Synthetic textile fibers

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Our clothes are made of either natural fibers or synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are made of polymers. The word polymer refers to a chemical substance composed of molecules that form long repeating chains, a characteristic that is useful in synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are made of chemicals that are often derived from coal or petroleum. Depending on the type of fabric, these chemicals are combined with acids and alcohol, sometimes heated, and then extruded, a process in which a chemical substance is pushed through a die or nozzle to form long threads. Like plastic bags, which also derive from petroleum, petroleum fibers are not biodegradable. Furthermore, according to ScienceDaily man-made fabrics are treated with thousands of harmful toxic chemicals during production. Some of the toxins, some added to keep your clothes wrinkle free, found in clothes with synthetic fibers include formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals (Teflon). Another problem with synthetic fibers is that they don't breathe, making them a bad choice for anyone with skin problems, such as eczema. 

in this blog post I will cover some of the main man-made fabrics. In a later post I will talk about natural textile fibers.

Man-made fabrics:

Nylon: Nylon is the first synthetic fiber and was shown at the World's Fair by chemist Du Pont who invented the fiber. It is petroleum based and receives chemical treatments using caustic soda, sulfuric acid and formaldehyde during its manufacturing. Nylon, both strong and lightweight, quickly replaced silk and wool for women's stockings, because silk ran easily and wool was hot and scratchy. Today nylon is mostly used in swimwear, luggage, performance wear and stockings. 

Polyester:  Polyester is the most popular synthetic fiber and it is estimated that by the year 2020 the demand for polyester fiber will be almost 100 million metric tons a year. It is a polymer which is produced from coal, water, air and petroleum products. Because it is very cheap and flexible it´s a popular fiber used in the fast fashion industry, but it is also very widely used in athletic wear and fleece is made out of polyester. It is strong and resistant to stretching and shrinkage. It dries quickly, it is resilient both when dry and wet, it is wrinkle and abrasion resistant, and it retains heat-set pleats and creases well. Polyester is also one of the least environmentally friendly fabrics to produce and probably the worst one to wear for your skin.

Spandex/Lycra/elastane/: Spandex and Lycra are the brand names of elastane and is made of at least 85% of the polymer polyurethane. Elastane is used for its exceptional elasticity in active wear, swimwear, bras, skinny jeans, wetsuits etc. It absorbs moisture and body oils. 

Acrylic: Acrylic is a polymer fiber that has a lightweight, soft, warm, and wool-like feel and is primarily used as a substitute for wool as it gives the same bulk and look as wool, but with none of the natural properties of wool (like itchiness and shrinkage). The key ingredient of acrylic fiber is acrylonitrile, also called vinyl cyanide, which is a highly poisonous compound. However, acrylic tends to fuzz or pill easily, and it isn’t nearly as warm. It also builds up static and can irritate the skin of people who suffer from eczema.

Rayon: Rayon is a manufactured fiber made from wood pulp that is treated with hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing. The different types and grades of rayon can imitate the feel and texture of natural fibers such as silk, wool, cotton, and linen.

Polychloroprene/Neoprene: Neoprene, the brand name of polychloroprene, is a synthetic rubber made from a petroleum or limestone derivative. It is a polymer used in wet suits, adhesives and velcro. Neoprene is made of chloroprene, a toxic and possibly carcinogenic compound. Neoprene itself is not considered toxic, but gases from neoprene production may be hazardous, and some adhesives containing neoprene may cause skin sensitivity.


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