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Material guide

Material guide

What are elastane, polyamide and viscose? Where do silk and angora come from? How are flax and hemp grown? To these and many other questions you’ll find the answer from our material guide. It’s impossible to rank materials according to their sustainability. And that isn’t really even our point. Choosing the material affects the life cycle of a product, and other factors impacting on the product’s life cycle are, for instance, the wash and care of the product. The purpose of this material guide is, therefore, to provide information on various materials and their properties. It is crucial to check the wash and care instructions separately on each product. The students Hanna Niemi and Milla Lento, from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, have helped us in doing the guide.

Natural fibers

ALPACA
•  The thermal insulation of alpaca wool is excellent.
•  Alpaca yarn is made into scarves, lingerie, ponchos, headgear, and gloves.

Alpaca is a part of the camelid family, and its fiber is long and has better thermal insulation than lamb’s wool. It is the most valuable fiber from the camelid animals. Alpaca wool for textiles is obtained from females, while males are used as pack animals. Alpaca is grown mainly in South America and they live on mountains and highlands. The hair is either coarse, inflexible and non-polished topcoat or fine undercoat. The tensile strength of alpaca hair is high, and the fiber is warm, light and strong. Alpacas live half-wild, farmed or pastured. Free growing animals are caught every two years for shearing. Farmed animals can be sheared twice a year. Alpaca is usually made into scarves, lingerie, ponchos, headgear, and gloves. Products are handled and treated the same way as wool products.

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ANGORA
•  Angora is obtained from angora rabbits grown in cage conditions.
•  Angora is warm, soft, light and thin.
•  Combing the hair is not painful for the rabbit, but tearing the hair is. Combing is a slow procedure, and little material is collected compared to tearing.

Angora is obtained from angora rabbits whose hair is very thin, light and soft. Angora fiber is warm, and it absorbs moisture without feeling wet. Angora rabbit is a farm animal that is grown in cages. The animal is continually refined to improve the fiber quality and 300 to 500 g angora fiber per year is obtained from one rabbit. Combing is carried out 3–4 times a year, but in some farms, hair is combed on a weekly basis. Combing by hand is time-consuming and does not cause the rabbits pain. Combing away excess hair is a good thing because otherwise, the coat would be thick and too hot for angora rabbits. Tearing the hair is more efficient, but it is painful for angora rabbits. Animal welfare organizations have reported of unethical treatment of animals, for instance, in China.

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CASHMERE

•  Cashmere is a soft, warm and lightweight material.
•  Breeding of Cashmere goats is relatively ecological.
•  Pasturage causes desertification and reduces biodiversity.

Soft cashmere wool is obtained from Cashmere goats, which are currently grown the most in China. The cashmere fiber is very soft, light and warm. From its chemical behavior, cashmere resembles wool, but it absorbs moisture more than wool. Cashmere should be treated very gently.

The kashmir fiber is combed during the hair loss season in spring. The fibers are sorted into coarse topcoats and finer undercoats. The fiber obtained from one goat in one year is about 400–500 g. The finest fiber can only be obtained a few tens of grams. Because of this, cashmere is expensive.

The traditional farming of cashmere is relatively ecological. However, the number of goats has increased in recent years as cashmere prices have fallen and the demand has increased. Large flocks eat vegetation and trample the ground, causing desertification and loss of biodiversity. A lot of water and chemicals are used to wash the cashmere wool, which may burden water systems due.

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COCONUT FIBER
Coconut fiber is obtained from the fibers on the outer shell of Cocos nucifera. The outer surface of the nut is removed mechanically or by hand, after which the fiber is soaked for 2 to 6 weeks to soften and make the fibers easier to remove. Coconut fiber has a high elongation at break. The color is brown or white depending on whether the coconut is ripe or raw. The brown fiber is coarse and rigid, and it is made into cover and furniture fillings, brushes and brooms. The white fibre is fine and flexible, and it can be spines into yarns and ropes. Coconut fiber has excellent seawater resistance.

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COTTON

•  Cotton does not pill or electrify, and it absorbs moisture well. Cotton can pill if the fiber is short or of poor quality.
•  It is usually used as a blend with other fibers.
•  Cotton is one of the most used natural materials, and its production consumes a lot of water.

Cotton is a seed fiber that is obtained from cotton seeds. Cotton is used a lot as a blend with other fibers, and it does not electrify, and it is not susceptible to pilling. In addition, cotton withstands heat well and cotton products can often be washed even up to 60 ° C. As a strong fiber, cotton has a good abrasion resistance and flexural strength.

Cotton is one of the major fibre crops of global significance and most used natural materials. It is cultivated in approximately 90 countries, most in India, China, the United States and Pakistan. Intensive cotton farming is environmentally strenuous because the plant needs large amounts of water, heat and fertile soil to grow. Often, cotton plants require frequent irrigation of crops. Water consumption is also heavy in pre-treatment, dyeing and finishing of the fibre and material.

In order to prevent insect pests or plant diseases destroying the cotton crops, insecticides and other pesticides are often used. The chemicals and fertilizers used cause also nutrient emissions into the water. The amount of chemicals can be reduced by paying attention to cultivation techniques, for instance, using pesticides and chemicals only when needed. There are several eco-labels for cotton, which tell if the use of insecticides or pesticides are limited. If only biodegradable chemicals are used in the process, this natural fiber will molder.

