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Natural and Synthetic Fibres and Their Properties

Natural Fibres


Different fibres have a number of differentiating characteristics, in terms of their properties, which are sometimes similar to each other (Cook 1984). For the purpose of quality development in textiles and fibres, there is a need to study and analyze these properties, as well as comparing them. In addition, there is a need to analyse the properties of these materials, so as to meet the environmental safety requirements. Such environmental requirements include the negative impacts of the manufacturing processes of the fibres, on the environment. The most common fibres currently used in the world, are natural fibres, such as cotton, bamboo and hemp, which are found in most parts of the world (Humphries 2004).

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Properties of cellulose fibres

Cotton fibre

Due to the high quality of the cotton and its characteristics, it has the desirable properties, which include softness, high absorbent and static resistance. In addition, it has other good properties, which make it a good fibre material, which can be used in a number of industrial processes to manufacture quality textiles. These qualities include its ability to maintain its quality when it has been dried. It is also easy to wash the cotton textile material, and it can withstand thermal washing, as well as dry cleaning, in environments with thermal conditions (Waite 2009).

Bamboo fibre

Bamboo fibres, on the other hand, have a number of characteristics, which make them a good option. These properties include its smooth and cool texture for handling, which makes it an equal option as an alternative for cotton. Also, bamboo has an excellent wear comfort property, which makes it special to use. These properties are attributed to the fact that the bamboo fibre, comes from the cellulose, which has been made from bamboo plant pulp. The advantage of using bamboo fibre is that it does not hold any chemical additives, and it has other properties that make it a better material to use (Robyn 2003).

Hemp fibre

Hemp fibres are more resistant to alkalis than Bamboo. Also, hemp fibres do not favour micro-organisms, which can be attributed to the ability of these fibres, to absorb more water. This property of high absorbance discourages odours, as well as life sustainability of microorganisms (Abu-Rous, Ingolic & Schuster 2006). Hemp can be used for producing soft, lustrous, and cool fabric.

Comparing the performance characteristics between Cotton, Bamboo and Hemp

Major properties that need comparison amongst these fibres include structure, length, fineness and way of handling. To start with, the cotton fibre is short and stable, usually with an average of 50mm. Also, the cotton fibre is stiff and hard. On the contrary, the bamboo fibre is a regenerated cellulose fibre, made from bamboo pulp. Bamboo fibre has a variety of lengths, ranging from the longest of 80-90mm, and the shortest of about 30-40mm. In addition, bamboo fibre has a smooth surface. Moreover, bamboo fibre has a round shape and a high whiteness and thinness level, as compared to cotton and hemp. Unlike cotton, the bamboo fibre has a softer touch, silky look, and a breathable feeling (Liese 2001; Barber 1992).

Cotton, bamboo and hemp, have different effects in acids, sunlight, alkalis and micro-organisms. In alkalis, cotton has higher resistance than hemp, but hemp, can with some alkaline environment less than PH 14, lead to the destruction of the fibre. Bamboo can be affected by it. In sunlight, cotton and hemp have good resistance, compared to the poor reaction of bamboo to direct sunlight. On the other hand, if cotton is attacked by acid fumes, there are high chances that the material will get damaged quickly. Hemp can be damaged easily by strong acids, like cotton. On the contrary, Bamboo has a higher resistance to the acidic fumes than Hemp and cotton.

Hemp is fairly resistant to micro-organisms attacks, compared to cotton, but in watery environments, the fibre gives poor environments, that favour micro-organism’s survival. This is due to the fact that when the hemp fibre has high water content, it does not support micro-organism growth, since it does not have odour formation. The manufacturing process for these materials are different, thus the price for production for all the materials is different, in that cotton production is cheaper than that of bamboo and hemp.

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Although these materials have a number of differences, there are some similarities which make the materials comparable as alternatives to cotton. All the materials have good quality in strength, but bamboo and hemp are stronger. Hemp fibres can withstand high temperatures. Cotton fibre based textile materials have good thermal properties, while bamboo has good ironing properties, which make the materials an equal alternative to cotton fibres. In terms of thermal properties, cotton is a good conductor of heat (Barber 1994).

