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Design and development of low cost sanitary napkins using cotton knitwear waste

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Readers, Department of Textiles & Clothing, Lady Irwin College, Delhi University



The attainment of puberty in women is signified by menarche, the age of onset of menstruation. During menstruation, use of some kind of a protection in the form of a pad or napkin is mandatory. The kind of sanitary protection practised during menstruation can determine the hygiene status of a woman, which can affect her reproductive health levels.

Many feminine hygiene products are available in the Indian market, their cost ranging between Rs. 2.40 - 7.5 / napkin. With this cost profile, these products are being utilized mostly by the upper middle and high-income group women. Also, the high product cost is a major deterrent in its utilization by the people of the low-income category. A need was thus felt to develop a low cost technology for the manufacture of products for sanitary protection, utilizing textile waste materials with similar properties.

A sanitary napkin basically comprises of three layers; top layer, absorbent layer and barrier sheet. The absorbent layer is the key component of the napkin and the extent to which this layer is able to absorb and retain the fluid determines the efficiency of the napkin. This bulk layer of a napkin is a non woven web, made of hydrophilic cellulosic staple fibers like wood pulp, cotton linters, viscose etc (IS: 5405 1981). Most of the wood pulp used for the purpose is imported, and therefore expensive, increasing the overall cost of a sanitary napkin. Cotton is seen as a major fiber poised to replace wood pulp especially in the feminine hygiene products where less bulky is preferred and thinner is better. The high cost of cotton is the reason why it has not been able to replace pulp (Egelsbach, 2002). Hence, the possibility of using cotton of the low cost knitwear waste is most appropriate to achieve value at less cost. The waste of the knitwear sector is typically from fully-fashioned garments or the traditional cutnsew techniques. The cost of this cutting and sewing edge waste varies from Rs.2 to 10 / Kg.

In the present study, an attempt has been made to develop low cost sanitary napkins by utilizing cotton fiber from knitwear waste. The process has been optimized and evaluation of the final product was done with respect to performance, comfort and hygiene parameters. The quality of the developed product was compared using specified parameters with four major brands of sanitary napkins in the Indian markets.


Step I: Evaluation of the Branded Sanitary Napkins Available In the Markets

16 varieties of sanitary napkins of 4 major brands i.e., Stayfree, Whisper, Kotex and Shapers were evaluated in terms of physical and microbiological parameters.

The cost profile of each brand and special features advertised on their package cover were also compared. The Physical Parameters tested were:

1. Qualitative Fibre Analysis

The fibre analysis of the selected sanitary napkin was done layer wise, using the standard AATCC test methods. Preliminary identification was done using a light Microscope; the longitudinal view of the fibres was viewed under the microscope. Chemical analysis of each layer was done to confirm the nature of fibers. Solubility tests were conducted to identify the cellulosic fibers and type of synthetic fibers. Melting Point process was used to identify the type of Polyolefin fiber, viz. Polypropylene and Polyethylene.

Scanning Electron Micrographs (SEM) of the pulp fibers of regular type napkins was prepared to ascertain the nature of cellulose fiber used.

2. Determination of pH

The pH of sanitary napkins was tested using the aqueous extracts of the samples by the cold method. The IS: 5405-1981 specification for sanitary napkins, specifies the test method for testing pH of a sanitary napkin.

3. Determination of Absorbency and ability to withstand Pressure after Absorption

This test was conducted as per the IS: 5405-1981. The time taken for the fluid to get completely absorbed by the napkin and the area of the spread of the fluid was noted. The sides and back of the napkin were observed for any fluid leaking through after placing a one Kg weight on it.


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