Why Fabric Fades (And How to Stop It)

Today’s most in-demand architectural designs for both commercial and residential buildings involve big windows and a lot of natural light. Unfortunately, this light causes fading of the materials that make up your home, such as your rug, art, curtains, or the upholstery of your couch, chair, or ottoman. To best understand how window film helps prevent much of this fading, we’d like to walk you through the science of how and why fabrics fade in the first place.

The technical term for fading is photo-degradation. In this sense, photo doesn’t have anything to do with pictures or photography, but rather photo is meant in its traditional etymological sense: light, from the Greek phōt (meaning light). Photo-degradation, then, is the the degradation of materials through exposure to light.

The light will gradually weaken or destroy the chemical bonds called chromophores that make up the color of every piece of fabric. These chromophores determine what amount of light from what particular wavelength a fabric absorbs, which determines not only its color but also the vibrancy of that color. Light will break down those chemical bonds, fading, distorting, or bleaching the fabric.

There are three different kinds of light: ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared. Each of these has a different wavelength; ultraviolet radiation (UV) has the shortest wavelength of these three, and is invisible to the human eye. Its short waves that can easily penetrate the bonds make it the #1 cause of fading, but it’s a myth that UV rays cause all fading in fabrics.

In fact, UV rays are only responsible for about 40 percent of fading, which is more than any other single source but still leaves a lot of room for other causes. Solar heat comprises 25 percent of fading causation, and visible light is another 25 percent. The final 10 percent is made up of other factors like chemical vapors, indoor lighting, dye quality, humidity, and others.

Window film will block 99 percent of those short UV rays, which stops 40 percent of fading in its tracks. However, the visible light and the heat will also break down those chromophores, and although window film will help by keeping out excess solar heat and darkening your room slightly, you will not be able to stop all fading. The only true fade-free environment would be a perfectly black, cold room with no environmental factors of any kind present. Since that doesn’t sound like it’d be a very nice living room, you probably would rather just settle for blocking what you can. Window film is the best way to reduce the risk of fading while maintaining the natural light and comfort.

Contact us at Brower Tinting and Graphics if you’d like to protect your home or office from fading!

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