Cotton can also be cultivated as a genetically modified plant. A bacterial gene implanted into the plant, makes the cotton more resistant to pests. The use of genetically modified cotton can reduce the use of insecticides and other pesticides.

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FAIRTRADE COTTON

•  The Fairtrade certificate highlights the ethicality of cotton cultivation.
•  In addition to the Fairtrade minimum price, producers get an additional Fairtrade premium price.
•  Fair trade encourages farmers to develop sustainable farming techniques and prohibits certain chemicals.

The Fairtrade certification guarantees the ethicality in the cultivation of raw materials. This means paying attention to salaries, good working conditions and the right to join trade unions. The farmers make up cooperatives and their payments include the Fairtrade minimum price and an additional Fairtrade premium price, which can be invested in business or communal projects of the community’s choice, for instance, health care or education. Fairtrade also protects the rights of those workers who work on large cotton field during the harvesting season.

The Fairtrade certificate in a product means that 100 % Fairtrade cotton is used. The system certifies only the phase of cotton production and its traceability, not the entire production chain’s. Strict environmental regulations are also followed, for example, certain chemicals are prohibited to protect nature and people.

About 85 % of Fairtrade cotton comes from India, and Fairtrade cotton can also be made organic. However, the certificate does not automatically mean that organic cotton is used. In addition to the Fairtrade cotton label, Fairtrade also has separate labels for Fairtrade cotton program and Fairtrade textile production.

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FUR
•  The production of fur is seen unethical, as the fur mainly comes from intensive fur farming. Animals are kept in small cages without any possibility to natural behavior and the only outcome of the farming is the hairy fur, rest of the animal is not needed in any other industry.
•  Wild fur means that the animal has been hunted due to the regulation of the population.
•  Fur is obtained from animal fur. If it is well-kept, it can be a durable material, although it has to be strongly treated with hazardous chemicals.

The production of fur is affiliated with unethicality. Farmed fur animals live in constricted cages and are only utilized for their fur. Farming requires a lot of food, water, and energy. The phosphorus and nitrogen emissions from the farms make water systems eutrophic. Fur itself would be a biodegradable material, but strong treatments with hazardous chemicals slow down the process of fur used in clothing. Wild fur is seen as a more ecological and ethical option. Wild furs are obtained, for example, from wild animals that have been hunted because of population management. Wild furs are sold in Finland by the Natural Fur Association which pays hunters well for the furs. This encourages hunters to collect the fur instead of throwing it away. Roadkill fur can also be utilized if the animal on the road is found quickly enough.

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HEMP

•  Hemp is an eco-friendly plant because it does not need large amounts of water, fertilizers or pesticides to grow.
•  Hemp is utilized in textile, paper and rope industries.
•  The strong fiber feels cool against the warm skin and warms the skin when the air is cool.

Hemp is one of the world’s oldest crops. Hemp grows fast and well even in a rough environment and does not need large amounts of water, fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Therefore, it is also considered as an environmentally friendly fiber. Hemp is often used unbleached because bleaching greatly reduces its strength. Hemp feels cool against the warm skin and warms the skin up when the air is cool.

The bushy plant grows 1–3 meters tall, and its roots prevent erosion. Hemp has a similar structure to flax, and therefore it is processed with similar methods. The biggest environmental impacts of hemp come from soaking, and hemp is soaked in artificial pools using enzymes. Environmental impacts depend on the levels of water treatment.

There are three types of hemp: fiber hemp, oil hemp, and medicinal hemp. The fiber hemp used for the textiles is, therefore, a different plant species from medicinal hemp and does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol compounds.

As hemp is very resistant to mild and humid conditions, it is used a lot in textile, paper and rope industries. Hemp is used in making tents, sails, carpets, sacks, and tarpaulins. Additionally, hemp is used for oil.

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JUTE
Of all natural fibers, jute is grown the second most in the world. Jute has good stretch properties, bending resistance and it is cheap, but the weathering of the fibre is poor. Jute is made into sackcloths, packaging materials, carpet floor fabrics and ropes. It has been cultivated for a long time in India and it has been used as a fiber plant and a vegetable. The jute arrived in Europe only in the 19th century.

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LAMBSWOOL
•  Wool is warm and breathable.
•  Chemicals and pesticides are not used in the production and processing of organic wool.
•  A lot of water is needed to wash the raw wool.
•  The painful mulesing procedure is still allowed in Australia.

Lamb’s wool has excellent properties as the material breathes and isolates warmth well. This self-renewable and biodegradable natural fiber absorbs moisture, does not wrinkle and straightens quickly. For wool clothing usually ventilating the garment is sufficient instead of a wash. Because the fiber is valuable both in terms of its characteristics and price, wool is often re-used. Wool is naturally fireproof and resistant to bacteria and mold. However, damage can be caused by moth larvae or fur beetles that eat keratin in the wool.

Lamb’s wool is the oldest animal fiber used in textile products. There are about 200 different kinds of sheep breeds that produce wool, and they often live in herds of thousands. Most of the wool comes from enormous farms from Australia and New Zealand, where the conditions may be unethical. Grazing sheep can lead to soil erosion, and animal feces can cause eutrophication of water systems.
No chemicals or pesticides are used at any time in the production and processing of organic wool. Also, numbers of sheep are kept limited. In any case, much water is needed to wash raw wool, and it burdens the wastewater systems.

