Natural Fibers vs. Synthetic Fibers: Fabrics Guide (2022)
What are the differences between natural fibers and synthetic fibers? Here’s an extensive guide to understanding the advantages and disadvantages of two types of fabrics.
The garment industry has welcomed changes and innovations in recent years. This made way for hundreds of new textile materials to enter the industry. The technology and advancements in the industry have allowed manufacturers to utilize new methods as well. But since the earlier stages of the garment industry, we separate all fibers into two main categories, natural and synthetic.
There are also fabrics that contain both natural resources and chemical additives. The blend of the two is called semi-synthetic fibers.
What is the difference between natural and synthetic fibers?
Natural fibers are obtained from animals or plants. These cellulose-based fibers form in nature in an organic process. Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, are man-made materials that go through a complex process that include chemicals.
Both the fabric types have their advantages and disadvantages over each other. When talking about their differences, topics like sustainability, production methods, and textile features come into the equation. Their certain characteristics are also quite important when discussing their similarities and differences.
Types of Natural Fibers
We will delve into the differences between natural and synthetic fibers. But before that, it is best to list natural fibers and categorize them based on their sources.
Natural fibers have two main sources, animals and plants. The best examples of the former are silk and wool. Silk fabric is obtained from silkworms whereas wool can be obtained from a wide variety of animals.
Here’s a list of key facts on natural fibers.
Natural fibers are more expensive than their synthetic counterparts.
They are also easier to dye thanks to their naturally occurring fibers
They do not contain chemicals or toxic additives as well.
They are not as resistant as synthetic fibers in most cases.
Their uses are limited.
Natural fibers do not damage biodiversity and preserve soil quality.
Apparels made from natural fabrics feel soft.
They are also safer for the skin and have less possibility to cause skin allergies.
Fibers like cotton, flax, jute, sisal, hemp, and bagasse are examples to plant fibers. Abaca, coir, and ramie are also among the major plant fibers that are woven or knit into fabrics.
Cotton is in the heart of the textile industry as it accounts for about 40% of clothing production around the world. Its soft, durable, breathable, and absorbent texture makes it the ultimate clothing material.
That being said, the conventional methods of growing cotton take a toll on the environment. But the textile industry continues to depend on it as it has been doing for the last hundred years. On the other hand, the investments in organic cotton and recycled cotton make way for better and more sustainable production methods.
Linen is one of the most reliable natural fabrics. Made from the flax plant, linen is quite absorbent and very durable. It is also resistant to moisture, which makes it hypoallergenic and unsuitable for bacteria growth.
Clothes made from linen do not trap heat and overwhelm the skin. Thanks to its ability to withstand even the highest temperatures, linen is also a great choice for summer clothes and activewear.
Silk has been an embodiment of luxury since ancient times. This elite fabric is known for its beauty and high cost. Alongside its shiny texture, silk is also a very strong fiber as it does not rip easily or lose its shape.
Though it tends to get weakened in regular use. That’s why silk is a perfect material for exquisite dresses or luxurious furniture.
Types of Synthetic Fibers
Synthetic fibers are man-made fibers that are obtained through sophisticated chemical production. Their main purpose is to meet the demand for natural fibers. Also known as artificial fibers, they substitute for their natural counterparts with their easier and cheaper manufacturing as well.
Synthetic fibers are an integral part of the modern textile industry. They are very durable and resistant to most stains. Unlike clothes made from natural fabrics, synthetic fiber clothes are resistant to water and light as well. Yet, of course, they lack the soft and natural touch of their rivals. Apparels made from these fabrics do not feel comfortable.
Here’s the takeaway on artificial fibers.
Apparels made from synthetic fibers offer less comfort.
Their quality depends on the manufacturer.
Clothes made from these types of fibers are long-lasting.
They require a wide array of chemicals to become strong and durable.
They are the first preference of manufacturers because of the low production costs.
These fabrics are also quite versatile. That’s why the uses of synthetic fibers are a lot more than natural fibers.
Polyester is one of the most widely known and used synthetic fabrics in the fashion industry. Known as polyethylene terephthalate, the man-made fiber has been in our lives for more than 80 years. It has been one of the most prominent synthetic fibers as it has a variety of uses both in fashion and other industries.
From bags to upholstery, home furniture to clothing, this chemically produced fiber is cheap to produce as well. While its production costs are cheap, the production of polyester has immensely harmful impacts on the environment. Like many other synthetic textile materials, the petrochemicals used in manufacturing affect the environment and the health of laborers.
Also known as polyamide, nylon is a widely used synthetic fabric created as a liquid. The fiber is then formed into individual fibers through spinning until it takes its fabric form.
Nylon is a relatively expensive synthetic fiber known for its durability and strength. It is one of the most durable man-made fibers. These features make nylon an ideal textile material for carpets, upholstery, raincoats, activewear, and swimwear. The fabric’s exceptional strength makes it resistant to rough handling as well.
Similar to other examples of man-made textile materials, nylon’s production results in the emission of greenhouse gases. The plastic-based fiber is very energy-intensive and it accounts for about 5% of all volume in production.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made out of wood pulp. It is manufactured through a complex process that includes various chemicals. Regardless of the number of chemicals used in manufacturing, rayon falls under the category of semi-synthetic fibers. That’s because the rayon is produced from polymers that naturally occur.
The fabric’s certain characteristics include high absorbency and versatility. Even though it is not quite durable, clothes made feel comfortable and have a cool touch on the skin. It also feels similar to silk even though it is not a long-lasting fabric.
There are many topics to delve into when we talk about natural fibers vs. synthetic fibers. Both of them have different values in the garment industry. Both of them are indeed integral parts of apparel production around the world. But the lack of sustainability in synthetic fibers causes manufacturers to utilize eco-friendly approaches.
And the new trends in the industry indicate that the volume of producing natural fibers will increase in the future. With the rising concerns for sustainability, more consumers prefer environmentally friendly products. That, of course, encourages the growth and production of fibers like organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp while also emphasizing recycling.