Performance and characteristics for approval end use

In most cases, the most preferable fibre material for the manufacture of tops and T-shirts is Cotton fibre. This is attributable to a number of performance characteristics that are in these fibre-based fabrics. These characteristics that make the material suitable include easy to machine wash, dyes well, and have medium strength.

In addition, cotton-based fibre T-shirts and Tops can absorb moisture when worn. Lastly, naturally coloured cotton-based fibre T-shirts and Tops, are unique and they are different from white cotton, hence they do not require dying. With the advance in technology and price comparison, other materials such as hemp and bamboo based fibres have been to manufacture T-shirts and Tops that have the same performance characteristics as the cotton.

In essence, hemp, when used in the manufacture of T-shirts and Tops, it has warmth and softness, which makes it comparable to other materials. These performance characteristics that make it better for the manufacture of T-shirts and Tops, include material property to allow aeration to the body and softness. Hemp has natural softness and strength, which makes it a better blend with the cotton to manufacture a new design with more desirable characteristics. This characteristic makes hemp an option for use in T-shirts, other than cotton based textiles.

Naturally, bamboo fabrics are resistant to odour and bacteria, which makes bamboo-based T-shirts better to wear. In addition, bamboo textile-based fabrics, that is, the T-shirts and Tops, are absorbent, porous, and breathable. Therefore, due to these performance characteristics as well as the strength of the bamboo fibres, fabrics made of bamboo fibre are generally strong and durable; this makes it a replacement material for cotton fibre material.

Environmental consideration for fibres

In agricultural conditions, cotton plant destroys the ecology when planted. This is due to the reason that for proper maintenance of cotton plantations, proper chemicals must be used to control pests and diseases since this plant is chemical dependant. Therefore, most farmers use different types of chemicals, which have a negative impact on the soil, as well as the environment. The only alternative that the cottoning can apply, is the use of organic farming, which helps in protecting the environment, as well as promoting environmental health and improving the general bio-enhancement. Bamboo and hemp are environmentally friendly, thus they promote the ecological-economic relationship.

This is because of the sustainability of these materials. The hemp fibre has cellulose, which is equivalent to that of cotton, and has nontoxic processing since it has methyl morpholine chemicals that are safe to humans. Almost, 96% of the chemicals in the hemp fibre material, are captured and recycled before being released to the ambient, with less harm to the ambient.

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It is clear to note that, although cotton fibre materials have high absorbent, comfortable touch, static resistance, as well as a cool, soft and comfortable feel on hands, bamboo fibre has many excellent properties. These excellent properties favour the production processes. On the other hand, hemp fibre has almost equal properties, that equate to those of cotton, which include good absorbent characteristics, soft and very strong, when wet or dry. Lastly, it is clear to note that all the above fibres are cellulose-based fibres, and thus they are environmentally friendly.

Synthetic Fibres


Basically, polyester fibre is a stable fibre, which has good handling properties, due to its smooth touch in hands. In addition, this fibre has a good lustre, which makes it good for handling. On the other hand, olefin has poor thermal properties, as well as having high crystal properties. This can lead to lower texture of the material and high flammability, making it vulnerable to burning and melting like wax. On the contrary, acrylic materials differ from polyester, in that they have a smooth surface, which is soft lustre, silky and warm in touch.

Comparing the performance characteristics between Polyester, Olefin and Acrylic

The three fibres have a number of differences, which makes them to have a preferable taste from different users. These differences include reaction to thermal properties, melting, and crystallization, ironing and burning. Polyester fibres are materials with good thermal insulating properties, but they can burn when ignited and during warm ironing. Unlike polyester, olefin has low melting and crystallization point, so, during ironing, low temperature is ideal. On the other hand, acrylic fibre has the best thermal property, as compared to polyester and olefin, and thus, it has good ironing properties without burning easily.

Maintenance characteristics for these fibres, need a consideration of a number of factors, which include bleaching and reaction, when exposed to sunlight. Polyester fibres bleaching characteristics are different from those of acrylic, which bleaches easily. On the other hand, olefin can bleach easily. While acrylic do not normally require bleaching. In addition, when exposed to sunlight, polyester has a good resistance to sunlight, and thus its usage in sunlight is safe. For the olefin to survive in sunlight, it needs stabilizers to be added in the production process, to ensure that they do not have problem in relation to the sunlight. Acrylic is much similar to these two (polyester and olefin), in that, acrylic are the most resistant to day sunlight exposure.

