What Does "Mercerizing" Do To Cloth?

“Mercerizing” is a process that makes cotton cloth shiney. What is the process? Is it a chemical alteration of the fabric? Can other fabrics be mercerized?

Here’s Wikipedia’s take:

As to your last question, I don’t know.

Mercerizing is performed by dipping the fabric in a sodium hydroxide bath and then neutralizing it in acid. The NaOH makes the cellulose fibers swell, which produces a tighter weave and a shiny finish. It’s more a permanent physical change than a chemical one. I’d be surprised if you could do it to anything but cotton or paper.

In the paper industry we use mercerization to produce high alpha cellulose pulp. The finish isn’t that important, but we’re trying to lower the density and improve the bulk, or sometimes we’re producing dissolving pulps to make rayon or cellulose acetate.

I suppose there really isn’t a worthwhile joke about Mercerizing a satin doll. :wink:

It’s hard to get cotton to take dyes very well, but mercerization fixes that. It makes the cotton fibers softer and more lustrous, and IIRC able to withstand more wear.