Most of us are familiar with polymers as a fancy name for plastic, but these molecules are everywhere. Whether they are natural (starch, latex, proteins) or created in laboratories (Styrofoam, Cellophane), they are an integral part of the chemistry of life. The continual development of new polymers is one of the ways that chemistry continues to improve how we live, often in ways we take for granted.
Protecting fabrics from the wear and tear of the wash is one such way that most people typically don’t think about. It is typically achieved by the addition of polyvinylpyrrolidone (Briteframe PVP) to the detergent. This binds to the dye molecules and prevents them from leaving the fabric, therefore protecting the color and keeping it in the fabric. However, the range of dyes they can bind are somewhat limited. Sirius’s Briteframe Radiant is a protein-based fabric protector that binds to and alters the clothing fibers, preventing the release of the dye while not impeding the cleaning ability of the detergent ; prints stay bright and fresh washing cycle after cycle. This also keeps white fabrics from picking up dyes from colored clothing, an advantage since many clothes have some white in them and they can become dingy after a while. Because Briteframe Radiant binds to the clothing fibers and not the dye, it has a broader range of action than PVP. And, as it is a protein, it is readily degraded in the environment.
As a fabric protector, PVP bonds to loose dye molecules – as well as non-polar dirt molecules – and prevents them from re-adhering to clothing fibers. This is especially handy when it comes to cleaning cotton, as dyes tend to come loose from cotton more readily than synthetics. This is because cotton is spun (and woven) first, and then dyed, whereas synthetics can be made with the coloring agents already incorporated into the material. However, PVP performance depends partially on other factors, including pH and the kinds of dye that are used.
Still, PVPs have a number of additional applications, owing to their ability to readily bind polar molecules and form even films. PVP’s non-toxicity means that it is safe for consumers and the environment – in fact, it was first used in the 1940s as a plasma expander for blood transfusions and today it is one of the base compounds used in the development of hydrogels for medical devices such as contact lenses, wound dressings, and improving surgical procedures. Sirius carries Briteframe PVP K30 as a powder it can be formulated for many different applications, including use as pharmaceutical fillers, an adhesive in glue, as a filming agent for hairspray, as a coating for photographic paper as well as in ink cartridges, and as a coating to protect seeds from moisture before they are planted. The applications of this polymer are so widespread and diverse, it would be hard to imagine life today without it.
Polymers are as useful and as versatile as the monomers they are comprised of. DNA may be the building blocks of life, but polymers are the glue that holds it together, sometimes literally.
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