The wet strength of paper and paperboard is a measure of how well the web of fibers holding the paper together can resist a force of rupture when the paper is wet. Wet strength is routinely expressed as the ratio of wet to dry tensile force at break.
The cellulose fibreweb of paper is mainly held together by hydrogen bonds. These are dependent on physical contact between the fibres and can be broken by wetting of the fibres. The residual strength of a wetted paper can be less than 10% of the original strength.
Various techniques, such as refining of the pulp and wet pressing on the paper machine can be used to reduce the strength loss of the paper upon wetting. To improve the wet strength it is common to use chemicals. The use of chemicals can retain as much as 10% to 30% of the original dry strength of the paper. The wet strength chemicals may improve the dry strength of the paper as well.
Wet strength chemicals
Different wet strength chemicals are in use, like wet strength resins or neutral sizing agents. Normal wet strength resins are: urea-formaldehyde (UF), melamine-formaldehyde (MF) and polyamide-epichlorohydrin (PAE). Neutral sizing agents are alkylketene dimers (AKD) and alkenylsuccinic anhydride (ASA). In recent years, efforts have been devoted to develop environmentally friendly wet strength resins from renewable resources.
A wide range of paper materials are wet strengthened:
Recycling of wet strengthened paper requires higher intensity reworking conditions in the re-pulping process to break the fibre web. Some wet strength papers are not considered recyclable.
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