Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes


Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes white shirt antique scale

Today we are here to compare natural VS synthetic fibres and fabrics.

But first, let’s address fibers, fibres and fabrics. As well as natural and synthetic fibres and fabrics. All found here! (Link)

All done with that?

Welcome back!

The aim isn’t to promote either or to say that one is definitely better than the other. I’m hoping to shed some light on the differences between natural and synthetic fabrics, the pros and cons and help all of us, myself included, make informed decisions.

I’ve always thought, natural equals better, synthetic equals an imitation, not genuine, not real, not as good. Meh. Right?

Or not.

There are many factors to look into, the world is rarely black and white, there are many shades of grey. Now let’s look at the shades of grey within the world of fabrics.

Natural Fabrics

Let us first explore natural fabrics, made from animal or plant based fibres – wool, silk, cotton and linen. These are relatively common, and found easily in most departmental stores and malls.

A common assumption and misconception about natural fabrics is that they are always better for the environment. Better, more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, clean and green.

I could go on, for I too, once thought that natural fabrics are always superior.

However, this isn’t always true – fabrics, clothing, items that has a label saying 100% cotton or 100% wool may not be more sustainable than synthetic fabrics. Yes, the fibre is found in nature, yes people from ages past lived an extremely sustainable lifestyle with these natural fabrics.


In order to make truly informed decisions about the fabrics in your closet, it’s important to understand not just – where it comes from, the pros and cons of natural or synthetic fabrics, and also its production process.

But if I touch on all of these today, it’ll be a thesis paper.

So, for now, lets look at the pros and cons of both natural and synthetic fibres and fabrics for clothes

Advantages of Natural Fibres

Natural fibres, both animal-based and plant-based are popular and coveted for many different reasons.  The fabric is associated with comfort, being more environmentally friendly, carbon neutral and durable.

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes

Benefits Of Natural Fabrics

Comfort. Many things make up comfort; softness of the fabric, breathability, absorbency. Natural fabric breaks in, the fibres degrade over time, becoming more comfortable with wear. Denim Jeans fades over time, becoming softer. Wool sweaters get thinner, cozier and softer with each wear.

Breathability Natural fibres have an incredibly high absorbency and moisture wicking abilities. Both animal and plant fibres absorb water well and dries quickly by allowing ventilation through the fabric to pull dampness away. This makes natural fibres a popular choice for bedsheets, towels, summer wear; its ability to absorb water and dry quickly are important and prized factor as these items and receive regular use. Imagine damp towels, eurgh!

Insulation. Some Natural fibres make great insulators. In some plant based fibres, like cotton, the cellulose structure of the fibres traps and retains heat well, especially when the fibres are woven closely together like in flannel. Interestingly, when woven loosely like in cotton tee shirts, it is extremely light and breathable.  Some fibres like silk, keeps us cool when worn on its own and retains heat when layered, making it an excellent choice for both hot summers and cooler weather.

Eco-friendly. Listen up Eco-warriors! Natural fibres generally have a lower environmental impact than synthetic fibres, especially during the production process as they do not use as many chemicals. Organic Natural fibres that are grown without chemical treatments are even healthier and eco-friendly. However, some natural fibres are less eco-friendly than others because some plants require more water or are sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, insecticides or other chemicals during the growing period.

Durable. Due to the structure of cellulose, which makes up natural materials, most plant-based fibres are very strong. Animal-based fibres, like silk and wool, are also strong.

Hypoallergenic Natural fabrics such as Cotton, linen, and silk are naturally hypoallergenic largely because lesser chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. They also have unique anti-bacterial qualities, making them ideal for sensitive skin.

Ode to Nature

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes cosy

Natural fibres, natural fabrics! Nature, natural. *contented sigh*.

The sound on its own, natural, doesn’t it sound calming, soothing and relaxing?

Indeed, it is comfortable (cosy merino wool), luxurious (silk the epitome of royalty). The fact that they are made from renewable resources, straight from mother nature, doesn’t it sound like an eco friendly, no-brainer option? My love for natural fabrics run so deep, I’ll be dedicating a post to each fabric in time to come, seriously.

Makes you wonder, if natural fibres created such wonderful fabric, why do we have man-made synthetic fibres and fabrics today then? Why fixed something that isn’t broken, isn’t it?

Well, Natural Fabrics aren’t without its disadvantages

Disadvantage of Natural Fabrics

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes white shirt disadvantage

The fabric itself might be amazing, but the process and the ‘How’s’ is far from cheery.

Aside from a higher production costs as the larger quantities of natural raw materials required – especially compared to synthetic fabrics, there are other less obvious disadvantages too.


Deforestation Bamboo bedsheets, clothing items, where do they come from? The bamboo plants! To get the raw materials, the major supplier of bamboo – China – destroyed large portions of forests.

Environmental impact Most commercial plant-based fabrics have a variety of herbicides, insecticides or pesticides used on the crop, or other toxic dyes and chemicals used later on in the manufacturing. If it was cotton production we are talking about, here’s a shocker.