The skin of merino sheep has been bred to be more wrinkle so that the animal would produce more wool. The wrinkles in the animal’s skin also attract parasites. Because of this, the animals are subjected to the mulesing procedure, where the skin around the anus of the sheep is cut off, which reduces the risk of parasites laying eggs around the anus. However, the act is painful for animals and therefore, banned in many countries. The procedure is still in used in Australia, one of the largest wool-producing countries.

Sheep are sheared annually. A skillful worker can shear the wool as a one piece, which weighs between 1 and 6 kg depending on the breed. One fleece can contain up to six different types of wool. The wool is sorted according to breed, curliness, purity, length, strength, and color. The wool is washed after sorting.

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LEATHER & RECYCLED LEATHER

•  Leather is a long-lasting and breathable material.
•  Leather can be either chrome or vegetable tanned.
•  Recycled leather is obtained, for example, from furniture industry surplus or recycled leather garments.

Leather is a durable, warm and breathable material, which can be used in clothing, shoes, bags and accessories. In addition to cowhide, reindeer, moose, sheep, deer, pig, goat and fish leather are used. A well-maintained leather product can last for decades.

Most of leather is produced in Asia, and it is often a by-product of the meat industry. Animals are treated and kept in unethical conditions meaning that they don’t have enough space, for instance. Intensive farming causes also environmental problems, such as erosion and methane in the air. Leather is usually treated with chemicals that most often end up in water systems and are dangerous to the workers handling the chemicals.

Leather products manufactured in the EU comply with strict chemical legislation and tanning is carried out in a closed cycle so that the chemicals are not released to the environment.

To enhance the reliability and durability of leather, it is finished by tanning. Leather can be tanned either with chrome or with plants. Plant parts containing tannins are used in plant tanning and it is a slower process than chemical tanning. Tanning is accurate work, and there isn’t knowhow to tan all skins Leather is a naturally degradable material, but chemicals slow down this process. 

Recycled leather is obtained, for example, from furniture industry’s surplus or recycled leather garments. Leather can be mechanically modified by shredding and squeezing it into a new, leather-like material. Recycled leather is an ecological option because no animal has been bred for new leather. In this case, water, energy, resources, and chemicals are saved.

New substitutes for leather are constantly being developed from biodegradable raw materials. For example, mushroom mycelium and pineapple leaves can be used to make leather-like material. Snap-pap made of a mixture of paper and plastic is also like leather. However, the introduction of these materials to the market may take a long time.

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LINEN

•  Flax is a strong fiber and transforms into linen, a breathable and antibacterial fabric.
•  Linen absorbs moisture well and dries quickly, it does not dirt easily.
•  Linen is naturally thermos-regulating, which means that it feels cool and breathable when it’s warm and warms up when it’s cool.

Linen is a textile made from the flax plant’s fibers, and its use in clothing and home textiles has increased recently due to its good qualities. Linen is favored in bed linen and towels since it absorbs moisture and dries fast. The natural fiber is very strong and does not dirt easily due to its smooth surface. Since the fiber is strong and has low elasticity, linen wrinkles easily. The fabric is anti-static, naturally hypoallergenic and antibacterial. During warm, linen is a cooling material and during cold, it warms up against skin. 

Producing linen has been seen as an ecological option as the us of fertilizers, irrigation or pesticides is very low. After the flax is harvested and dried, it goes through a soaking process, which softens the fiber. Flax is a centuries old fiber and grows best in humid and mild climate but also prospers in rugged soil, and therefore, cultivation is also possible in Finland and Sweden. The most linen is produced in China, Belgium, France, and Russia. At present, 1.5 % of the world’s textile production is linen.

Flax is densely sown in the spring. Flax is 70–170cm long and has a growth time of 100–120 days. Then the plants are drawn from the ground, and the stems are separated from seedlings, branches, and leaves. The fibers are located in the stem, which is drawn and collected as bundles for further processing. To separate fibers, flax is soaked for 3–8 weeks. The soaked fibers are dried and, after drying, the fibers are removed from the woody material. Then the fiber is combed and spun on the yarn. The color of unbleached linen varies from ivory to grey and brown.

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MANILA

Manila is obtained from the leaves of Musa textilis plants. Manila fibers are coarse, long, robust and flexible. Manila is made into ropes, strings, carpets and sacks. The fiber is separated from the leaf by crushing and scraping, rinsing and drying. Manila fiber has been named after the capital of its main producing country, the Philippines.

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MOHAIR
•  Soft and fluffy mohair is obtained from Angora goats.
•  Mohair is a strong fiber that is fine and not electrifying.
•  Much water is consumed in mohair production, and chemicals are used to evade parasites.

Mohair comes from Angora goats. Mohair is a strong fiber, easy to clean, it doesn’t electrify and straightens easily. Angora goats graze on high plains. The breeding of goats is demanding because they need cold and dry conditions in the winter and hot conditions in the summer. Mohair fibers are collected twice a year. Precious mohair resembles wool but is smoother on the surface and makes the fiber lustrous and shiny. Mohair is also treated like wool. From 15 to 25 % of mohair fibre is enough to bring a soft feeling to a blend material.

Chemicals are used in mohair production to evade parasites. Chemicals may enter sewage, which is why the use of the most harmful substances is prohibited or restricted in all the major producing countries. A lot of water is also used in mohair production.

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NETTLE

•  Nettle fiber is soft and flexible and does not wrinkle easily.
•  Nettle grows even in rough soil and does not need much water or pesticides.
•  Almost all parts of the plant can be used, and the same field can be kept for ten years without major modifications.

