Lab testing allows brands, retailers, and vendors to test their textiles and apparel for various factors, including physical and chemical properties, such as colourfastness, durability, shrinkage, flammability, flame retardancy, and more.
Also known as textile testing, fabric testing or garment testing, lab testing is critical in today's global supply chain, where brands and retailers rely on suppliers worldwide to manufacture their products to their specifications.
Some common items that are tested include:
During textile testing, auditors evaluate the products against the required standards and regulations by stretching, rubbing, and washing the fabric to check for any defects or irregularities. It can involve testing specific elements like zippers, buttons, and other fastenings or the entire product itself.
Either way, lab testing is an indispensable quality control tool for brands, retailers, and vendors who want to ensure their products meet the highest quality standards.
Why is lab testing important in the apparel industry?
Lab testing is important in the apparel industry because it helps ensure that products meet safety, quality, and legal requirements. Not only does it help brands and retailers detect problems with their products before they reach the market, but it also allows them to ensure that their products meet consumer expectation.
Top 3 reasons why lab testing is so important for textiles and apparel:
1. Quality assurance: Companies invest a lot of money in production, so they must e sure the end product meets the specified quality standards. Lab testing helps identify any physical or chemical defects in the fabric that could result in a sub-par product.
2. Compliance: Lab testing helps brands and retailers adhere to global standards, such as ISO, en ISO, Oeko-Tex, and ASTM. It also ensures that products meet the applicable safety regulations for their intended use.
3. Avoiding the risk of liability or recall: It's essential to identify and rectify any problems with the product before it reaches the market and decrease the risk of liability or recall due to faulty material or manufacturing defects. Lab testing helps brands and retailers detect potential product issues before they become a problem.
How does lab testing usually work?
Brands or retailers typically conduct in-house textile testing or forward their textile and apparel samples to a third-party testing laboratory, where the products are tested against the relevant standards and regulations.
The process usually starts with random sampling, followed by physical testing such as tear strength, abrasion, or pilling tests. Depending on the product, chemical testing may also be required to check for any hazardous substances that might be present in the material.
Once all tests are completed, results are compiled in a report which can then be used as evidence that the product meets the required standards and can be safely used by consumers. Any discrepancies between test results and specifications are usually highlighted in a report, allowing brands, retailers and their vendors to take corrective measures.
All lab tests fall into two categories: quality and safety. Quality tests relate to consumer satisfaction, while safety tests prevent products from jeopardizing the health and safety of the consumer.
Most of the time, lab testing follows a standardized process to ensure accuracy and consistency. However, brands may also request additional tests if they have specific requirements that need to be met.
Different types of lab testing in the textile and apparel industries
The most common lab tests in the garment industry or textile industry are:
Breaking strength testing
This test method determines the breaking strength of a fabric's yarn. Woven fabrics are tested for their strength in the warp and weft directions, while knit fabrics are only tested in one direction. A breaking strength test assesses not only the baseline strength of the fabric but also its ability to withstand wash cycles, sunlight, UV radiation, and everyday wear and tear.
Bursting strength testing
Bursting strength tests measure the amount of pressure a fabric can withstand before it bursts or breaks. It helps ensure that fabrics are suitable for making products such as bags, backpacks, and other items with high-pressure points where seams need to be extra strong.
Abrasion resistance testing
Abrasion resistance testing helps assess the fabric's ability to withstand repeated rubbing or scraping. Lab technicians test abrasion resistance by repeatedly or continuously rubbing a fabric against another material until it breaks. This test method is particularly important for garments and fabrics exposed to wear and tear, such as jackets, bags, upholstery, and footwear. The most common abrasion resistance test is the Martindale test, where technicians rub a piece of fabric against a wool or cotton weave.
Pilling is one of the most common problems faced by garments and fabrics. Pilling occurs when fibres become tangled or matted together, creating small balls of fabric on the surface. Pilling tests help assess a fabric's resistance to this phenomenon by subjecting it to wear and tear over a set period of time.
Colour fastness testing
Colour fastness tests measure a fabric's ability to retain its colour and resist fading when exposed to light, water, air, or rubbing. Colour fastness tests help garment manufacturers and retailers determine which fabrics are suitable for making clothes that need to retain their colour over time. The most commonly used tests are ISO 105-B02 for wet crocking and ISO 105-X12 for lightfastness. These tests involve exposing the fabric to different types of light, water and washing conditions and then assessing the colour retention afterwards.
Flammability tests help assess the fire resistance of a fabric or garment. Tests check the flame spread, flammability (the ease at which a fabric catches fire), and afterglow time to help determine the level of fire resistance. Some product categories requiring these tests include sleepwear, upholstery fabrics, curtains, carpets, and rugs.
Chemical testing ensures that fabrics are free from toxic or dangerous substances that could otherwise harm consumers. Lab testing for chemicals like phthalates, heavy metals such as lead, and harmful dyes helps companies minimize the risk of unsafe products. Chemical tests can also detect dye transfer and the presence of allergens in fabrics. Finding harmful substances or restricted substances in fabrics can result in hefty fines for manufacturers, so chemical testing is essential to protect both consumers and brands.
Top 3 parameters for testing
While the type of tests will depend on the product, three key parameters should be tested in all garments: fabric construction, dimensional stability, and colorfastness.
These tests assess the fabric's integrity, ability to withstand wear and tear, and resistance to fading or discolouration.
All garment industry manufacturers must test their products' fabric construction, including their strength, durability, and uniformity. Picks per inch (PPI) and ends per inch (EPI) are two methods of testing the construction of fabrics. PPI tests measure the number of threads per inch in a fabric's warp and weft, while EPI tests measure the number of threads per inch in a fabric's warp or weft.
Fabric construction tests can identify inconsistencies in the fabric, such as weak or thick spots, and ensure that it maintains its shape and size.
A common problem with many fabrics is that they shrink or stretch when exposed to heat, moisture, and different types of detergents. Dimensional stability tests measure the fabric's resistance to these changes. These tests involve subjecting the fabric to different conditions, such as washing, heat and humidity, and then measuring its size and shape before and after the test. Most textile manufacturers use a standard test protocol called ISO 5077 to measure the dimensional stability of fabrics.
An important parameter in assessing the quality of fabrics is their colour fastness. Often, fabrics can be prone to fading or discolouration when exposed to light, water, or detergents. Colorfastness tests measure the fabric's resistance to these changes and involve subjecting it to different conditions before assessing its colour retention. Brands and retailers should always conduct colour fastness tests to ensure their fabrics retain their colour and vibrancy over time.
How lab testing can improve product quality
Lab testing is an essential part of the production and product development process, as it helps brands and retailers ensure that their products meet the highest quality standards.
Lab testing catches defects early on and identifies any potential hazards in the fabric or garment. By testing fabrics and garments before they are released to the market, companies can ensure that they provide consumers with safe, reliable products. And most importantly, lab testing helps protect brands and retailers from costly recalls or product liability claims.
Lab testing is a complex process that requires expertise and knowledge of the industry. It's important to choose a lab partner with experience in testing fabrics and garments and the necessary technology and resources to ensure the accuracy of test results and reduce the risk of costly mistakes.