8 Synthetic Fabrics that are Made from Plastic

In your closet, any clothes that are stretchy, water-resistant, or sweat-wicking are probably made from synthetic fabrics. This clothing is made of plastic. Companies not only use them for their performance capabilities but because they’re cheaper than natural fabrics. Synthetic fabrics aren’t inherently bad, especially when used for their performance capabilities, but it’s important to understand their environmental impact and how we can mitigate it. 

Derived from non-renewable petrochemicals (aka fossil fuels), synthetic fabric like polyester and nylon are made entirely from plastic. In addition to being a by-product of the fossil fuel industry, they shed microplastics when washed, entering waterways and harming aquatic life. Their slow decomposition exacerbates plastic pollution. Additionally, synthetic fabric manufacturing involves toxic chemicals, endangering workers and ecosystems. 

The next time your shopping for clothes, keep an eye out for these common synthetic fabrics and opt for natural fabrics instead: 

1. Polyester

One of the most widely used synthetic fibers (especially in fast fashion), polyester is known for its durability, wrinkle resistance, and moisture-wicking properties. It's commonly used in clothing, home textiles, and even outdoor gear.

2. Nylon

Nylon is another popular synthetic fiber known for its strength and elasticity. It's often used in making hosiery, activewear, swimwear, and various types of outdoor gear due to its abrasion resistance.

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3. Acrylic

Acrylic fibers are known for being soft and warm. They are often used in knitwear, blankets, and faux fur fabrics.

4. Polypropylene

This plastic fiber is often used in textiles that need to have moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties. It's commonly found in activewear, thermal underwear, and outdoor clothing.

5. Spandex (Lycra or Elastane)

While not used on its own, spandex is blended with other fibers to provide stretch and elasticity. It's commonly used in activewear, swimwear, and form-fitting clothing.

6. Fleece 

Often made from polyester, fleece is warm and lightweight, used in outerwear and blankets.

7. Rayon (Viscose)

Though derived from wood pulp, rayon is considered a semi-synthetic fabric due to the chemical processing involved. It's used in clothing and home textiles.

8. Velvet

Sometimes made from synthetic fibers like polyester, velvet has a soft pile and is used in clothing and home textiles.

If you’re not shopping for performance, try to choose natural fabrics, ideally from sustainable brands. If you do have items that are made from one of these fabrics, wash them with a microplastics filter so that they don’t shed microplastics into waterways.

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