What Is Synthetic Clothing? Uncovering the Pros and Cons of Man-Made Fabrics

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Written By Lucy Spencer

Leading by example, Lucy fuses eco-conscious fashion and decor to encourage a sustainable lifestyle.

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What is synthetic clothing?

It’s more than just a fashion staple.

These man-made fabrics, making up roughly 60% of our clothes, are a big deal in our closets and for the planet.

In this article, we’re diving into the world of synthetics – where everyday style meets environmental impact – to see what all the fuss is about.

Key Takeaways

  • Synthetic clothing, like polyester and nylon, comprises about 60% of our clothes, made from petroleum-derived polymers.
  • While durable and cost-effective, synthetic materials pose environmental challenges.
  • Recycling synthetic fabrics is emerging as a sustainable alternative, transforming old garments into new yarn, reducing landfill waste, and conserving resources.
  • Despite the benefits, recycled synthetics face issues like reduced quality and difficulties in recycling complex blends.
  • Minimizing environmental impact includes smarter laundry practices, choosing high-quality or natural fibers.

What is Synthetic Clothing?

Synthetic clothing made from petroleum

Simply put, synthetic clothing is made from fabrics crafted not by nature, but by human innovation.

Think of them as the fashion world’s answer to modern challenges: durability, flexibility, and yes, even cost-effectiveness.

But here’s the twist – many of them are primarily made from petroleum. Yep, the same stuff that fuels cars.

Synthetic materials are a diverse bunch, but many start from the same point – chemical processes that transform petroleum into polymers.

Understanding Synthetic Materials

Creating Synthetic fabrics

Synthetic materials, in a nutshell, are like the science fiction of the fabric world.

They’re not plucked from plants or sheared from sheep. Instead, they’re born from a cocktail of chemicals and human ingenuity.

Picture this: scientists and engineers getting creative with petroleum and polymers to craft materials that nature hadn’t thought of.

These materials are the chameleons of the textile universe. They can mimic cotton’s breathability, wool’s warmth, or silk’s sheen, but with a twist – they’re often more durable, less fussy to care for, and way kinder to your wallet.

We’re talking about the usual suspects like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, which are everywhere from your sportswear to your sofa.

But here’s the catch: their production is a bit like a chemistry experiment. It involves transforming petroleum – yes, the crude oil kind – into fibers through complex chemical processes.

This tech-savvy approach gives us fabrics that can do amazing things, like stretching, resisting water, or surviving repeated washing without a wrinkle.

So, while synthetic materials are a testament to human creativity and the quest for convenience, they also bring up some serious environmental questions.

With many noticeable advantages, and disadvantages, they’re a bit of a double-edged sword – great for our daily use but a challenge for our planet.

Common Types of Synthetic Fabrics

Here’s a table representing the common synthetic fabrics along with their uses or characteristics

Acetate and TriacetateSilk-like, used in linings and elegant apparel
AcrylicWool mimic, popular in knitwear
AcetoneUsed in specific industrial applications
Aramid (Twaron or Technora)Heat-resistant and strong, for aerospace and military
ElastodieneHighly elastic for stretchable garments
ElastoesterKnown for its stretch and recovery, used in sportswear
KevlarIncredibly strong, for bulletproof vests and high-strength equipment
MicrofiberSuper fine fibers, ideal for soft clothing and cleaning materials
ModalExtra soft type of rayon, used in underwear and pajamas
NomexHeat and flame-resistant for protective clothing
NylonStrong and quick-drying, great for sportswear, swimwear and hosiery
PolyesterDurable, versatile, used in various clothing and furnishings
PolypropyleneLightweight, moisture-wicking, used in thermal wear and diapers
PolyurethaneFlexible and resilient, used in insulation and stretchy fabrics
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)Waterproof, used in raincoats, faux leather and cheap shoes
Rayon (Viscose)Semisynthetic, derived from plant-based cellulose fibers, silky, perfect for dresses and blouses
SaranMainly for industrial applications, known for chemical resistance
Spandex (Lycra/Elastane)Essential for stretch in activewear and form-fitting clothes
VinylonWater-resistant and durable, used in outdoor gear
VinalonDeveloped in North Korea, for various textiles and products

Comparative Analysis of Synthetic and Non-Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic vs Natural Fabrics

In the fabric showdown, synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon offer durability and affordability, which suits the modern, on-the-go lifestyle and fast fashion trends.

Non-synthetics, such as cotton, linen and wool, provide comfort and eco-friendliness, appealing to the environmentally conscious, like us.

While synthetic items score on ease and cost, they’re not as eco-friendly; non-synthetics, though greener, often require more care and a bigger budget.

It’s a choice between high-tech convenience and natural sustainability.

