Nonwovens for Home & Office Furnishings

Manufacturers expand sustainable offerings in the category

Whether you see them or not, nonwovens are everywhere we live and work. In homes, they can be found in window treatments, bedding and table linens, and in places like office buildings and hotels they may be in acoustical panels, wallcoverings and carpets.

Like in most end-use categories for nonwoven materials, sustainability has been a buzzword in the residential and commercial furnishings market. Many nonwovens used in these applications can be made with a high percentage of recycled materials and they also can be lighter in weight compared to other materials. Cost and durability are other benefits.

A new market study from Smithers—The Future of Global Nonwovens to 2029—tracks current and future demand in all main end-use segments for durable and disposable nonwovens. For home and office applications, the main markets are bedding & upholstery and floor coverings. Smithers data show that in North America consumption for these (combined) will be 242,000 tons in 2023; generating sales of $1.07 billion. Demand is expected to reach 318,800 tons and $1.64 billion in 2029, at constant prices.

Smithers projects slower than average growth for nonwovens in office furnishings. “With Covid driven ‘work from home’ increases, there has been (and still is) a reduction in furnishings for commercial office spaces,” says Phil Mango, nonwovens consultant, Smithers. “This reduction has not been offset by home office furnishings.”

Meanwhile, the residential market is not projected to grow at high rates over the next five years, as the global economy is growing slowly and interest rates are high, he adds.

Smithers expects floor coverings to grow the fastest in the furnishings category, as new products (laminates, luxury vinyl plank/tiles) use nonwovens. “While tufted carpet may have nonwoven backing and there is some needlepunch carpet, the non-carpet market is growing faster,” Mango points out.

While there will be continued growth for nonwovens in this market, Smithers projects it to be slower than average (for all nonwoven uses). “The global economy, high interest rates, and continuing global conflicts (Ukraine, Israel) will slow overall growth here for at least the next three to five years,” he says. “The ongoing trend away from commercial offices is also an inhibitor.”

The bedding and furniture industry has always been a key market for the Turkish nonwovens producer Mogul. For this sector the company offers materials used as inner linings, spring covers and quilt backings.

Recently, Mogul launched a new material called Ultraleather, which is made using its Madaline technology. According to Serkan Gögüs, CEO, Mogul, this material is equivalent to an artificial leather product and it can be used in upholstery applications. “The look and feel are between leather and cloth, which brings a new breath to industry,” he says. 

Mogul’s Madaline Ultraleather material can be used in upholstery applications.Additionally, Madaline antiallergic grades can be used for pillows and mattress covers.

Mogul expects growth in this sector, but since nonwovens are used for inner and non-visible applications, it will take time to change the bias to use them for outer cover (visible) applications, especially in upholstery, but Gögüs believes Mogul is leading way with its Madaline and Ultraleather ranges.

The residential and commercial furnishings market is also an important area for Freudenberg Performance Materials, one of the largest nonwovens producers in the world. The company offers a range of materials for various applications including bedding, acoustics, carpet backings and others.

After more than 20 years, Evolon remains a unique technology that is usable in washable, durable applications in home furnishings. Bedding applications include mite-proof encasings for allergy sufferers, bed linen, pillow covers in the home as well in hotel and hospital applications.

In the last decade, the company has worked on decreasing its production footprint and increasing customer efficiency and benefits. Improvements in the Evolon footprint include a close monitoring of energy efficiency, the extension of water recycling, the use of recycled PET as well as antimony-free PET, and lightening products with similar performance. On the customer benefits side, Evolon New Generation brings new perspectives by fulfilling the durability requirements of the hotel and hospital sectors for bedding and providing environmental benefits over the entire life cycle in these sectors. Evolon New Generation provides increased wash resistance and high allergen filtration performance. “All in all, we continue to support the allergy sufferers by providing uncompromized protection against mite allergens,” says Dr. Frank Heislitz, CEO, Freudenberg Performance Materials.

