Textile chemistry can generally be divided into three major areas: dyeing and finishing chemistry, fiber and polymer chemistry, and a newer area that intersects with materials science and involves the blending of textile materials. In the textile business, chemists work in R&D, process development, process modification, technical services, environmental testing, and dyeing and finishing operations.
The application of textile chemistry is always business and product oriented. Chemists may work in the lab, in the plant, in multidisciplinary teams, or with customers finding out about their needs and developing new products. As the business becomes more global, scientists in this field must be willing to travel and to adjust quickly to different cultures and different markets.
Chemists are employed globally by chemical companies that manufacture the basic polymers from which synthetic fibers are made. They also are employed by small dyeing houses that dye yarns, fiber, fabric, and carpets. Chemistry is important in all functions, but the technical content tends to be more challenging in the polymer chemistry side than in the dyeing and finishing end.
Textile chemists are generally persons interested in the intersection between chemistry and the kind of engineering that goes into textile marketing. They enjoy the modification and improvement of basic polymers and like using their knowledge of materials to solve problems.
Many chemists in the field are trained as polymer chemists. Although a number of schools specialize in textile chemistry, a textile degree is not a prerequisite for employment in the field. Important courses of study include organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and colloid chemistry. Understanding the manufacturing process and familiarity with chemical engineering are important prerequisites to employment.
The job outlook is mixed for textile chemists in the United States but is more promising internationally. Some significant positions for bright students still exist in the U.S. today. Materials science is an example of an area offering excellent and challenging new opportunities. Harder to find are jobs at dye companies; there are still a few U.S.-based dye companies, but many have moved offshore.
To find out what chemists earn in your area, refer to the ACS Salary Comparator. Use of the ACS Salary Comparator (member-only benefit). General information about salaries in chemical professions can be obtained through published survey reports.