Production of a single cotton shirt usually requires around 2700 litres of water.

One shirt

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes white shirt


Ouch, agonizing for the environment isn’t it. Imagine that PLUS the toxic chemicals used. Major ouch.

Of course, there’s organic cotton. But that’s for another less agonising day.

Ethics Is it ethical? Silk, leather, fur pelts. All natural, and all from living breathing animals and insects. Take silk for example. Silk production is cruel, silkworms die to produce silk. Leather and fur pelts, you can’t get either without the death of an animal. from the animals to the workers in the production grounds.

Of course, there’s Ahimsa silk, where no silkworms are harmed. As the leftover cocoon from the hatched pupa is used to produce silk instead. But let’s address that in a separate post dedicated to silk. The main point being most natural silk, leather and fur fabrics production isn’t without the loss of lives.

Synthetic Fabrics

The disadvantages of natural fabrics sound like good reason for the creation of synthetic ones isn’t it.

Natural Fibres VS Synthetic Fabrics For Clothes textile factory

However, ethics and love for the environment were not the cause of the invention of synthetic fabrics.

During WW2, Georges Audemars, created Nylon as a silk substitute. Later on, a shortage in silk due to a silkworm epidemic resulted in the accidental creation of ‘soie de Chardonnet‘ by Hilaire de Chardonnet, Chardonnet silk. Some argue synthetic fibres were created out of necessity, commercialism or perhaps accident. But definitely not out of love for dear Mother Nature.

Today, these man made fibres produced through chemical processes are still valued in the textile industry as well, but for a variety of different reasons.

Advantages of Synthetic Fabrics

The textile industry began creating synthetic fabrics as a cheaper and more easily mass-produced alternatives to natural fabrics. It is a cheaper alternative. pure natural fibres of good quality can be costly. Pure silk VS polyester mimicking silk. The price difference for production and for the consumer is very significant. You get the look for a fraction of the cost.

There are other advantages of course;

Stain resistant. synthetic fabrics tend to be more stain resistant as it is less absorbent, sometimes even liquid repellent. A silk top might not survive chilli sauce, but I’m pretty sure a polyester one would. A great choice for daily long term wear garments.

Weather resistant / waterproof. Plastic rain coat or rain jacket VS waxed cotton jacket. Thick lightweight puffer VS heavy wool coat for outdoor hikes. Need I say more?

The same water repellent properties allow for synthetic fabrics to dry easily as it does not retain moisture. Excellent choice for active wear, outdoor gear and dri-fit materials.

Durable. Hear me out. I know I said durable for natural fabrics too. If you thought natural fibres were durable, well synthetic ones are even more durable. They are able to mimic properties of natural fibres such as wool, for its stretchability. What makes it even more amazing is that when stretched, it’s able to ‘bounce back’, hence resistant to stretching out. On top of that, synthetic fabrics do not attract moths and mould, unlike natural ones. They take a longer time to degrade too

Low maintenance. Post chemical processing, synthetic fabrics may be manipulated to be wrinkle free and resistant to stretching out, ensuring they last a long time.

Disadvantages of Synthetic Fabrics

Like natural fibres and fabrics, synthetic ones have disadvantages too. The disadvantages of synthetic fibres far outweigh the advantages.

Lack of breathability. Its hydrophobic and waterproof nature also results in poor breathability. It promotes the proliferation of bacteria, often irritating the skin, causing or aggravating allergies and skin problems.

Uncomfortable. Imagine a hot day, and synthetic fabric clinging on to damp skin. Not absorbing sweat, not wicking away moisture. Shudders.

Textile dermatitis An allergic reaction of the skin to synthetic fibres. The individual experiences redness, itchiness and inflammation of the skin after contact with synthetic fibres.

Highly flammable.  Often a by-product of oil products. It burns and melts more easily than natural fibres. Wonder why it’s a risk? In olden Victorian times, the huge puffy ladies’ gowns made of synthetic fabric, often caught fire – walking too close to a fireplace or a fallen candle. These accidents were often fatal, the gowns with layers upon layers of synthetic fabric quickly went up in flames and were terribly difficult to put out.

Non biodegradable. Synthetic fibres are essentially plastic in its make up. Some synthetic fabrics may cause micro plastic pollution when washed. When thrown away, these synthetic fabrics made from non natural fibres do not decompose. This causes serious landfill space problems.

The chemicals used in producing synthetic fabrics are quite harmful to mother nature.

Are Natural Fabrics Or Synthetics Fabrics better?

Well, it depends.

It depends on the function and purpose of the garment. Clearly a rain coat made of synthetic material is superior, but a 100% cotton or 100% linen tee shirt would be better than a 100% polyester tee.

Now keep in mind, we are talking about its function, the environmental impact and sustainability bits. Let’s save that can of worms for another day.

In short, there are pros and cons to both fabrics, its up to you to decide what’s best for yourself and the activity that you’ll be using the garment for.