Synthetic fibers have many fantastic advantages compared to natural fibers. They are among the world's most used fibers for textiles in many growing industries.
Synthetic and chemically made fibers commonly used for fashion include synthetics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers, such as viscose, rayon, modal, and lyocell.
The single most notable advantage of synthetic fibers is their low cost compared to other types of textiles. However, synthetic fabrics aren't the most environmentally friendly.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages synthetic fibers have over natural fibers.
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Synthetic fibers are very versatile and affordable materials. They are very cheap to produce and have fantastic properties compared to natural fibers.
Synthetic fibers have conquered the world and are found in many applications today. One of the most successful synthetic fibers is polyester.
Ease of use
Synthetic fibers have many benefits and steadily gained a more prominent market share because of their ease of use. Chemically made materials are not only cheaper but also easier to combine and mold into different fabrics.
Artificial fibers are easier to wash, clean, and dry. They are available in more styles, patterns, and colors than natural fibers can. Synthetic fibers like polyethylene are the most widely used plastics today.
Synthetic fibers are considered more durable than natural fibers. Most thermoplastic polymers contain different crystalline structures from petroleum-based plastics.
Synthetic fibers can have very high density, tensile strength, resilience, and durability. They have good abrasion and chemical resistance with advantageous physical and mechanical properties. They also resist cuts, ripping, and tearing.
Synthetic fibers are strong, elastic, and lightweight. The stretching of polymer chains causes fibers to extend then return to their original size and shape.
Synthetic fibers are very elastic materials and become easier to stretch over time. They have internal resistance to deformation under an applied load.
Synthetic fibers are more colorfast than natural fibers. Manufacturers can easily dye synthetic fibers in many brilliant colors. The dyeing of artificial textile materials also resists fading.
Fabrics made from synthetic fibers have a strong binding force between dye and the fibers. They can resist running and maintain bright colors under washing, exposure to sunlight, moisture, wear and tear.
Synthetic fibers have good wrinkle resistance. While natural fibers wrinkle easily, artificial fabrics are lightweight, durable, and resistant to abrasion, wrinkles, and creases.
Synthetic fibers stay wrinkle-free much longer than natural fibers. They have high flexibility, which makes them maintain smoothness over long periods.
Synthetic fibers capture heat well and are highly resistant to sunlight and UV degradation. They can resist high temperatures without showing substantial damage.
Synthetic fibers resist hot and humid weather very well. They have high water resistance, can even be water repellant or waterproof, and are quick-drying, unlike many natural fibers such as cotton or wool.
Synthetic fabrics are ideal for staying dry and protected from humidity. They endure water splashes and even moving through the water much better than natural fabrics.
Unlike most natural fibers, synthetic fibers are resistant to attacks from moths, mildew, bacteria, molds, insects, fungi, and many everyday chemicals.
Lower water footprint
Synthetic fibers don't require much water in production compared to natural fibers. They have a low water footprint and don't contribute to global water scarcity as much as regular cotton farming.
Disadvantages of synthetic fibers
Fabrics made of synthetic fibers aren't breathable at all. They limit airflow considerably and lead to overly high body temperatures in hot climates by repelling water and capturing heat.
Synthetic fibers can also be easily flammable. Avoid wearing synthetic clothing while cooking, welding, or playing with fireworks.
Synthetic fibers are hazardous to your health. Some fibers like acrylic contain carcinogens and mutagens that target the central nervous system, with similar effects to cyanide.
Synthetic fibers are toxic to your skin. They may lead to cancers as they enter your body through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation.
Synthetic fibers can be damaging to the environment. Regular polyester and nylon production aren't eco-friendly or sustainable. They require tons of energy and toxic chemicals.
Synthetic fiber manufacturing drains resources, generates waste, contributes to global warming, involves harmful substances that ruin biodiversity, and endanger human health.
Synthetic fibers' environmental impact is extensively negative. They further increase our consumption of fossil fuels and dependency.
They aren't biodegradable and take hundreds of years to decompose. As they break down, they release toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Synthetic fibers also release plastic microfibers into the environment and toxic chemicals that harm workers and ecosystems surrounding manufacturing facilities.
Uses of synthetic fibers
In the fashion industry, synthetic fabrics like polyester make all kinds of garments, knitwear, sportswear, loungewear, nightwear, undergarments, and accessories.
You can also find synthetic fabrics like nylon in homeware, furniture, upholstery, home decor, bedding, automotive, agriculture, and industrial applications.
Synthetic acrylic fabrics are viable wool replacements. They are popular in knitting as a durable and affordable knitting material for many amateur knitters.
Polyurethane is a widely used alternative for animal leather. Pure fabrics made of polyurethane only are cruelty-free and completely synthetic.
Polyethylene fiber is a common ingredient found in ropes, carpeting, upholstery, bags, packaging, apparel, textiles, wallpapers, draperies, curtains, and cosmetics.
Polypropylene is a synthetic fiber used in many industrial applications, including the upholstery and apparel industries, in filters, face masks, and performance textiles.
Polystyrene is a common ingredient found in bottles, containers, bags, packaging, cases, cutlery, apparel, and textiles, in multiple forms such as solid or foam.
Neoprene is a popular and widely used synthetic rubber to make waterproof clothes and accessories.
Semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers, like viscose, rayon, acetate, modal, lyocell, and cupro, are extremely versatile. They are becoming increasingly popular and slowly progressively replacing fully synthetic fabrics.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.