The nettle fiber is soft and flexible, and compared to linen it does not wrinkle easily. Nettle grows even in rugged soil and does not need many pesticides or water for cultivation. The same field can produce a harvest for ten years without modifications. The fibers are white, silky, flexible, very fine and strong. Strength improves when the fiber gets wet.

In Asia, Africa and America, the nettle grows almost 3 meters high and is up to 10 centimetres in width. There is a great deal of fiber in one plant, and almost the whole plant can be utilized. However, the processing to fabric takes time. The nettle has been used as a plant fiber already in the Stone Age for fishing nets and other textiles. During World War II, it was used in Europe to substitute cotton yarn.

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ORGANIC COTTON

•  No artificial fertilizers or pesticides are used in the cultivation of organic cotton. Therefore, organic cotton is thought to be a better option for humans, animals and the environment.
•  Organic cotton covers only 0.7 % of all cotton production.

Organic cotton is grown without the use of persistent pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Also, transgenic seeds are prohibited. Organic farming is considered a better option for the environment, humans and animals.

Organic cotton requires a lot of water, as does ordinary cotton. Organic production systems maintain soil fertility and biodiversity by cultivating other plants in addition to cotton. Irrigation can still change the natural balance of water and dry out areas of land.

Organic cotton has been grown according to organic farming regulations in a field that has met the requirements of organic farming certificate for three years. This means that no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or leaf drying chemicals have been used. Organically cultivated cotton covers only 0.7% of all cotton production and the largest producers of organic cotton are India and Turkey.

Textile products containing organic cotton often have the Global Organic Textile Standards, aka GOTS, certificate. This certificate is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, and it includes both ecological and social criteria. The products with GOTS certificate contain a minimum of 70 % certified organic fibres in it. A garment can get a separate GOTS Organic symbol if it contains 95 % certified organic fibres in it. The GOTS guarantees that the entire textile supply chain from cultivating the raw material to the final product is certified.

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RAMI / CHINA GRASS
•  Rami or China grass is a perennial nettle plant and has a long, strong fiber.
•  The plant withstands the effects of bacteria, mold, sun, and weather.
•  Removing the fiber from the plant is a difficult process, and therefore rami is a very valuable fiber.

Rami is a long, strong and rigid fiber obtained from the plant’s stem. Rami or China grass is a perennial nettle plant that can be found wild and cultivated. Rami grows about 2-3 meters high and thrives in the nutritious and humid soil. The yarns feel hairy because the fiber is coarse and rigid. The fiber absorbs water well and dyes easily.

There are three crops of rami per year. Removing the fiber from the plant is a difficult process, and different methods can be used for it. Work is often done manually, but also mechanically. Rami needs to be removed, soaked, flushed, oiled and dried and about 1-3 kilograms of fiber can be obtained from 100 kilograms of rami. Rami is a very valuable fiber, and it is resistant to bacteria, mold, sun and weather effects. Rami was already used in Egyptian mummy shrouds thousands of years ago.

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RECYCLED COTTON

•  Recycled cotton can be pre-consumer waste, such as cutting waste, or post-consumer waste, such as used T-shirts.
•  As the cotton is mechanically recycled by tearing or fiberizing, the fiber’s length is shortened.
•  In order to keep the fibers good, other fibers can be added as reinforcement.

The recycling of cotton reduces significantly the consumption of natural resources and water because no new raw material is needed to grow.

Recycled cotton can be pre-consumer waste meaning surplus materials, yarns or cutting waste. Also, post-consumer waste, such as used cotton shirts, can be recycled. So far, recycling and processing of garments have not been commercially efficient.

Cotton is mechanically recycled by tearing and fiberizing, which means that the length of the fibers is shortened. In order to keep the material strong, new cotton or other fibers may be added as reinforcement. After this, the fibers are spun as yarn and fabrics.

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RECYCLED WOOL
•  Recycled wool can be obtained from textile surplus and woolen garments.
•  The good functional properties of the wool remain after recycling.
•  Recycled wool significantly saves resources.

Wool is a valuable fiber, and therefore, its industrial waste has been re-used. The pure wool waste from mills, weaving mills and sewing facilities are torn to fibers and spun again. The length of the fibers decreases after tearing and milling, and the wool is often reinforced with new fibers. Wool garments can also be recycled for reuse. In recent years, special recyclable processing facilities have been created for sorting, tearing and spinning of wool for reuse. Recycling significantly reduces the consumption of water, energy, and chemicals. The good properties of the wool, such as thermal insulation, are retained in recycling and can be used in technical products, clothing, and decorative products.

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SILK
•  Silk is obtained from a long fiber spun by the caterpillar of the mulberry silk moth, Bombyx mori.
•  Silk breathes well and cleans itself. This is why ventilation is recommended for silk instead of washing.
•  In silk cultivation, larvae are killed by hot air or steamed before hatching to keep the fiber intact. Wild silk larvae are allowed to hatch from their cocoons.
•  China produces about 80 % of the world’s silk.

Silk fiber is spun by Bombyx mori larvae. The fiber breathes well and feels warm on the skin in cool air and vice versa. Silk fiber is soft, flexible and cleanses itself. Therefore, it is often enough to ventilate silk instead of washing. Like other natural fibers, silk is renewable and biodegradable. China produces about 80% of the world’s silk. Silkworms live in a mulberry tree and use tree leaves to feed.

