Difference between man-made and natural fibres

The quality of the fabric used in clothing is influenced by what makes up the fabric content. You have fibres extracted from plants and animals such as cotton, wool, linen, and silk, and then you have man-made fibres such as polyester, acrylic, spandex and rayon.

There is a reason why man-made fibres exist. Throughout history, only the rich could afford the finest clothing, while others had to make do with much poor quality clothing. There was also the fact that disease, wars and famines all impacted clothing production. Natural fibres would become scarce in times of hardship. This is when humans decided to create fibres starting in the mid-18th century. Count Hilaire de Chardonnet showed ‘artificial silk’ in 1889 causing a sensation in the Paris Exhibition, and the rest is history.

Are man-made fibres naturally poorer in quality than natural fibres?

Man-made fibres such as polyester aren’t necessarily poor in quality, because they can be very strong and long lasting. They do however have a negative impact on the environment because they are manufactured with plastics and petrochemicals.

Generally, natural fibres have less strength and durability, whereas manmade fibres offer more strength and durability. This is the reason why clothing made for exercising is made using manmade fibres. Spandex and rayon are commonly used for items, which need to be durable. Man-made fibres are often mixed with natural fibres such as cottons to create durable clothing.

What’s better for comfort?

Clothing made from natural fiber is generally more comfortable and good for health. Cotton is breathable, although the quality of cotton has an impact on that. Wool is soft and breathable too, while man-made fibers are not as comfortable and not considered good for health.

From a commercial perspective, natural fibers offer limited use as compared to man-made fiber. Man-made fibers are used for various purposes and needs beyond just clothing.

What about environmental impact?

Natural fibers are environmentally friendly, while man-made fibers are not environmentally friendly. Some fibers like Polypropylene are harmful for the environment. Man-made fibres are created through an industrial process of combining and/or treating materials with various chemicals to create a fibres. This can have a significantly bad impact on the environment.

There are other differences between man-made and natural fibres such as ease of changing fibre structure and being cheap, which favours man-made fibres.

Both have their uses, but the overuse and buying of man-made fibres has resulted in the growth of environmental damage.

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