Are clothes made of milk? Does milk have any fiber? Which milk has the most fiber? Is cow’s milk high in fiber? Are clothes made from food? Is it possible? Yes indeed, the milk protein, called casein, is used to create innovative fibers that resemble wool. New technologies are constantly being explored and incorporated by the textile industry. As a result, by making cloth from milk, the door of innovation has been opened. Let’s talk about, how fiber is made from milk!! It adds a new dimension to the textile industry.
What is Milk Fiber?
Milk fiber is fiber made from the casein protein found in milk. This type of fiber is also called casein fiber. It combines casein protein and the acrylonitrile used to make acrylic clothing. Milk protein fibre is made out of skimmed milk. The main components of this fibre are casein proteins, drawn from cow’s milk. It is made from pure casein protein or waste milk unfit for human consumption. Waste milk still contains valuable components and offers great potential for technological purposes. It is made using a process similar to rayon/viscose, but because it is not a regenerated protein fiber and not a regenerated cellulose fiber, it reacts like wool. It dyes like wool and even smells like wool when burned.
During World War I, Germans discovered cloth from milk when they were looking for something new. Milk cotton yarn was first produced in Italy and the United States in the 1930s and was called milk casein. It was developed to compete with wool, but production died during World War II. First, the production process uses formaldehyde and uses much water. But the resulting production method was not profitable. In the 1930s, Italian chemists Antonio Ferretti, experimented with casein. He succeeded in making casein fiber which was flexible and had many of the properties associated with wool. Production begins by separating milk and cream. The cream is used to make butter, and the skimmed milk is then coagulated to extract the casein. Ferretti sold his patent near the big Italian rayon farm (snea viscosa) which made casein fiber Lanital’s trade name in capitals.
Is Milk Fiber Really Natural Fiber?
Milk fibre contains eighteen amino-acids and has the advantages of natural fibre combined with synthetic fibres. Milk fiber has a pH of 6.8, similar to human skin. Milk protein fibre is a blend of nature, science and technology that has the benefits of natural as well as synthetic fibre. It is most comfortable and has excellent water transport and air permeability. A chemist can extract the casein protein by mixing acid with milk. Casein is dissolved in a liquid. It is placed in a chemical bath to harden, which forms fibers. Historically, milk fiber yarn was mixed with several substances to give it a cotton-like texture and stretch. But nowadays it is mainly made from a mixture of casein protein and acrylonitrile. So it is not an actual organic or natural fabric, as it is semi-synthetic.
Light, soft, comfortable, colorful and elegant, resistant to fungus, good moisture absorption and conductivity, insect and aging. Lustrous and luxurious look, comfortable feels just like silk. It is straightforward to dye and can be dyed at average temperature. It can be well blended with other fibers such as Tencel, Cotton, Bamboo fiber, Model fibers.
Traditional Production Process of Milk Fiber:
Casein protein must be extracted to convert milk waste into fabric. Casein is obtained when milk is acidic. Various sub-processes are used and these are the two main production processes. Both will have the first step of obtaining waste milk.
- The milk is skimmed to remove the fat and then dehydrated and fermented. At this point, it looks like a milk-based protein powder.
- The casein fiber is extracted – the casein coagulates as curd, which is washed and dried and then ground into a fine powder.
- The casein is then dissolved in a caustic soda solution and left to mature. Then it is filtered.
- The spinning solution is then wet spun by extruding it through spinnerets into a coagulating bath.
- Then Filaments coagulate like viscous filaments.
- The fiber is then sent through a chemical treatment to harden it. So as the filaments exit the coagulation bath, they are collected and fixed in formaldehyde solution. At this stage the filaments are drawn.
- The next step is washing and drying, and then it is mechanically crimped before being cut into staple fibers. Casein fiber is produced almost entirely as a staple.
Modern\ Eco-friendly Technique of Milk Fiber Production:
The traditional process used to make milk fiber is not environmentally friendly as it uses many chemicals including some carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde. So the modern method of casein fiber production is being used which is eco-friendly. The modern method of producing casein fibers goes through a process called graft copolymerization. It is chemical inoculation of pure casein with acrylonitrile. It does not require the use of formaldehyde, but acrylonitrile is also toxic. So it still cannot be classified as eco-friendly or sustainable. So a new type of milk is invented called Qmilk which is more environmentally friendly and does not use formaldehyde or any other chemicals has been developed by a German company called QMilch GmbH.
Eco-friendly QMilk Procedure:
Qmilk is a patented, specially designed-manufacturing process. Part of the process includes:
- Heat the casein powder in a meat grinder to 800C.
- Added natural ingredients like zinc and beeswax.
- The fibers come out into strips and are then spun into yarn.
In this way, no formaldehyde is used and certain cost efficiency and minimal CO2 emissions are achieved. It is 100% natural, soft and silky smooth. It fulfils the requirement of skin-friendly and innovative material development.
Uses of Milk Fiber:
Due to the healthy and bacteriostatic nature of milk fiber, it is considered a perfect material for making underwear. Casein/wool blends are used for knitted berets. Casein/ cotton or nylon blends are used in outerwear, T-shirts, cardigans, jumpers, sportswear, sweaters, children’s wear, eye masks, socks and hats, home textile, the automobile industry, medical technology, seat covers etc.
Drawbacks of Milk Fiber:
The main drawback at the moment is the high cost. If cheap production processes are used, it means carcinogenic chemicals are used, which we all want to avoid. It is not strong and has less durability. It gets wrinkled very easily after washing and needs to be ironed every time. Global production of milk cotton yarn is currently minimal. At the moment cloth made from milk is expensive, so it has a limited market.