Silk fiber is obtained from the long fiber spun by the silkworm. Silk production begins in the spring when mulberry leaves begin to grow. Eggs are hatched, and larvae hatch in about ten days. As the larvae grow to full scale, they begin to spin their cocoons. The silkworm becomes encased in the finished cocoon. To get the fiber out of the cocoon as a single strand, larvae are not allowed to grow into moths. The process is discontinued for ten days after the silkworm no longer spins and the cocoons are treated with hot air or vapor to kill the silkworms. Then silk is collected, and the larvae are utilized as nutrition. The production of eggs is kept separate from the production of cocoons in order to protect them from parasitic diseases. The silkworm in the cocoon is allowed to peel to a moth, breed and lay eggs. A female moth lays 350 to 500 eggs that are exported to silk growers.

Wild silk is a more ethical option as it is collected from the cocoons of wild moths and moths that have hatched. Silkworms that produce tussah silk leave the other end of the cocoon open and, finally, seal it with silk gum. This allows the larvae not to be killed and the moth can hatch without damaging the cocoon. Nevertheless, silk spun by Bombyx mori is considered the only genuine silk material.
Mulberry trees require fertilizers to grow, and they are treated with plant protection agents. Silk’s environmental impact, however, is small compared to cotton.

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SISAL

Sisal fiber is obtained from the leaves of Agave sisalana plant. Sisal fiber is coarse and rigid and is mostly used for ropes, strings, carpets and sacks. The fibers are separated from the leaves by crushing and dividing the materials into fibers and non-fibers. The fibers are rinsed and dried in the sun.

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Synthetic and artificial fibers

ACRYLIC (PAN)

•  Acrylic is an oil-based synthetic fiber, so it is not biodegradable.
•  Acrylic resembles wool for its properties. Its light and weather resistance are very good.
•  Acrylic releases microfibers when washed, which are environmentally harmful.

Acrylic is an oil-based synthetic fiber, that can be manufactured with dry and wet spinning. Acrylic is most often made into wool-type fiber. The properties of the fiber can be modified in the manufacturing process, for example, by curling and stretching the fiber.

Acrylic resembles wool for its properties. Its feel is light and soft, and it pills easily. Acrylic is easily electrified but relatively strong. Its light and weather resistance are very good and the fiber will withstand mold, chemicals and micro-organisms. Acrylic is highly flammable and melts when it burns.

Acrylic is especially made into knitwear, socks and furs, and also, thanks to its good weather properties, outdoor fabrics. Acrylic is often used as a substitute for wool because it is cheaper and less prone to chemicals and pests. Acrylic is widely used as such but also blended with wool, mohair, cotton and polyester.

Carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption in acrylic production are higher than those of polyester production. When washed, the fiber releases microfibers, which are environmentally harmful, especially when contaminated to water. Acrylic releases more plastic microfibers than polyester.

Acrylic is a petroleum-based synthetic fiber, so it is not biodegradable. The fiber cannot be recycled thermally, i.e. by melting and spinning again, but the fabric can be torn and the fiber re-used for yarn manufacturing. Recycling of acrylic is, however, low.

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ACETATE (CA)

•  Cotton waste or wood cellulose is used as raw material for acetate.
•  Acetate is used as such and in compositions, but synthetic fibers have displaced the use of acetate in clothing.
•  Acetate is biodegradable.

Acetate is a filament fiber and its raw material is cotton waste or wood cellulose. It is made with dry spinning and the solvent used is acetone.

With its properties, acetate resembles more synthetic fibers than other artificial fibers. The fiber is shiny and silky and often easy to crease. It does not absorb as much water as viscose, but wrinkles in the same way. Acetate is more viscous and elastic than viscose and may become electrified in dry air. The fiber is relatively weak, and it ignites easily and burns by melting. Acetate is not susceptible to mold or pests.

Acetate is used as such and blended with other fibres. Synthetic fibers have displaced the use of acetate in clothing, which is nowadays used mostly in tobacco filters. Typical applications for clothing include gowns and silk-mimicking materials.

It is possible to recover and recycle 99% of the acetone used in the spinning. Acetate is biodegradable.

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CUPRO (CU)

•  Cupro raw material is wood cellulose or cotton linters.
•  Manufacture is quite expensive due to the copper used.

Cupro is an artificial fiber made with copper ammonia process, which is spun as yarn in the viscose method. The raw material of the fiber is wood cellulose or cotton linters. Manufacture is quite expensive due to the high price of copper used. Copper may, however, be recovered and reused in the process. Cupro’s production volumes are low and it is produced mainly in Japan and Italy.

Cupro has a silky shine and a soft feel. The fiber is naturally white or slightly bluish, and it can be dyed. The strength of cupro is similar to viscose and it is more resistant to chemicals than viscose. Cupro can be made both matt and glossy, filament and staple.

Cupro is used in lingerie, knitwear, chiffon, linen cloths and embroidery bars. As a staple fiber it can be made into a wool-like fiber, which is used as blends in costumes and knitwear. The use of cupro is relatively low due to high price and poor availability.

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ELASTANE (EA)

•  Elastane is an oil-based, highly elastic fiber.
•  Elastane is always used together with other fibers.
•  The raw material of elastane comes from oil that is a non-renewable resource, and the fiber is not biodegradable.

