Teflon is no longer just about pots and pans.
This fall, the protective surface treatment developed by the chemical division of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. for kitchenware also protects fashion wear.
"Teflon's just awfully good at repelling spills, and it's completely undetectable," said Cyrus Clark, whose company designs Teflon-treated fabrics for use in bed linens, curtains and upholstery.
Discovered 53 years ago, Teflon, the brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene, has become synonymous with water and stain repellency in the kitchen.
Now the word Teflon is showing up on tags dangling from sleeves of uniforms, ski parkas and raincoats. Scores of outerwear manufacturers are offering Teflon-covered garments.
And there are other applications in evidence along Seventh Avenue: wool business suits, leather gloves and jackets, skirts of cotton chintz, silk blouses, scarfs, dresses, neckties and childrens' clothes. Textile mills are shipping Teflon-treated cloth to fabric stores.
Du Pont emphasizes the economic incentive: fewer dry cleaning bills. It says that wet or oily blotches can be wiped away and that stains wash out more easily in the laundry.
Will Teflon-treated garments reduce business for the dry cleaning industry? "It most definitely won't make us sit by the phone, the equivalent of the lonely Maytag repair man," said Norman Oehlke of the International Fabric Care Institute, a trade group in Silver Spring, Md. "It'll be good for everybody, including us; the Teflon coating will make stains more easy to remove.
"It may even be a boon to business, another service that we can offer."
About 2,000 dry cleaners now offer to apply Teflon to any garment, whether or not it was originally treated with Teflon.
Du Pont says the coating is undetectable by sight, smell or touch and that a fabric's natural properties of breathability, weight and drape are unaffected.
In the last five years, the company said, research was conducted to try to make Teflon in a liquid form so that it could be used to protect fabric. Development was completed last fall.
In its initial liquid form, it is applied to most garments at the textile mill phase as a final step after dyeing. It may be sprayed or rolled on, or a fabric may be dipped in a bath to cause the Teflon to absorb and coat every fiber. Life expectancy on a wash-and-wear garment, for example, a uniform, is about three years.
Another Teflon treatment can then be applied; Du Pont estimates a new application to a trench coat, for example, would cost about $10.