Natural vs Synthetic Fabrics

Loungewear /

Wondering what kind of fabric you should choose? In this comparison of natural vs synthetic fibers, we’re exploring the major differences, pros and cons.

Natural vs Synthetic Fabrics

Every day, you come in contact with dozens of different fabrics. From cardigans and car seats to pants and pillowcases, there’s a wide world of materials out there. But have you ever wondered what your everyday items are actually made of?

Some fabrics come naturally from plants and animal products. Others are manufactured in factories and labs. In other words, it’s a story of natural vs synthetic fibers.

Both synthetic and natural materials have their place in our lives. And in this short guide, we’re exploring the properties, advantages and drawbacks of each one.

What Are Natural Fabrics?

A natural fabric is any fiber that comes from the natural world. The source of a natural material could be a plant, an animal or even a mineral.

While natural fibers are all-natural, they don’t exist as-is in the wild. There’s still a human element involved in making these fabrics. Natural fibers must be turned into threads—or “spun”—before they can be woven into garments and gear.

Around the world, there are many different kinds of natural materials. Some of the most popular ones include:

  • Cotton – Cotton might be considered the gold standard of natural materials. It’s made from the soft, fluffy fibers of the cotton plant. When these fibers are spun into thread, they become a lightweight, breathable fabric that can be made into everything from soft t-shirts to rugged denim jeans.
  • Silk – Though it may not feel like it, silk is technically an animal product. Made from the nest and cocoon materials of certain insects, silk is an ultra-smooth, luxurious material that commands a high price.
  • Wool – This warm, slightly rough-to-the-touch fabric starts as animal hair. Most wool comes from sheep but can also be sourced from alpacas, goats and rabbits. Because it’s thick and warm, wool is usually woven into bulky strands, and then made into cold-weather clothes like scarves and sweaters.

The Pros of Natural Fabrics

People around the world have used natural fabrics for thousands of years, and with good reason: There’s a lot to love about natural materials. 

Natural fibers are still made into goods today because:

  • They’re environmentally friendly – The process of turning natural fibers into fabrics doesn’t rely much on chemicals, so they’re relatively clean to make. Of course, all natural materials have some impact on the environment. Cotton crops require plenty of water, while the animals raised to make wool need food, water and land to live on.
  • They absorb water – Plants and animals need water to live, so it makes sense that their materials also love water. This absorbency makes natural materials an obvious choice for towels, cloths and other household items. They also wick water away from the skin, keeping you cool and dry.
  • They’re comfortable – Fabrics like silk and cotton are famous for their softness. These natural fibers are ideal if you have sensitive skin.

The Cons of Natural Fabrics

Natural materials are fantastic, but they’re not perfect. (That’s why humans invented synthetic fibers.)

Here are some of the drawbacks of natural fibers:

  • They can be expensive – It can take a lot of time, resources and labor to grow and collect natural fibers. Silk, for example, is infamous for its intensive harvest—that’s why it’s been a luxurious material for thousands of years.
  • They can have special cleaning instructions – Natural fibers require special care, especially animal materials like wool and silk, and they can’t always go in the dryer. When not cared for correctly, materials like cotton can also shrink in the wash.

What Are Synthetic Fabrics?

Next up in our comparison of natural fibers vs synthetic fibers: Synthetic materials. These are the opposite of natural materials. They don’t come from the natural world but from humans tinkering in laboratories with chemical processes.

Unfortunately, synthetic fabrics sometimes get a bad rap. Some people view anything natural as “good” and anything synthetic as “bad.” But that idea couldn’t be further from the truth.

After all, synthetic materials are symbols of progress, of solving problems the natural world can’t handle. With that in mind, synthetic materials are miracles of modern science.

Some of the most well-known synthetic fibers include:

  • Polyester – Found everywhere these days, polyester is made from coal and petroleum. It’s a lightweight and durable fabric that feels soft to the touch.
  • Spandex – Sometimes called elastane or LYCRA, spandex is a stretchy material made mostly from polyurethane, a type of “liquid plastic.” In many cases, spandex is blended with other materials to create hybrid fabrics with some give. For example, skinny jeans made with added spandex are more comfortable.
  • Acrylic – Acrylic fabrics are made from polymers. Acrylics often stand in for wool in low-cost clothing since they’re super warm (think fleece and fake fur).
  • Rayon – Rayon is tricky, because it’s technically a semi-synthetic fiber. Made from a combination of wood pulp and chemicals, it often imitates silk, wool or other fabrics. You may have seen rayon in clothing under the names lyocell, viscose or modal.

The Pros of Synthetic Fabrics

Not convinced by synthetic fabrics. Let’s look at some of the benefits:

  • They’re custom-made to solve problems – Natural fibers exist exactly as they are; they either behave a certain way or they don’t. With synthetic fibers, engineers and product designers can manipulate them to solve complex problems in fashion and design.
  • They can wick moisture – Water-resistance and moisture-wicking capabilities are some of the top reasons you see so much loungewear and athleisure made of synthetic fabrics
  • They’re cost-effective – Synthetic fibers can be mass-produced, allowing companies to offer top-quality products at accessible rates.

The Cons of Synthetic Fabrics

When it comes to the natural fabrics vs synthetics debate, the latter has some disadvantages. The problems with synthetic fibers are:

  • They’re not always breathable – Although modern synthetic fibers can be made breathable, some materials don’t allow much air to pass. As such, synthetic fibers aren’t always comfortable in hot climates. Look for moisture-wicking synthetics when buying clothes for working out.
  • They use chemicals – “Chemicals” are not always a bad thing, but some of the substances used to make certain synthetic fibers aren’t eco-friendly.

Proprietary Fabrics

Sometimes, fabrics from the natural world don’t fit the bill, but existing synthetic fabrics don’t solve the problem either. In these cases, clothing manufacturers often turn to proprietary fabrics. These custom-made fabrics are usually synthetic, but they may also be semi-synthetic blends.

Proprietary fabrics solve all kinds of problems in fashion and design. For example, a company may design a special fabric to be:

  • Moisture-wicking
  • UV-resistant
  • Antibacterial
  • Eco-friendly

Choosing the Right Fabric for Different Needs

So, how do you choose between all these different materials? Well, it depends on your needs. Here’s a quick breakdown of when to wear what:

  • Natural materials – Choose natural fabrics when you want unparalleled breathability, luxurious formal wear or eco-conscious clothes.
  • Synthetic materials – Choose synthetic fabrics for loungewear and athletic clothing, and for affordable everyday wear.
  • Proprietary blends – Choose proprietary fabrics for waterproof outdoor wear, antibacterial workout gear or other niche activities.

Explore the Coziest Fabrics with Softies

Whether you prefer natural or synthetic materials, you’re spoiled for choice. You’ll find clothes made of every fabric under the sun—including those you’ve never heard of before.
If you want soft, comfortable clothing made from well-known fabrics, try sleepwear from Softies. Our products are made from high-quality materials, offering you coolness and coziness in one complete package.