Elastane is an oil-based, highly elastic fiber. It is usually made with dry spinning, but sometimes also with wet and melt spinning methods. The manufacturing process of the elastane is a multistage complex, expensive and precision requiring process. Elastane is usually made of a single filament fiber. Trade names such as Lycra and Spandex are used for the fiber.

Elastane is excellent in reverting when being stretched and is a very elastic and resilient fiber. Its tensile strength is poor, i.e. the fiber is not very durable. The heat resistance of the fiber is poor and it softens and eventually melts at temperatures above 140 ° C. Elastane withstands weather and light badly and it may mildew when wet. It is advisable to wash the elastane products frequently, as sweat, chlorine and sea water weaken the fiber.

Elastane is always used in combination with other fibers, most often as filament fiber or as staple fiber coated with other fibers. Elastane is used because of its elasticity, as already a few percents give the product elasticity. The most common applications are underwear, socks, tights and swimming suits. Today elastane is also used in jersey items and jeans.

The raw material of elastane comes from oil that is a non-renewable resource. The fiber is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled at this time. The use of elastane in, for example, cotton garments impairs their recyclability.

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IONCELL

•  Ioncell is a new, evolving artificial fiber, which can be made using paper pulp, recycled paper or textile waste as the raw material in addition to cellulose.
•  Ioncell may replace viscose as a clothing material in the future.
•  The solvents used in the manufacture are considered less harmful than those of other artificial fibers.

Ioncell is a new, evolving artificial fiber. Its manufacturing process is similar to the lyocell process, but less risky and utilizes various solvents. Fiber manufacturing is not yet possible on an industrial scale, but the Ioncell-F process underway at Aalto University seems promising. In this process, more advantageous materials like paper pulp, recycled paper or textile waste can be used as raw material in addition to cellulose.

The pilling and washing properties of the fiber have not yet been sufficiently studied, but the fiber is cotton-like and has a tensile strength twice that of viscose. Ioncell is non-sweating and moisturizing and has the potential to replace viscose as a clothing material. The fiber can be dyed like cotton and viscose.

Ioncell has only been made into single garments and the aim is to start commercial production in 2025.

Solvents used in manufacturing are considered less harmful than those of viscose and lyocell processes. The recycling potential of these solvents is being investigated and the results have been promising.

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LYOCELL (CLY)

•  Lyocell is a cellulose-based artificial fiber, for which eucalyptus is often used as raw material.
•  Lyocell is biodegradable and ecologically comparable to viscose.

Lyocell is a viscose-like cellulose-based artificial fiber. The raw material is often eucalyptus. Lyocell is made with wet spinning using a non-toxic organic chemical as the solvent, as opposed to viscose. The manufacturing process is more secure and ecological than viscose.

Lyocell is a strong fiber that flows better than viscose and does not crease as easily. The surface of the fabric often has a soft feel. Lyocell is used for example in blouses and denim-type products as well as underwear and baby clothes. One of the great uses is also sportswear and yoga suits. Lyocell is also often referred to as Tencel.

Lyocell is biodegradable and ecologically comparable to viscose. Lyocell is rapidly manufactured from renewable raw materials. The non-toxic solvent used in the preparation can be recycled almost 100% and the manufacturing and dyeing processes are very energy efficient.

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MODAL (MD)

•  Modal is a viscose-like cellulose-based fiber.
•  Modal is especially used in tricot and underwear, as well as in technical products and home textiles.

Modal is a viscose-like cellulose-based artificial fiber. The raw material used is beech cellulose and the method of manufacture is the viscose process. Many chemicals are used in this process.

Modal has a mild gloss and a smooth, silky surface. It is used to replace cotton and its wet strength is considerably higher than viscose. Modal has good dimensional stability and is not as prone to creasing as viscose. Modal has similar chemical resistance to that of cotton and it also dyes in the same way.

Modal is used as a blend with cotton, wool and linen, and together with synthetic fibers such as acrylic, elastane and polypropylene. Modal is especially used in tricot and underwear, and in technical products and home textiles.

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MODACRYLIC (MAC)

•  Modacrylic is an oil-based synthetic fiber with improved fire properties.
•  Modacrylic applications include interior fabrics, fake fur, children’s nightwear and bathrobes, technical clothes and footwear.

Modacrylic is a very acrylic-like fiber. Like acrylic, it is manufactured with dry or wet spinning. Substances that enhance the fiber’s fire properties are added to modacrylic in the spinning process and this distinguishes the fiber from acrylic. Modacrylic is manufactured as a staple fiber.

Modacrylic is a soft and easily pilling fiber, that does not withstand high temperatures. Modacrylic is not as strong as acrylic and its chemical resistance is slightly weaker. The fiber is often glossy, but it is possible to add dimming substances in the spinning. Modacrylic is more easily dyed than acrylic and the fiber is heavier. Unlike acrylic, modacrylic does not burn.

Modacrylic is especially used as an interior material due to its fire resistance properties. Modacrylic’s other applications include fake fur, children’s nightwear and bathrobes, technical clothes and footwear. The fiber is also utilized as a lining material and for various technical purposes.

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POLYAMIDE/NYLON (PA)

•  Polyamides are a group of fibers, of which the raw materials are by-products of the oil industry.
•  Polyamide is used as such and blended with cotton, viscose and modal.
•  Polyamide releases microfibers and is not biodegradable.

