We’ve Spent A Century Perfecting Our Process
What’s the process of making cotton products? Our finished products go through an extensive purification process at our cotton processing plant before they ever end up in the hands of consumers.
Raw cotton arrives initially in densely packed bales, and these bales are subjected to a series of steps over time, ultimately undergoing a dramatic change. While raw cotton contains fiber, due to how cotton is harvested, it also carries small plant parts and field trash (non-lint or foreign matter) that must be removed thoroughly.
Many people are also unaware that cotton fiber has a coating of natural waxes that protect it from rain, which ultimately makes it hydrophobic (which is a fancy word for water repellent). This means raw cotton is unsuitable for use in many consumer products that require absorbency, a trait that is critical in many cotton applications.
Settling the issue of water repellency vs water absorbency is just one reason that cotton undergoes processing, and as you’ll read further, finishing, so that it can transform to meet end-customer expectations for product performance without losing its natural goodness.
Step One: Mechanical Cleaning (EVŌC) and Cake Formation
The first step in our process is to run it through a processing machine that opens the dense tufts of fiber from the ginned cotton bales. The fiber is fed into a hopper that mechanically picks the fiber tufts apart, and then the opened fiber is fed into a series of highly advanced cleaning technologies, which we called EVŌC (short-hand for Enhanced Visual, Opening, Cleaning system) which remove much of the plant matter, such as stalk, stem, and leaves, as well as extraneous matter and trash.
While the aim is to remove all of the non-lint material, in reality, it’s never 100% removed using just a mechanical cleaning method. The remainder of the process is conducted in large vessels called kiers. These kiers can be heated and pressurized to speed up the wet purification process.
Cotton is wet out and packed into large cakes with a hole in the middle (for a perfect visual, imagine a Bundt cake). The cotton cakes are then lowered down into the kier and it is closed.
Step Two: Scouring
Next, during cotton processing, a solution containing sodium hydroxide is pumped into the kier for scouring of cotton. As the kier is heated and pressurized, the alkali solution is continuously pumped through the cakes. During this time the waxes on the fiber are saponified (converted into water-soluble soaps), the remaining plant matter is softened, and the pectins and other non-cellulosic materials are suspended so they can be washed away.
After a predetermined length of time at elevated temperature and pressure to allow for a complete scouring, the saponified waxes and suspended materials are rinsed away with fresh water. After scouring, the cotton fiber is absorbent and any small amounts of plant matter that remained are softened.
Step Three: Purifying
Once the scouring rinse is drained, a purifying solution is pumped into the kier. Barnhardt uses only hydrogen peroxide as the oxidizing (purifying) agent, which makes our process Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF).
The hydrogen peroxide whitens the fibers by oxidizing the coloring matter. Since the scouring process softened the remaining plant matter, the purifying agent can penetrate the plant matter more effectively, and make it white as well.
The purifying solution is pumped through the cakes for a predetermined time at an elevated temperature to allow for the elimination of all color bodies. Next, the purifying solution is rinsed away with freshwater and the tank is drained.
At this point in cotton processing, all of the fiber’s impurities and coloring bodies have been removed, and the cotton fibers are pure cellulose.
Step Four: Fiber Finishing
Though the natural fiber finish (wax) has been removed, the fiber can be difficult to process due to a high level of fiber-on-fiber friction. Therefore, to allow for efficient processing on high-production web-forming equipment, a fiber finish (lubricant) must be added.
Many types of fiber finishes can be applied depending on the application need. These finish solutions are pumped through the cakes, which allows the desired level of finish to be applied to the cotton fibers. Once that desired level is reached, the finish solution is drained.
Step Five: Opening and Drying
In this last step, the wet cakes are re-opened into tufts of fiber, and the fiber is dried to specific moisture levels that have been predetermined by customer specifications.
Once baled, the moisture content is measured and then printed on labels that are attached to each and every bale, a final signature that lets our customers know that their cotton has gone through Barnhardt’s meticulous cotton processing to ensure cotton perfection.