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Fascinating Silicone™ Chemistry Corner – Softeners & Conditioners

How silicone softeners & conditioners work

Silicone softeners

Silicone softeners make cotton towels feel softer.

Silicone’s softening capability comes from the siloxane backbone’s flexibility and its freedom of rotation along the Si-O bonds. This enables the low-interacting methyl groups to arrange themselves so they face away from the surface of fibers, thereby reducing fiber-to-fiber interaction.

Because the fibers are able to slip easily past one another, they do not stick together. Their natural spring is unimpaired. Volume increases. And the fabric becomes fluffier and softer to the touch.

If “water-loving” polyether groups are attached to the silicone, the fabric will also become more absorbent, or hydrophilic.

Silicone conditioners

Silicone conditioners for fabric, skin, and hair care products fill irregularities, making surfaces feel and appear smoother.

Silicones combine an array of properties (low coefficient of friction, liquid at high molecular weight, low surface tension, thin-film formation) that impart a feel on the skin that is very different from that of organic materials. Sensory evaluators describe this feel as light, smooth, silky, elegant, or luxurious. Skin feel is impacted by silicone structure. Increasing the length of the polymer leads to silicone gums, which give a velvety feel.

Silicone benefits for softening and conditioning

  • The ability to completely wet a wide variety of substrates – from fabric and leather to skin and hair
  • The ability to form thin films that do not interfere with the bulk properties of the substrate
  • Spreadability and lubricity
  • Permeability, breathability
  • Self-leveling capabilities that enable the film to replenish itself if it inadvertently comes in contact with another substrate, enabling longer-lasting feel

Typical applications for silicone softeners and conditioners

  • Textile softeners, including hydrophilic softeners
  • Thread or fiber lubricants
  • Carriers or formulation ingredients for beauty and personal care products, such as skin creams, deodorants, hair conditioners, conditioning shampoos, and color cosmetics

Learn how other types of silicones work.

Did you know ... dimethicone (polydimethylsiloxane) has a friction factor three times lower than that of mineral oil!

Expand your understanding

Technical articles:
Silicones in Personal Care Applications (PDF Size 136 KB)
Silicones in the Textile Industries (PDF Size 98 KB)

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