Polyamides are a group of fibers, the raw materials of which are by-products of the oil industry. Polyamides are different, and the properties of the fiber depend on the manufacturing process. Polyamides are manufactured with melt spinning, which can be used to add colors, dimmers and brighteners to the fiber. The fibers can also be stretched and curled to provide the desired properties. Polyamide is mainly made into filament fiber.

Polyamide is a stretchy and elastic fiber. It does not wrinkle in use or wash. Particularly as a staple fiber, the polyamide pills and electrifies easily, like all other synthetic fibers. The fiber is firm and resistant to abrasion. The UV resilience in polyamide is weak, but otherwise its weather resistance is good. When wet, the fiber is prone to mildew. By modifying the fiber during manufacture, more easily dyeable, electrically resistant, UV resistant and microfibrous polyamides can be obtained.

It is advisable to wash polyamide products often because sweat and grease turn them yellow. Overall, however, polyamide is an easy-care fiber. The fiber’s susceptibility to mold should be taken into account in the storage of the fiber, which should be a dry and cool space with dim light.

Polyamide is especially used in socks, tights and underwear, but also in special strength-requiring products, such as downhill skiing wear. Polyamide is used as such and blended with cotton, viscose and modal. In these compositions, the task of polyamide is to provide the product permanence to abrasion and accelerate its drying process. Polyamide is also used as a blend with polyester, acrylic and triacetate.

The manufacture of polyamide consumes non-renewable resources and the fiber is not biodegradable. Bio-based polyamide also exists, but its use is very limited. Polyamide carbon dioxide emissions are higher than those of polyester manufacture. Fibrous dust from the fiber may cause symptoms for those working in spinning, weaving and needlework. Microfibers from polyamide are environmentally harmful, especially when released into water systems.

Recycling of polyamide is possible thermally and chemically, but it is not very common. Raw materials for garments made from recycled polyamide are mostly industrial waste materials. Recycled polyamide consumes 80% less energy than the production of new fiber.

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POLYESTER (PES / PET)

•  Polyester is made of mineral oils with melt spinning method.
•  Polyester is used as it is or mixed with other materials.
•  Polyester releases microfibers when washed and is not a biodegradable fiber.

Polyester is the world’s most produced textile fiber. It is made from mineral oil with melt spinning method. Many features of the fiber can be influenced by the manufacturing process to create, for example, non-pilling, high-strength, or fire retardant polyester. There are many differences in polyesters and their different applications.

Polyester is easily electrified and soaks up water poorly. As a staple fiber, it pills easily, but this can be affected by finishes added to the fiber.  Polyester is thermoplastic, i.e. the fabric can be creased permanently with high temperatures. Polyester has very good light and microbial resistance properties. As a fabric, it straightens well and does not wrinkle.

Polyester is widely used as a blend with cotton, acrylic, viscose and wool. Polyester is used to enhance the convenience of fibers that wrinkle easily, such as cotton.

The dyeing of polyester employs harmful chemicals that irritate the skin and respiratory system. These substances are limited by different eco-labels and guidelines. These chemicals should no longer be left in the end-products. As with other synthetic fibers, polyester releases microfibers that are environmentally harmful.

Recycling polyester is possible. The raw material of recycled polyester usually comes from beverage bottles. Recycled polyester is available well and its environmental impact is lower than that of the new fiber.

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POLYLACTIDE / POLYLACTID ACID (PLA)

•  Polylactide is a biodegradable synthetic fiber made from corn starch or sugar cane.
•  The fiber is used as such or mixed with cotton or wool.
•  Greenhouse gas emissions of polylactide are relatively high and the intense production of its raw materials consumes soil.

Polylactide is a new, biodegradable synthetic fiber. It is usually made from corn starch or sugar cane using a fermenting process. The fiber is melt spun, and its manufacture is no longer as expensive as it used to be. Polylactide can be manufactured largely with the same devices as other artificial fibers and is the only industrially produced bioplastic material suitable for clothing material.

Polylactide has low moisture absorption and it electrifies easily. The fiber resembles polyester for its properties. Polylactide is a light fiber with good UV light resistance.

Polylactide has a wide range of uses. It is used in medical textiles, agriculture, furniture and garments. The fiber is used as such or mixed with cotton or wool. Polylactide is considered to be the replacement for oil-based fibers and its demand will probably increase in the future.

Greenhouse gas emissions of polylactide are relatively large, and the intense production of its raw materials consumes soil and takes up field from food cultivation. Dyeing of polylactide is challenging and more color is consumed in the process than when dyeing polyester. However, polylactide is considered to be more environmentally friendly than other synthetic fibers since its manufacture consumes less water and energy and its raw materials are renewable.

Polylactide is biodegradable, but the degradation time is relatively long, between 6-24 months. Compared to other synthetic fibers that do not moulder at all, biodegradability of polylactide is very exceptional.

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POLYPROPYLENE (PP)

•  Polypropylene is made from waste from the oil industry and its manufacture is fast and inexpensive.
•  Polypropylene is used for bathing suits, socks, underwear, sports textiles and wadding materials.
•  Polypropylene is not biodegradable but can also be made bio-based.

Polypropylene is made from waste from the oil industry. The manufacture of the fiber is fast and cheap, so polypropylene is an inexpensive material. Stretching and curling of the fiber can be used to affect its properties. Polypropylene is most often used as a filament fiber.

