Clothing, hats, shoes and socks, household items, textiles are inseparable from daily life. When purchasing, in addition to looking at the color and style, consumers will have a very important judgment standard, that is, the material. In general, natural materials such as silk, cotton, linen, and wool are very popular with the public, and correspondingly, chemical fibers and artificial materials containing the words of fiber, brocade, viscose and other words are often disliked.
What are the advantages of all-natural fabrics? Are chemistry and man-made fibers really bad? Isn’t it time to change these inherent concepts?
In fact, whether it is natural fiber, chemical fiber or artificial fiber, there are their own advantages and disadvantages. Blended fabrics combine the advantages of different fibers and complement each other. When we choose clothes, the most correct way is to choose textiles of different materials according to the needs of the use scenario.
The difference between natural fibers and chemical fibers
The most basic unit of textiles is fiber, according to the source classification, textile fibers are divided into natural fibers and chemical fibers.
Natural fibers provided the first shelter and cold protection material for human development. In the Indian subcontinent 5,000 years ago, people began spinning yarn with cotton fibers; In ancient Egypt, in the Nile River Valley, flax was widely cultivated by humans to make clothing; As early as more than 5,000 years ago, China’s working people began to grow mulberry, raise silk, draw silk, and weave silk, and formed a unique silk clothing culture.
At present, cotton fiber, hemp fiber, wool fiber and silk fiber (referred to as cotton and linen silk wool) are still the main natural materials of everyone’s daily clothing and textiles. These natural materials have outstanding advantages in their own aspects, but they also have certain drawbacks.
Different from the natural fibers given to humans by animals and plants in nature, chemical fibers are a kind of fibers made by chemical methods.
Chemical fibers can be divided into chemical synthetic fibers, artificial fibers (usually also known as recycled fibers), and inorganic fibers according to different raw materials and composition.
The history of chemical fibers is only more than 100 years. The first chemical fiber invented by mankind was the viscose fiber introduced in 1893, and its success quickly expanded the family of chemical fibers.
How do we distinguish between man-made fibers with a very “academic” name? Quite simply, the fibers ending in “fiber” that are common when buying textiles and clothing are generally chemically synthesized fibers. For example, polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, polypropylene, etc. Synthetic fiber is an organic polymer compound synthesized by polyaddition reaction or polycondensation reaction using small molecule organic compounds as raw materials. Most of the source of synthetic fibers comes from petroleum, and the petrochemical system extracts and separates layer by layer to obtain the small molecule organic compounds required to produce such fibers.
Chemical synthetic fibers using petroleum raw materials are sometimes referred to as “petroleum-based fibers”. In terms of output, synthetic fibers are the largest category of chemical fibers and even the entire textile fiber family. In 2019, the output of synthetic fibers in China reached more than 54 million tons, accounting for 92.8% of the chemical fiber family; In the same period, China’s cotton output was 5.9 million tons, and silk output was only 68,000 tons.
Man-made fiber is a textile fiber prepared by chemical processing into polymer concentrated solution by chemical processing of natural polymer compounds such as cellulose and protein as raw materials, and then spinning and post-processing. Recycled fibers are often referred to as “artificial fibers”, and the most common recycled fibers in clothing are viscose fibers (also known as rayon or artificial cotton), modal fibers, lyocell fibers (also known as tencel) and so on. Man-made fibers directly use natural polymer compounds, do not consume petroleum resources, and fiber properties are different from chemical synthetic fibers.
There are many choices of chemical fibers
The disadvantage can also be a shining point
The emergence of chemical fibers has greatly enriched the varieties and properties of textiles and clothing, and also given products some functions and characteristics different from natural fiber materials.
For example, polyester is distinguished by poor hydrophilic properties, which makes polyester fabrics easy to dry. Many high-quality quick-drying sportswear materials are made of ultrafine polyester, which will accelerate the evaporation of sweat on the surface of the fiber, keeping the human surface dry and comfortable during exercise; The fibrillation characteristics of lyocell fibers are used to produce fabrics with a peach velvet style.
China is a strong country in chemical fiber production and research and development, and the proportion of chemical fiber production accounts for more than 70% of the world. With the advancement of technology and changes in consumer concepts, chemical fibers are also in the process of continuous improvement, and their “shortcomings” are often fully utilized to develop specific products, mainly in the improvement of functionality and comfort. Taking the largest output of polyester as an example, the structural characteristics of polyester lead to poor hygroscopicity and easy static electricity characteristics, but the R & D personnel start from improving the fiber structure, on the basis of conventional polyester, through the modification of the molecular structure, PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) fiber and PTT (polytrimethylene terephthalate) fiber have been developed. PBT fiber is soft, abrasion resistant and elastic than conventional polyester fiber, and its dyeing is also easier; PTT fiber has better resilience, easy dyeing, high color fastness, and has the advantages of chlorine resistance and UV resistance.
