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How it Happened: The inspiring story behind Scotchgard Fabric Protector

Last week, I introduced a new column to you: How it Happened. We took a look at how the military influenced the invention of the drive-thru window. This week, we’re looking at something just as useful, but a little different, Scotchgard Fabric Protector.

I’ve used Scotchgard™ Fabric Protector countless times, both in our stix-n-brix home and inside our RV. One easy spray application and this miracle-in-a-can will protect upholstery from everyday spills and stains. You can even use it on delicate fabrics like silk and wool. We’ve had it applied to carpets and we’ve sprayed it onto curtains, sofa pillows, and RV dinette seating. Scotchgard works like a charm, constantly protecting fabric from whatever potential catastrophe might drop or splatter on it.

Scotchgard Fabric Protector was invented by accident—literally!

It’s hard to believe that Scotchgard was invented by accident, but it’s true! In 1953, two scientists were working to produce a new kind of rubber material for jet fuel lines. Patsy Sherman and her lab partner, Sam Smith, worked tirelessly on their assignment, mixing different compounds together in the 3M labs where they worked. One day, a lab assistant accidentally spilled a beaker of a new chemical compound on her shoe. Upset by the spill, the assistant tried to remove the material with soap, alcohol, and a variety of other solvents. Nothing worked!

Patsy was intrigued. Not only was the fluorochemical mix impossible to remove, but it also seemed to repel oil, water, and other liquids, as well. (This was evident because the assistant’s shoe remained clean wherever the chemical mixture had spilled, while other areas not affected by the spill got dirty.) Sam and Patsy spent the next several years investigating the accidental compound and their research led to what we know today as Scotchgard.

What’s in this stuff?

What’s in the compound that makes Scotchgard? It’s a mixture of fluorochemical polymers, or, in laymen’s terms, made up of particles that are sticky on one side, making it able to cling to fabric, and slippery enough on the other side to resist spots and stains. When applied to carpet and other fibers, the Scotchgard formula surrounds individual fibers and prevents water, oil, or other liquids from passing through.

Inside an inventor’s mind

Patsy Sherman is almost as intriguing as Scotchgard itself. While in high school, Patsy’s aptitude test indicated that she was best suited to life as a housewife. Patsy disagreed and insisted on taking the males’ aptitude test. This test showed that Patsy was well-suited to a career in math or science. Patsy and Sam were patient and determined souls, as well. Their discovery in 1953 was not refined and patented until 1971!

When asked about the qualifications to become an inventor, Patsy wisely replied: “Anyone can become an inventor as long as they keep an open and inquiring mind and never overlook the possible significance of an accident or apparent failure.” Great advice, isn’t it?

##RVT1037

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California Travel Videos
7 months ago

Great story and reminder for us RVers to consider responsibly using on our clothes, shoes, sofas, carpets, etc.

Tom Speirs
8 months ago

Too bad it’s considered a forever chemical like the fire fighting chemicals found in groundwater around airports.

Gene L
8 months ago

I live in Minnesota with 3M factories all around me, and PFAS in our ground water. Millions of dollars have been spent to clean it up.

Skip
8 months ago

Great stories. Please keep writing them.

Chic Sanders
8 months ago

Need another story along these lines check out the discovery of Teflon.

William Semion
8 months ago

Until it stopped including it in 2020, Scotchguard contained the “forever chemical” PFAS.

William Semion
8 months ago
Reply to  William Semion

There is no known “safe” level of PFAS

Terry Treman
8 months ago
Reply to  William Semion

I wondered about the PFAS while reading the article. It seemed pretty one sided to not mention it

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