Here’s is a table comparing synthetic clothing with natural fiber clothing:

AspectSynthetic ClothingNatural Fiber Clothing
AbsorbencyLess absorbentMore absorbent
AffordabilityMore affordableCan be more expensive
Allergenic PotentialHigher for some individualsLower for most individuals
Anti-bacterial PropertiesVaries, generally lowerHigher, especially in wool and bamboo
BreathabilityVaries, generally less breathableHighly breathable
ComfortVaries, often less comfortableGenerally more comfortable
Drying SpeedDries quicklyDries slower
Eco-FriendlinessLess eco-friendlyMore eco-friendly
MaintenanceEasier to maintainMay require special care
Material SourcePetroleum-based, man-made materialsDerived from plants and animals
RecyclabilityLess recyclableMore easily recyclable
Stain ResistanceMore stain-resistantLess stain-resistant
StretchabilityHigh (especially in fabrics like spandex)Lower (varies with fabric type)
Water ResistanceOften water-resistantUsually not water-resistant

The popularity of synthetic clothing stems from its durability, diverse color options, and affordability.

When customers place orders for synthetic clothing and accessories, they often seek advice on care and styling, which many brands address through detailed guides and information pages on their sites.

The result is an enhanced shopping experience, with teams dedicated to providing up-to-date content on the latest collections. Additionally, the ease of shipping and competitive prices contribute to synthetic clothing’s widespread appeal, making it a significant area of focus for both high-street and luxury brands.

While synthetic fabrics dominate a large amount of the fashion industry, it’s essential to consider their environmental impact.

Why Are Synthetic Materials Bad for the Environment?

Synthetic Clothing sitting in a landfill

Synthetic materials, think polyester and nylon, are like a double-edged sword.

Sure, they’re durable and affordable, but they’re not exactly friends of Mother Nature.

Many of them start life as petroleum, requiring energy-guzzling processes to become the fabrics we wear.

Then, every laundry day, they can potentially shed microplastics, tiny villains that sneak into oceans and may harm marine life.

Plus, they’re not big on decomposing, lingering in landfills for ages.

So, while synthetic clothes may make our lives easier, they’re giving the planet a pretty hard time. It’s a classic case of convenience at a cost.

Recycled Synthetic Fabrics: A Sustainable Alternative

The Process of Recycling Synthetic Fabrics

Recycling Synthetic fabrics

Recycling synthetic fabrics is a bit like giving them a second chance at life.

It starts with collecting discarded garments – those old t-shirts and worn-out activewear. These are then sorted and cleaned, stripping away buttons and zippers.

Next comes the shredding, turning old clothes into tiny fibers. These fibers are then melted down, magically transformed into new yarn.

This yarn is the phoenix rising from the ashes, ready to be woven into fresh fabrics.

It’s a cycle that keeps many synthetics out of landfills and reduces the need for new raw materials, making a dent in our environmental footprint.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a step towards more sustainable fashion that many clothing manufacturers are starting to embrace.

Benefits of Using Recycled Synthetics in Fashion

Using recycled fabrics in fashion

Using recycled synthetics in fashion is a win-win.

It cuts down on waste, since we’re repurposing materials that would otherwise clog landfills.

This means fewer new resources are needed, easing the demand on our planet. Plus, it saves energy.

Manufacturing new fibers from scratch is resource-intensive, so recycling existing materials is more efficient.

It also tackles the microplastic issue, as recycled fabrics often shed fewer fibers. And let’s not forget, it sparks creativity in fashion, pushing designers to innovate with sustainable materials.

Challenges and Future Prospects of Recycled Synthetic Fabrics

Recycling Synthetic clothing

Recycling synthetic fabrics isn’t all smooth sailing.

The biggest challenge?


Recycled fibers can be less durable than their new counterparts, leading to a trade-off between sustainability and longevity.

Also, not all synthetics are easily recyclable. Complex blends, for instance, are tricky to break down and reuse.

Plus, there’s still the issue of microplastics – even recycled fabrics can release these tiny pollutants.

But the future looks promising.

Advances in technology are making recycling processes more efficient and able to handle a wider range of materials.

There’s a growing push towards alternatives such as circular fashion, where clothes are designed with their end-of-life in mind.

Brands are getting on board, consumers are becoming more eco-conscious, and the industry is exploring innovative solutions like bio-based synthetics.

The goal?

Making recycled fabrics not just an alternative, but the norm.

Sustainable Practices in the Use of Synthetic Fabrics

Laundry Filter Bag for Microplastics

Tackling microplastic pollution from our clothes needs some smart moves.

First, let’s talk laundry: grab a filter bag for your wash, stick to cooler and shorter cycles, and easy on the rinse.

It helps keep those tiny fibers in check.

Shopping wise? Go for quality synthetics that can take a beating and last longer, or better yet, give natural fibers a shot.

And hey, not every outfit needs a full wash every time – spot cleaning or airing out can do the trick.

On the tech front, consider getting a filter for your washing machine and switching to natural and earth-friendly detergents.

Small steps, but together, they add up to a big difference in keeping our waters cleaner.

As you embrace more sustainable wardrobe choices, why not also learn how to extend the life of your clothes?

Dress for a Better Tomorrow by Opting for Natural Fibers

Opt for natural clothing fibers

As we wrap up, remember that choosing natural fiber clothing is not just a style statement, but a step towards a healthier planet.

Natural fibres and the clothes made from them feel great on your skin. They are kind to the Earth and the people on it.

And for those keen to dive deeper into sustainable fashion, don’t miss my article on B Corp brands.

These trailblazers are redefining responsible business, showing us that fashion can be both fabulous and conscientious.

Together, let’s make choices that matter and join the movement towards a greener, cleaner wardrobe!

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