Polypropylene is very elastic and resilient and resistant to chemicals and micro-organisms. Polypropylene has a lower heat resistance than other synthetic fibers. The fiber is light and strong and it is very resistant to wear. Polypropylene is size and shape stable and dries quickly. It has a spongy and soft feel.

Polypropylene is used for bathing suits, socks, underwear, sports textiles and wadding materials. Especially in wool and sportswear, polypropylene is often used as a microfiber under the trade name Thinsulate. The fiber is used as such and mixed with cotton and wool.

Polypropylene consumes less energy than other synthetic fibers. Polypropylene is not biodegradable. It can also be made bio-based, but production is very limited. Polypropylene can be recycled thermally six times, after which the fiber is too weak to be re-used. When burnt, the fuel value of polypropylene corresponds with fuel oil and the fibre burns cleanly.

 

 


POLYURETHANE (BM)

•  Polyurethane can be made into waterproof products and can be used as a coating.
•  Polyurethane is made of oil and is not biodegradable.

Polyurethane can be manufactured as a filament fiber and it can also be used as a coating. Elastane is classified as a polyurethane fiber, but because of its very different usage and properties, it is distinguished as its own fiber.

Polyurethane fabric is rigid, durable and relatively lightweight. The fiber has a low moisture absorption capacity. Polyurethane is very resistant to heat and moisture.

Polyurethane can be made into waterproof products such as raincoats and anoraks and it can be used as a coating to imitate, for example, leather. Many artificial leather products are made of polyurethane. The fiber has many uses in other industries as well, and is used for example in filters and as insulation material, as well as in disposable diapers.

Polyurethane, like many other synthetic fibers, is made of oil, so it is not biodegradable. No toxic solvents are used in the manufacture of polyurethane, and its recycling is technically possible but not very common.

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TRIACETATE (TA)

•  The raw material of triacetate is pure cellulose.
•  Triacetate is used in knits, dresses and lining material.
•  Toxic solvents are used in the manufacture of triacetate, the use of which is forbidden in several countries.

Triacetate is very similar to acetate in terms of its manufacturing methods and properties. Its raw material is pure cellulose and it is wet spun.

Triacetate resembles more synthetic fibers than acetate. It has low moisture absorption, and it electrifies more easily than acetate. It is possible to thermofix triacetate, i.e. to modify the fabric with heat. The triacetate withstands heat better than acetate, it wrinkles less and withstands washing better. The feel of the fiber is mellow, and it is tougher than acetate. The fiber has a silky gloss but can also be made dimmed.

Triacetate is used in knits, dresses and lining material. It occurs both as staple and filament fibres and is used as such or blended with other fibers.

Toxic solvents are used in the manufacture of triacetate, the use of which is forbidden in several countries. As a result, the manufacture and use of triacetate have decreased.

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VISCOSE (VI)

•  Viscose is manufactured from cellulose sheets with the multistage viscose process.
•  A lot of chemicals, water and energy are consumed in the manufacture of viscose.
•  Viscose fiber itself is biodegradable, but the use in blended materials weakens its biodegradability and recyclability.

Viscose is made from cellulose, such as bamboo, eucalyptus or birch, and it is a common clothing material. Viscose is manufactured from cellulose sheets with the multistage viscose process. In the manufacture of the fiber, toxic chemicals such as carbon disulfide are used.

Viscose resembles cotton for its characteristics. The fiber has good moisture absorption and does not electrify. Moisture weakens the strength of the fiber and it creases easily. However, wrinkling can be affected by various finishes to the material. Viscose does not withstand acids, and it ignites and burns easily. It is advisable to keep viscose in a dry place as it is otherwise, susceptible to damage caused by micro-organisms such as mold. Viscose is mainly used in garments, sweaters and linen. It often appears blended with cotton or polyester.

A lot of chemicals, water and energy are consumed in the manufacture of viscose. The chemicals used in the process can be recycled only partially and there are large differences between factories regarding this. The carbon disulfide used in the production is easily explosive and harmful. Continuous exposure to carbon disulfide causes central nervous system injuries and short-term eye and respiratory system symptoms. This is a risk for factory workers and residents living near the factory. However, there is no more carbon disulfide in the end-product. There are large factory specific differences in the environmental impact of viscose production. At best, the carbon dioxide emissions of viscose manufacture are negative, and at worst it has the greatest load on the environment of all textile fibers. Viscose fiber itself is biodegradable, but its use blended with other materials, and finishes and dyes affect the fiber’s recyclability and biodegradability.

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Sources

The students Hanna Niemi and Milla Lento have used these as sources of information:

Aalto, K. (2014). Kuluttajien halukkuus ja toimintatavat tekstiilien kierrätyksessä. Helsinki: Kuluttajatutkimuskeskus.

Ashok G. S., Vaishali M.R., Bhagyashri K. & Meenakshi, T. PLA (Polylactic Acid): New Era of Textiles. Fibre2fashion.

Boncamper, I. (2011). Tekstiilioppi: Kuituraaka-aineet. Hämeenlinna: Hämeen ammattikorkeakoulu.

Eurokangas, materiaaliopas.

Fletcher, K. (2014). Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. Abingdon: Routledge.

Räisänen, R., Rissanen, M., Parviainen, E. & Suonsilta, H. (2017). Tekstiilien materiaalit. Helsinki: Finn Lectura.

Suomen tekstiili ja muoti. Kuituopas.

Vihreät vaatteet. Materiaaliopas.