Jute fabric was modified using acrylic acid (AA) as the finishing agent in the presence of K 2 S 2 O 8 and Na 3 PO 4 catalysts separately or in selected combinations, employing a pad-dry-cure technique. Treatment with 10% acrylic acid at 30°C and at pH 7 produced optimum effects: a batching time of 45-60 min at 30°C, followed by drying of the batched fabric at 95°C for 5 min and curing of the dried fabric at 140°C for 5 min produced most balanced improvements in the textile related properties. Na 3 PO 4 catalyst allowed esterification of AA with cellulosic, hemicellulosic, and lignin constituents of jute, and K 2 S 2 O 8 catalyst allowed radical polymerization of free acrylic acid or jute-bound acrylic acid moieties; the said processes ultimately lead to some degree of crosslinking of the chain polymers of jute. Examination of the surface morphology of untreated and treated jute fabrics by scanning electron microscopy revealed a good degree of masking effect on the unit cells of jute and intercellular regions by a cohesive film of polyacrylic acid or its salts, particularly when K 2 S 2 O 8 was used either alone or in combination with Na 3 PO 4 as catalyst. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.