Performance and characteristics for approval end use

Focusing on the use of polyester and its performance in sports such as athletics, its fibre based material has taken a big trend as an active sportswear, due to a number of performance characteristics. These include the fact that athletes wear and sportswear made of this material fibre, dry faster. This is because of the wicking characteristics of the material, which enable transportation to the fabric’s surface, thus cooling the wearer.

The acrylic fibre has high performance, based on the fact that, its performance has taken an apparel performance in the sports and athletics world. These applications in sports are attributable to Acrylic’s moisture control, shape retention, and elasticity. In sports, the acrylic fibre absorbs moisture from the wearer’s skin to the surface, making the wearer confortable. Other characteristics that make acrylic suitable for sports include excellent colour, quick drying time, luxurious touch and drape warmth, which makes it to have resistance to extra weathering and maintain shape, stain resistance, resistance to shrinking and wrinkle, oils, fungus and mildew.

Environmental consideration for fibres

The greatest environmental concern currently pressuring the textile industry is in terms of safety and pollution. In essence, production of these materials has negative impacts on the ambient, which include air pollution and soil degradation, due to acid rain. The major challenge that faces the production of this material in the industry, is the idea of green economy, and this has greater depth, in the production processes. The only way to cub the environmental degradation, is through safe manufacturing processes, that involve recycling as well as use of green and clean energy sources in production.

Olefin fibre has 10-50% rate of biodegradation in the environment. The use of olefin has a number of great advantages, which makes it a good material. Olefin has not reached its peak in use in the modern world, therefore, olefin use and distribution in the market is greatly increasing. Amongst the number of end uses for olefin, include home furnishing uses, such as making carpets, upholstery, making carpet cleaner bags, making house wraps; automotive uses such as making hammered vehicle door panels, design of car interior; recreational uses such as furnishings of boats; and industrial uses, such as making geotextiles, ropes, bags, courier envelopes and non-woven fabrics.

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Acrylic fibre contains at least 85% of acrylonitrile. It is a man-made wool, since it contains a fibre that makes people feel good. Acrylic fibre has a number of advantages, which include resistance to static electricity, mildew, staining, sun damage and moisture, as well as durability in high traffic areas. Use of acrylic materials in the environment, has no negative impacts. In that sense, it is highly biodegradable, compared to other materials mentioned in this discussion (Kadolph 2007).


Synthesized polymers are the main materials in polyester manufacturing. Due to its origin as a synthesized material, polyester has a number of properties, which makes it ideal to use in many textile applications. These properties include quick drying, resilience to the environment, easy to wash, and resistance to biological damage. However, polyester fibre material is highly flammable. Therefore, a lot of care is necessary, when planning to use polyester, as most of the synthetic fibre based textile materials, are highly flammable.

Olefin, gives comfort when worn, due to its quick recovery from wrinkles. Other properties of olefin material include good chemical resistance, to both acids and alkalis, as well as high resistance to abrasion. Lastly, acrylic fibre based textile materials are soft, warm, and have a silky touch on the skin.


Abu-Rous, M, Ingolic, E & Schuster, K C 2006, “Visualisation Of The Nano-Structure Of Tencel,”Lenzinger Berichte , 31, pp. 37- 85.

Barber, E 1992, Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Barber, E 1994, Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Cook, J G 1984, Handbook of textile fibres; Natural Fibres, Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge.

Humphries, M 2004, Fabric Reference, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.

Kadolph, J 2007, Textile, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Liese, M P 2001, “Resisting Reproduction: Reconsidering Slave Contraception in the Old South,” Journal of American Studies, 35 (2), pp. 255–274.

Robyn, J M 2003, Textiles of Southeast Asia: tradition, trade and transformation, Tuttle Publishing, London.

Waite, M 2009, “Sustainable Textile: the role of Bamboo and a Comparison of Bamboo Textile Properties,”Journal of Textile and Apparel,Technology and Management, 2 (4), pp. 34-35.

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