Clothing Fibers: Natural vs Synthetic


Natural Fibers

Natural fibers are made from natural materials found in the earth. They are composed of animal-based or plant-based fibers. They have been used to make clothing for thousands of years.

Types of Natural Fibers


Cotton is the most used textile fiber in the world. It is first cleaned and bleached. Then it is spun into threads and woven to be made into a fabric. This process is mostly done by machine.

Advantages: It is breathable, inexpensive, and static resistant. It can withstand high heat. Cotton is also comfortable, strong, and abrasion resistant.

Disadvantages: It’s prone to shrinking, stretching and it dries slowly. It also isn’t wrinkle resistant.


Linen is one of the oldest textile fibers. It is made of fiber from a flax plant and is very difficult to harvest.

Advantages: It is the world’s strongest natural fiber. Linen is very easy to clean and can absorb 20 percent of its weight before feeling damp. Also, linen uses natural dyes which are healthier for the environment. It is a very breathable fabric.

Disadvantages: It can very expensive and it has a long extraction time. Also, it takes a lot of chemicals to turn fibers into a fabric.


Silk is made from silkworms, a type of caterpillar. The fibers are harvested by heating with them with steam. They are then spun to make long threads.

Advantages: Silk is very soft and smooth. A strong but lightweight fabric. It has great luster, is resilient and elastic. Also, it is stain resistant and moisture absorbent.

Disadvantages: Silk is very expensive and degrades over time. It builds up static electricity easily and sunlight can weaken its fibers. Perspiration can also deteriorate and discolor its dyes.


Wool is sheared from sheep and then spin into long strands. These strands are then woven into the fabric. Wool is the most reusable and recyclable fiber on earth. It also biodegrades rapidly.

Advantages: It is a great insulator. It has a natural resistance to fire and temperature extremes. Wool can also hold moisture without feeling wet.

Disadvantages: Wool is sometimes scratchy and can be uncomfortable to wear. Heat and moisture can also cause it to felt.

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers are man-made and produced entirely from chemicals. They are known for a cheaper manufacturing process. They are commonly referred to as plastic fibers.

Types of Synthetic Fibers


Nylon is a polymer fiber, a plastic with long and heavy molecules built up of short repeating sections of atoms. The streams of nylon harden once they come in contact with the air. Nylon is also one of the strongest textile materials.

Advantages: It is very versatile and has good wear resistance. It is resistant at soiling and can absorb oil and grease. Nylon is good at handling excessive temperatures and dries quickly.

Disadvantages: It lacks dimensional stability and is not very good at absorbing water. Nylon attracts electricity. This causes it to attract dirt and lint. It can have problems with bleaching and fading since it is often acid dyed.


Polyester is a fiber made from coal, air, water, and petroleum. It is formed from a chemical reaction between acid and alcohol.

Advantages: It is a wrinkle-free fabric. Polyester is very good at holding its shaping. This makes it easy to retain heat pressed pleats and creases. It is also hard to stain and has a strong mildew resistance.

Disadvantage: It can be uncomfortable and feel hot and sticky. Polyester is also highly shrinkable and absorbs dust. It also absorbs dyes very poorly.


Acrylic is often referred to as artificial wool. It can be either be wet or dry spun. It uses solvents to dissolve the polymers. Then it solidifies them for the spinning process.

Advantages: It is soft, flexible and has a wool-like texture. It is resistant to shrinkage and wrinkling. Acrylic is also easy to clean. It also retains color very well and is resistant to mildew and insects.

Disadvantages: It is poor at insulation. It is not abrasion resistant and is known to pill. Acrylic also melts as it burns.


Rayon is technically neither a synthetic or natural fiber. It is a manufactured fiber from naturally occurring cellulose.

Advantages: It is a strong and absorbent fiber. It can withstand high temperatures. Rayon is cheap and environmentally friendly. It also drapes very well.

Disadvantages: It wrinkles easily and is prone to shrinking. It is poor at abrasion resistance and loses its strength when it is wet. Rayon also fades when in the sun.


Spandex is made of a long chain polymer called polyurethane. This is produced by polyester reacting with a diisocyanate. This polymer is created into a fiber by a dry spinning technique.

Advantages: It has great elasticity. Spandex is lightweight and comfortable to wear. It is durable, strong, and abrasion-resistant. Spandex is inexpensive and also resistant to deterioration by body oils and perspiration. It also has very little to no damage from the needle when sewing.

Disadvantages: It sticks to your body and is not very breathable. It is also sensitive to heat and slippery on surfaces.


Acetate is made from biodegrading and naturally occurring substances, especially wood shaving. It is one of the most versatile fabrics.

Advantages: It resembles silk and has a luxurious feel. It is resistant to shrinkage and wrinkling. Acetate also is very pliable. It is good for draping.

Disadvantages: It is a weak fiber and requires gentle care. It is heat sensitive. Also, perfumes containing alcohol can melt the fibers. The dyes can fade or bleed.

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