Natural fibers are defined as matters produced by plants and animals that can be spun into thread, filament or rope and further be knitted, woven, matted or bound. As garments, they are typically found more comfortable as they allow the skin to breathe better, especially during warm weathers.
What Are Synthetic Fibers
Synthetic fibers are made from chemicals consisting of superior properties to natural fibers such as cotton or silk. Synthetic textiles are made from either inorganic products or a mixture of organic ones and chemicals. Some are found to be profoundly strong and durable, while some dry much quicker than others, or may be more absorbent and easy to dye.
The most common natural fibers in clothing are silk, wool, cotton, and linen. Their often luxurious and soft texture are now easily duplicated and synthesized to a point where a number of consumers have switched to man-made fibers instead of going au naturel. These days, they are substituted for nylon, rayon, polyester, spandex, acrylic, and acetate.
The Versatile Nylon
DuPont introduced nylon in 1935, and its establishment quickly replaced silk, especially when it became scarce during World War II. Shortly after that, synthetic fabrics were preferred by the garment industry since it was also easier to get a hold of.
Nylon clothes and similar products are made from strands of plastic yarn. They are made by melting nylon chips that once liquify, are forced through the fine holes of a nozzle called a spinneret. As the liquid emerges from the holes, it is cooled down so that it solidifies to form tiny threads. These threads are woven together to make fabric.
Nylon is extremely sensitive to heat and should be washed and dried on cool settings. The fabric can also be hung dry, and it is favored by many because of its versatility, flexibility, and rapid drying properties. It is commonly used to make luggage, toothbrushes, carpeting materials and hosieries, just to name a few.
The Peculiar Rayon
Rayon is one of the most peculiar fabrics in commercial use to date. It is not 100% artificial because it is extracted from naturally occurring cellulose. It is not, however, a natural fabric, because cellulose requires extensive processing to become rayon. It is usually classified as a manufactured fiber and considered a regenerated type of cellulose.
Rayon has been in production since the 1880s when it was originally developed as a cheap alternative to silk. DuPont acquired the rights to the process in the 1920s and quickly turned rayon into a household name, churning out yards of the inexpensive, versatile fabric. High tenacity rayon is durable and used mainly in industry, while regular rayon is used to create synthetic clothing.
Rayon drapes just as well as natural silk, is easy to dye, and is highly absorbent. The only downside to this synthetic alternative is that it tends to age poorly. Many rayon products have tendencies to change in color with age and acquire rough textures where the fabric is most heavily worn.
The Mighty Polyester
There are many variations of polyesters, but the most popular is polyethylene terephthalate or PET. Just like nylon and rayon, polyester was discovered in DuPont’s lab in the late 1930s.
To turn polyester into fibers, the plastic is heated and forced through spinnerets. The fibers are stretched to five times their length, typically combined into yarn, and then knitted or weaved into polyester fabrics.
Polyester is one of the most popular types of synthetic fabrics because of its profound durability. It retains its shape, is resistant to most chemicals, rarely suffers from stretching, shrinking and wrinkling, and is mildew and abrasion resistant. It is also hydrophobic in nature which makes it easy to wash and dry.
The Elastic Spandex
Spandex is a lightweight, synthetic fabric with unique properties that make it suitable for sports apparel. The fabric can expand up to 600% and spring back without losing its integrity. Over time, the fibers do tend to become exhausted due to heavy wear and tear. Unlike many other synthetic fabrics, spandex is a polyurethane, which is responsible for its peculiarly elastic qualities.
A variety of raw materials is used to produce elastic spandex fibers. This includes prepolymers which produce the backbone of the fiber, stabilizers which protect the integrity of the polymer, and colorants.
Spandex is a popular choice for sports apparel and is used to create dri fit tops and cycling pants. It is also commonly used to make bathing suits, wetsuits, and surgical compression garments because of its ability to wick moisture. It is a great alternative to natural fibers, which tend to be bulkier.
The Woolly Acrylic
Wool is a type of natural fiber resourced from sheep shearings. However, as time progresses, many have been less keen on wearing an animal behind their backs to keep warm. Acrylic, on the other hand, is purely synthetic and closely resembles the characteristics of wool.
Acrylic fiber consists of acrylonitrile and a comonomer. The comonomer is added to improve its dyeability and textile processability. Wet spinning and dry spinning are two ways the fabric is materialized.
Acrylic fabric is widely used in knitting to create sweaters and socks, or woven to make rugs. It is an excellent substitute for wool, and certain forms of it are exceptionally soft while remaining lightweight. Certain cashmere substitutes are also made with acrylic fabric and are considered equally as good or even better than cashmere in softness and appearance.
The Luxurious Acetate
Acetate is often a replacement for shiny, soft, and luxurious fabrics. It is commonly used to make drapes, curtains, and other home decor items, along with being used for clothing and furniture linings.
Acetate fabrics are made with spun filaments of cellulose taken from wood pulp. It is often mixed with silk, cotton, or wool to make it stronger. Initially, certain fumes and pollutants caused the fabric to fade or discolor. While chemists solved the issues so the fabric could be easily dyed, some acetates still discolor when exposed to pollutants.
This popular fabric is favored for its high luster, elegant feel, and ability to hang effortlessly. It is also quick drying and shrink resistant, mildew resistant, generates little to no static, does not pill, and is available in multiple sheens and colors.