Meanwhile, new variants of Evolon have been developed recently to be used as artificial leather coating substrates, especially functional for seats and furniture. They are designed as carrier materials for PU and PVC coatings. These variants provide additional sustainability benefits such as 80% recycled content (such as post-consumer recycled PET), and are solvent and chemical binder-free.

In the furnishings sector Freudenberg also offers spunbond primary backings for tufted broadloom carpets, carpet tiles and dust control mats. “Over the past decade, there has been a trend towards lower weight carpet (including lower weight carpet backings),” he says. “Carpet backing average weights have dropped by around 20% in the past five to 10 years. Freudenberg Performance Materials has worked to create these new, lighter-weight products to keep up with the customers’ needs and will continue to do so.”

According to Dr. Heislitz, carpet tile continues to take market share from broadloom carpet (wall-to-wall carpet). “Thanks to the superior performance of spunbonded carpet backing products compared to woven carpet backing, our share of the total carpet backing market continues to grow,” he adds.

Today, design trends are heavily influenced by comfort and sustainability: recycled materials, recyclability, lightweight design and durability are becoming increasingly important. “The emphasis on sustainability is still trending and gaining more and more momentum, especially in Europe where sustainable products are supported by the European Green Deal,” he says.

Adding to this, customers are also demanding more transparency and certifications regarding sustainability.

This year, Freudenberg received the Global Recycled Standard certification for Evolon RE fabrics made with 80% post-consumer recycled polyester. “Sustainability is one of the key drivers for product developments in the carpet industry, where our customers are looking for ways to minimize footprints,” Dr. Heislitz says. “Recyclability, recycled content and dematerialization are focus areas.”

Supporting customers with their transition, Freudenberg introduced the Colback and Lutradur ECO range of carpet backings in Europe. Consisting of resource efficient carpet backings as well as backings with recycled content, Freudenberg offers different solutions supporting carpet manufacturers in making sustainable choices to suit their ambitions and processes.

On the Wall

Another area where nonwovens have gained acceptance over the years is in wallcoverings. Nonwoven manufacturers say the materials offer a sustainable alternative to PVC products and are easier to install and remove compared to other materials.

Lahnpaper, of Lahnstein, Germany, makes nonwoven wallcoverings that are a composition of cellulose and polyester fiber, made in a wet-lay format on a unique inclined-wire paper machine. These are then pressed under various parameters to provide different grades, giving products their different physical properties. 

Lahnpaper nonwoven wallcoverings are PVC-free (environmentally friendly), allowing moisture to pass through, hindering condensation and mildew, with good breathability. “In comparison with paper, it has much more dimensional stability, which ensures it keeps its shape and thanks to its tear resistance it can be wiped using water without breaking it. It is also easier to remove from walls after use—dry strippable,” says Heidi Fowler, international account manager, Lahnpaper GmbH.

Wetlaid nonwovens are commonly used for wallcoverings.Overall, Fowler says that global growth in traditional wallcoverings has seen a huge decline over the last decade, however, according to statistics, the use of customized wallcovering is a growing trend in many areas of the world. “Lahnpaper has seen this growth in the private sector, households, following trends and wanting customized walls, but also in the commercial areas, from retail shops (branding) through to office buildings and hospitality,” she explains. “Growth can be attributed to changing trends, the world of customization, everyone wanting that little bit of individualization and expression of their own designs, thoughts, brands, etc.; the ease of customization on small scale.”

According to the company, the consensus is that nonwovens will eventually take over the wallcovering market as more and more people move away from vinyl and PVC alternatives, as the world becomes more and more conscious of plastics. However, Fowler adds, hindering the wallcovering market now are global economic factors. “Naturally, nonwovens are generally more expensive than a traditional vinyl wallpaper, but thanks to the ecological requirements and expectations for high durable quality with perfect printed finishes, it is logical that a Lahnpaper nonwoven wallcovering would beat the competition.”

