13, 349-388 (2002).
8. Lucas, R., Kolloid Z., "Ueber das Zeitgesetz des Kapillaren Aufstiegs von
Flussigkeiten," 23, 15 (1918).
9. Washburn, E.W., The Dynamics of Capillary Flow, Phys. Rev. 17(3), 273 (1921).
10. Gupta, B. S. and L. C. Wadsworth, "Differentially Absorbent Cotton-Surfaced
Spunbond Copoplyester and Spunbond PP with Wetting Agent," Proceedings ,
Seventh Nonwovens Conference at 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, San Antonio ,
TX , January 5-9, 2004