What Are PFC-Free Materials?

Although very effective as a water repellent, PFCs have been a silent and unforeseen threat to our health and environment.

The goal of any good water-resistant and waterproof clothing is to keep the wearer dry, comfortable, and warm. For decades, the way manufacturers have been able to meet these tenets has been by applying a special coating material to their products. Although very effective as a water repellent, the PFC chemicals in these coating materials have been a silent and unforeseen threat to our health and environment. The dangers of PFCs have only been discovered in recent years, making the need for PFC-free materials important and, in fact, necessary.

What Are PFCs?

PFCs are an acronym for “perfluorinated compounds.” They cover a range of nearly a thousand substances with similar physical and chemical properties. They can also be referred to as PFAS to collectively describe PFOA, PFOS, and other chemicals in this group. PFCs are also known as “fluorocarbons,” which are man-made chemicals often found in everyday household items such as non-stick cookware, upholstery, and mattresses.

In their application to fabric, PFCs are highly effective at repelling water, dirt, and oil. When manufacturers want to make gear or clothing water-repellent, using fluorocarbons is the routine choice. These chemicals repel water, causing it to bead on contact and roll off the fabric rather than being absorbed. Being quite durable, PFCs offer high mechanical, chemical, and thermal stability. So much so that they’re not easily washed or rubbed off by normal use, nor affected by extreme shifts in temperatures. 

Many Durable Water Repellants (DWRs) contain PFCs. DWR is the coating applied to garments to enhance their ability to resist water. This coating makes them “hydrophobic,” which is a fancy way of saying “afraid of water.” Once added, DWR works by creating microscopic vertical spikes like a tightly packed bed of nails on the outermost layer of the fabric, leaving absolutely no room for water to be absorbed.

Problems with PFCs

As durable as PFCs are, they do eventually break down over time. According to the EPA, manufacturing with PFC chemicals can harm human and animal health and accumulates in us through the air, water, and food. PFCs continue to have a slow degradation rate and can cause several health problems. The most notable concerns are:

  • Cancer
  • Decreased fertility
  • Pregnancy outcomes
  • Birth outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Thyroid Hormone effects
  • Immune system effects
  • Increased cholesterol levels

PFC-free chemistry has become legislation for California beginning in 2025. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed bill AB 1817, which prohibits any person from manufacturing, distributing, selling, or offering for sale in the state any new, not previously owned, textile articles that contain regulated PFAS. The bill requires a manufacturer to use the least toxic alternative when removing regulated PFAS in textile articles to comply with these provisions. California may be the first, but several more states are starting to follow suit. This year alone, 195 new bills were introduced in dozens of state legislatures, seeking to require that an expanding list of products be PFAS-free. It’s critical that manufacturers move away from the use of these harmful chemicals in order to safeguard our health and environment.

a wide angle image of a cyclist's gloved hands on the handlebars of a mountain bike in a misty forest.

What Does PFC-Free Mean? 

With PFC-based water repellants being so effective, it’s been very difficult for manufacturers to develop a replacement for them. Nonetheless, more products are starting to pop up that are PFC-free. Simply stated, a “PFC-free” material is exactly as it sounds: one that is waterproof or water-resistant when using a DWR coating that doesn’t rely on PFCs. Rather, different coatings such as wax, silicone, or even plant-based products are utilized as replacements.

PFC-free DWRs have the same success rate as their PFC-based counterparts when it comes to water resistance. They are also more environmentally friendly and safer to use than products with PFCs. The only real drawback to PFC-free water resistance is that it can be less durable and may require more water-resistant treatments over time. In the end, it is possible to offer high-quality water resistance while still being environmentally conscious. Wearing PFC-free products that can easily repel water, protect your health, and protect the environment at the same time is a triple victory in our books.

a male snowboarder in full gear holding his snowboard upright with snow blowing around him.

AX® Materials’ Commitment to PFC-Free Gloves 

Without compromising on performance, comfort, or sustainability, AX® Materials builds best-in-class glove materials to support and sustain our environment. Our synthetic materials have raised the bar on physical properties while reducing environmental impact. This means longer-lasting gloves with reduced waste for a better environment.

Adhering to our principles of manufacturing environmentally safe materials, AX® prioritizes efficiency and the reuse of resources at every level, from fibers to water and chemicals. Many of our products, including our range of recycled materials, are available with PFC-free C0 water repellency and we’ve converted all of our water-repellant finishes to non-fluorinated versions.

Sustainable Materials

AX® Materials is proud to introduce the world’s first range of recycled polyester (RPET) high-performance glove palm materials. Leading the way in sustainability for glove materials, AX® Recycled materials are made from post-recycled water bottles and post-industrial waste. Many of our classic materials are made using water-based manufacturing and a solvent-free dye process for vegan leather replacements that are better for the environment. The AX® Recycled range offers the same advanced features as our original AX® Materials, such as high abrasion, dexterity, and durability, but with the added recycled content. Providing a vast array of options, our recycled range comes in a variety of thicknesses, embossing, colors, and touchscreen connectivity.

All AX® Recycled materials are Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) Certified. If you see a product that carries an RCS certificate, it’s manufactured using verified recycled materials. Textile Exchange, which is a non-profit, administers the RCS certificate. Its mission is to reduce the impact of the textile industry on the environment. With their new Climate+ strategy, Textile Exchange is the driving force for urgent climate action on textile fiber and materials with a goal of 45% reduced CO2 emissions from textile fiber and material production by 2030.

AX® Materials is committed to helping glove and gear manufacturers meet their sustainability goals and metrics. Contact us to learn how our materials can help you build a better product while also bettering the environment. 

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