There is also a “imitation cotton type polyester”, which is polyester with the advantages of cotton fiber, and its hydrophilicity has been significantly improved. Imitation cashmere polyester is a polyester with wool fiber characteristics developed by drawing on the experience of imitation cotton polyester. Its fineness is close to that of cashmere, with a gentle and delicate feel like cashmere and good moisture absorption and breathability. Imitation cashmere polyester fiber can be spun pure or blended with other fibers, and its price is only 1/3 of natural cashmere fiber.
In addition, the R&D personnel have also developed polyester with differentiated functions such as moisture absorption and fast drying, anti-pilling, antibacterial, anti-ultraviolet ray, flame retardant, etc., so that it can adapt to the functional needs of consumers.
Natural + chemical can complement each other
After the characteristics of natural fibers and chemical fibers are fully recognized, people often combine the advantages of natural fibers and chemical fibers through blending or interweaving processes in product development, so as to achieve the effect of 1+1>2.
The most common example is polyester-cotton blends, which are typically made from a blend of 65% polyester and 35% cotton fibers. The strength, wear resistance and shape retention of polyester and cotton blended fabrics are better than pure cotton fabrics, and at the same time they have a certain degree of moisture absorption and soft feel.
For example: traditional jeans are woven with cotton roving, although the moisture absorption is good, but it lacks elasticity and does not fit well; High-stretch jeans, on the other hand, are made of cotton yarn and spandex yarn, making the fabric elastic and more comfortable.
Another example: the fabric of sports socks is usually made of a blend of four fibers: cotton, polyester (polyester), hemp and spandex. Cotton fiber ensures the skin-friendly and moisture-absorbing function of sports socks; Polyester fiber improves the strength and wear resistance of sports socks; Hemp fiber (hemp as a textile fiber is a class of hemp varieties with very low content of cannabinol active ingredients, in China, sometimes replaced by transliteration “hemp” to avoid misunderstanding) has innate bacteriostatic properties, providing antibacterial and anti-odor functions for sports socks; Spandex provides the stretch of sports socks for a more comfortable heel finish. Such a pair of sports socks can be described as a combination of the characteristics of four fibers to provide the wearer with the best experience.
Which one to choose? It depends on the needs of the scenario
According to the requirements of national mandatory standards, the washing label of textiles and clothing should clearly indicate the material composition of the product. Consumers can directly look at the washing label as a reference when making daily purchases.
In addition, feel and visual inspection are also methods that consumers can use to identify fiber materials. However, this requires consumers to accumulate more experience in their daily lives.
Consumers can also get an idea of the material of the product by asking the salesperson. Formal brand textile and clothing sales staff have undergone professional fiber material knowledge training, and can provide consumers with purchase suggestions. Other fiber identification methods include microscopic observation, combustion, dissolution, etc., but these methods are generally used in laboratory testing, which will cause certain damage to the product and are not suitable for daily purchase.
As the market classification of textile and clothing products becomes more and more refined, consumers can follow a law of “scene demand” when making daily purchases – choosing textiles and clothing according to the needs of the use scenario.
In fact, at the beginning of the design and production of textiles and clothing, R&D and designers have fully considered the use scenarios of the product when selecting the material of the product: the physiological changes and needs of the human body (such as sweating, warmth, breathability, waterproof, antibacterial, sun protection, etc.) and the characteristics of the external environment (such as heat, cold, rain and snow, wind, sun, etc.). For example, in summer, daily wear generally chooses cotton fabrics, silk fabrics, linen fabrics, etc.; In the case of a large amount of exercise, sports clothing made of chemical fibers with hygroscopic and quick-drying functions should be selected; Daily intimate clothing can choose cotton fabric and modal fabric, which is skin-friendly; Outerwear clothing can choose polyester and nylon materials, especially outdoor clothing, the high strength and wear resistance of such chemical fibers can provide a better wearing experience; Bedding and towel home textile products have high requirements for skin-friendliness and moisture absorption, and it is generally recommended that you choose cotton; Quilts are a type of home textile products with fillers, and the fillers can choose cotton fibers, wool fibers, and highly curly chemical staple fibers, which are outstanding in terms of warmth.
Source: Yangcheng Evening News