Synthetic Fibres - Types & Examples

Synthetic Fibres and Natural Fibres

What are Fibres?

Fibres are substances used to manufacture materials and fabrics such as cables, wires, clothes, curtains, and bedsheets. They are usually long, thin, and flexible, making them appropriate for manufacturing bendable, strong materials. Some of the most common types of fibres are cotton, silk, jute, linen, nylon, rayon etc. 

During manufacturing, several filaments of fibres come together to build a single product. For example, a cotton towel will require thousands of strands of processed cotton (a type of natural fibre) for its manufacturing. This is typically done in weaving factories.

Although fibres are mainly used in textiles, it should be noted that they have applications in almost all fields. Manufacturing of furniture, automobile, packaging, military devices, aerospace equipment, and other products that are used in day to day lives are some of the most common applications. Fibres are everywhere, making them an important part of modern life.

Types of Fibres

Depending upon the origin of the fibre, it is classified mainly into two types:

  • Natural fibres

  • Synthetic fibres

Natural fibre is anything that is procured from a natural source. An example of this type of fibre is cotton which is sourced from cotton seeds that grow on plants. Made of cellulose, an insoluble substance, cotton is fluffy and one of the most common fabrics used today to manufacture clothing materials. Both these types have subcategories. While natural fibres are sourced from vegetables, animals, and plants, synthetic (or manmade) fibres are produced using composition of chemical substances. 

Natural Fibres

Natural fibres may be sourced from plants and animals. They are usually processed and turned into yarn, which can then be converted into a product. Natural fibres like cotton are preferred for clothing materials due to their physical properties. They are usually soft and lightweight, making them a sought-after type in textiles.

Image 1: Natural Fibre: Cotton

Other than textiles, natural fibres are also widely used in non-textile applications. However, it should be noted that natural fibres are thinner and have less strength when compared with synthetic fibres.

Examples of Natural Fibres

Some of the most common types of natural fibres are listed below:

  • Cotton – a ubiquitous material, it is obtained from cotton seeds and is widely used for textiles. Cotton is soft and lightweight, thus making it a comfortable fibre for clothing materials. All of this has increased its demand in the marketplace

  • Silk – obtained from an insect, it is produced from the substance used to form a cocoon

  • Jute – a stronger fibre among cotton, silk and jute, it is obtained from plants and used to create sacks and other packaging materials.

  • Wool – obtained from sheep and other furry animals, it is preferred for cloth manufacturing due to its capacity to hold heat. Preferred by people living in regions with cold climate, wool is also a very common clothing fibre

Synthetic Fibres

Also known as manmade or artificial fibres, these are produced through chemical synthesis. Synthetic fibres were first developed in the nineteenth century. One of the main reasons for their creation was the need for stronger fibres that could withstand a lot of pressure. A lot of these fibres have extended use other than textiles.

Image 2: Synthetic fibre: Nylon 

Examples of Synthetic Fibres

Some of the most common types of synthetic fibres are listed below:

  • Rayon – a type of semisynthetic material, it is made from combining wood pulp (cellulose), carbon disulphide, and sodium hydroxide. It is used as an imitation of natural fibres like cotton and silk. There are also various subtypes of rayon.

  • Nylon – one of the most common synthetic fibre, it is entirely made of chemical processes. 

  • Polyester – another common manmade fibre, it is made chemically through plant proteins and is widely used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles. Its high strength and longer shelf life are the top characteristics

Several more types of synthetic fibres are used for non-textile purposes. These are dacron, lyocell, modal, PAN, asbestos, spandex, and polyurethane. Some of these are mixed with natural fibres to create advanced fabrics that have both their characteristics. An example of this method is a stretchable fabric that is used for shirting and other clothing materials. It not only improves the look and feel but also adds to the quality.

Advantages of Synthetic Fibres

As mentioned above, synthetic fibres are preferred over natural fibres because of their advantages such as high strength and low making cost. This aligns with the exact need of why manmade fibres were invented in the first place.

In the twenty-first century, synthetic fibres make up for a large part of textiles due to the various advantages attached to them. This includes low cost, higher manufacturing profits, and higher strength that would extend their applications.

Some of these advantages are described in detail below:

  • High strength – Plastic is one of the most popular types of synthetic fibres. It is so because of its series of positive qualities, one of which is strength. Plastic bottles, for instance, are stronger than those made from paper or wood. This same property is what gives synthetic fibres an upper edge over natural fibres

  • Low cost and easy manufacturing – Manmade fibres can be mass-produced at a relatively lower cost than it takes to produce natural fibres. Moreover, natural fibres require a longer process while manmade ones can be produced in a factory in lesser time. For example, cotton not only requires processing in the industry but also the time it needs for the plant to germinate, grow, and bear the seed that contains the cotton

  • Customization – One of the advantages of synthetic fibres is that they can be engineered to suit the needs. If a particular product requires the fibre to be less susceptible to breaking, it can be engineered through chemical or physical manipulation of the polymer

Most of today’s products, including clothing materials, use amalgamated fibres. As noted above, this allows the fabric or the combined substance to have the properties of both the fibres.