Another expert in nonwoven wallcoverings, Ahlstrom offers an extensive range of wetlaid nonwovens for the wallcovering industry. Wetlaid nonwovens are known for their strength, durability and excellent uniformity, according to Calum Mayland, marketing manager, Building Division, Ahlstrom.

“Compared to paper, nonwovens don’t shrink, are strong and stable, simple to install and easy to change. Minimal mess and reduced clean up time, which provides opportunities for more frequent use,” he says. 

An important trend in the market are requests for products that are environmentally sustainable. In fact, Mayland says consumers and professionals are paying much attention to their ecological footprint today. “It is true that the biggest share of the market is PVC-coated wallcover, however, more and more consumers are looking for more eco-friendly wallcoverings for their homes. In this aspect, nonwovens printed directly have an important advantage. Being free of PVC and other harmful substances, they represent a new more sustainable alternative to the PVC products.”

Additionally, the wallcovering industry is driven by fashion and design. “Consumers want their own unique product with eye-catching appearance,” he says. “Our range of nonwoven wallcoverings guarantees superior printability for optimal visual results. Our products are recognized for their high quality, luxurious, textile-like touch and wide variety of structures and surface effects.”

Ahlstrom has three wallcovering ranges in its portfolio. Ahlstrom WallStar is an extensive range of premium quality facings and backings for high-end and luxury wallcoverings. Part of WallStar, WallStar Digital, is Ahlstrom’s widest range of digital nonwovens suitable for all digital printing technologies. They comprise wide variation in structure and surface effects, fulfilling designer’s imagination and consumer’s aspirations. Ahlstrom WallWise is the widest range of value-for-money nonwoven facings and nonwoven and paper backings, designed to bring competitive advantages at an affordable price. Meanwhile, Ahlstrom Wall Liner are high quality nonwovens designed for overpainting, for both the professional and residential markets.

Recently the company launched Ahlstrom WallStar Digital Peel & Up, a range of self-adhesive nonwovens for wall décor. The new line makes decoration quick and effortless, even for a novice home decorator. No glue or special equipment is needed. Ahlstrom WallStar Digital Peel & Up is easy to reposition during installation and is also straightforward to remove. The user can simply peel away the wallpaper of the release liner and apply it to the wall. Trouble-free removability enables smooth repositioning or replacement with a different design. No adhesive is left on the wall after removal. The Peel & Up range includes 100% PVC-free satin and matt media

According to Mayland, the re-adjustment in consumer demand following the pandemic, the sharp slowdown in GDP growth and a sudden but sustained increase in inflation have all brought challenges to the wallcovering industry. For sales by substrate, the nonwoven sector has been less badly hit than paper-based wallcoverings sales, and the U.S. has been one of the growth areas. “Reasons for this include the growth of peel and stick wallcoverings and strong interest in the digital murals market,” he says.

Outside of wallcoverings, Ahlstrom is also using wetlaid nonwovens for a new product called Ahlstrom BioProtect, a one source, sustainable, nonwoven solution for laundry care, incorporating patent pending technology to protect laundry from color run during the wash cycle.

Its ability to lock up loose dyes found in the wash water enables it to prevent dye transfer and color runs, maintaining the original color of clothes. It also saves time by not having to pre-sort laundry into different colors before washing. The product is biodegradable and biobased, utilizing 100% naturally derived fibers.

“Our high performance solution for laundry care delivers excellent dye-catching performance,“ says Pierre Mary, vice president, Nonwovens. “Delivering protection to laundry against color run, with performance aligned with industry benchmarks.” 

Anna Brikh, product manager, Consumer Nonwovens, adds: “Our sustainable product also reduces environmental impact being designed from renewable sources. Ahlstrom BioProtect has been awarded with the highest OK biobased rating of four stars by the accredited certification institute TÜV Austria.”

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