Is fabric biodegradable? (5 types of fabrics)

In this blog, we shall look into the biodegradability of fabrics.

We shall also cover other areas which include:

  • Types of fabrics.
  • Properties and uses of fabrics.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of different types of fabrics.
  • Environmental impacts of different fabrics.

Is fabric biodegradable?

Yes, natural fabrics like cotton, hemp, and silk are 100% degraded by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

Synthetic fibers like acrylic, polyester, olefin, nylon, and modacrylic are non-biodegradable because they are made from synthetic plastics which are resistant to microbial degradation.

Biodegradation is a natural process that balances the ecosystem by breaking down substances into small non-toxic substances and in the process carbon dioxide and water are released.

Non-biodegradable plastics are the primary cause of environmental pollution. They are found in landfills and water bodies. 

Controlling plastic pollution has been a challenge because of the high demand for plastics and the improper disposal of plastic waste.

What is the fabric?

Fabric is a material of fiber or plastic or a mixture of materials used to make different products.

Fabrics may be used in different ways that include:

  • Making clothes such as nightwear, sportswear, lingerie, swimsuit, undergarments, caps, umbrellas, socks, gloves, and handbags.
  • In making shade nets, thermal insulators and sunscreens, windshields.
  • In making upholstery, curtains, draperies, carpets, and towels.
  • In making bed sheets, blankets, and pillows.
  • In making airbags, seat belts, and headliners.
  • Making sutures, implants, medical dressings, bandages, and face masks.
  • In making conveyor belts, ropes, cordages, coated abrasives, printed circuit boards, printer ribbons, seals, and gaskets.

There are different types of fabrics depending on the materials from which they are made.

Fabrics are categorized as either natural or synthetic.

Natural fabrics include:

  • Cotton.
  • Silk.
  • Wool.
  • Sisal.
  • Jute.
  • Flax.
  • Hemp.
  • Bamboo.

Synthetic fabrics include the following.

  • Acrylic.
  • Polyester.
  • Nylon.
  • Olefin.
  • Modacrylic.
  • Rayon.

Let’s analyze 3 fabrics of each category of natural and synthetic fabrics. In natural fabrics, we shall look into cotton, silk, and wool, while in synthetic fabrics, we shall discuss rayon, nylon, and acrylic fabrics.

Cotton fabric.

This is a soft fluffy fiber that grows in a boll around the seeds of cotton plants.

It is mainly made of cellulose but can have small amounts of fats, pectins, wax, and water 

There are 4 distinct types of cotton depending on the cotton plant species. They include:

  • Gossypium hirsutum; accounts for almost 90% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium barbadense is also called extra-long-staple cotton. It accounts for almost 8% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium arboreum; also called tree cotton. It accounts for less than 2% of the world’s production.
  • Gossypium herbaceum; also called levant cotton. It accounts for less than 2% of the world’s production.

Properties of cotton.

  • It has a high luster.
  • It has high tensile strength.
  • It has low resilience to chemicals.
  • It decomposes under high temperatures.
  • It is non-irritating to the user.
  • It is hypoallergenic.

Uses of cotton fabric.

 Cotton fabric has the following uses.

  • Making bath towels and robes.
  • Making denim for blue jeans.
  • Making socks and underwear.
  • Making bed sheets.
  • Making embroidery thread for crochet and knitting.
  • Making fishing nets.
  • Making coffee filters.
  • Making tents.
  • Making cotton papers.

Wool fabric.

This is a textile fiber obtained from sheep and other wooly animals such as goats, bison, and rabbits.

Wool contains a mixture of proteins and lipids.

Characteristics of wool depend with:

  • Breed of animals.
  • Chemicals used in processing.
  • The tensile strength.
  • Color used in processing.

Properties of wool.

  • It is elastic.
  • It readily absorbs moisture.
  • It ignites at a higher temperature.
  • It does not melt or drip.
  • It can cause allergic reactions depending on the user’s immune system.

Uses of wool textile.

Wool fabric has the following uses:

  • Making clothes.
  • Making blankets.
  • Making horse rugs.
  • Making wool carpets.
  • Making insulators and upholstery.
  • Making cloth diapers.
  • Making soil fertilizers since it produces nitrogen.

Silk fabric.

This is a natural protein fiber that is mainly made up of fibroin and sericin.

It is produced by insect larvae of mulberry silkworm, Bombyx mori.

The worm is commercially reared for silk harvesting.

Silk produced contains fibroin as the main structural protein and a sticky sericin that protects the silk.

On exposure to light, sericin dries up and forms a hardcover on the silk.

Properties of silk.

The following are the properties of silk.

  • It reflects light at different angles.
  • It has a smooth and soft texture.
  • It is not slippery like many other natural fibers.
  • It is one of the strongest natural fibers.
  • It has a good moisture retention capacity.
  • It has low elasticity.
  • It is susceptible to insect and microbial attacks.
  • It has poor conduction of electricity.
  • It is resistant to acid corrosion except for sulfuric acid.
  • It is destroyed by chlorine bleach.

Uses of silk textile.

Silk thread is used in the following ways.

  • Used in making clothes such as shirts, ties, blouses, lingerie, pajamas, robes, and linings.
  • It is used to make fabrics resistant to mosquito and horsefly bites.
  • It is used in furnishing applications such as making wall coverings, rugs, and beddings.
  • It is used to make parachutes, bicycles, and motor tires

Acrylic fabric.

This is a synthetic fiber made from polyacrylonitrile monomers and co-monomers such as vinyl acetate or methyl acrylate.

Properties of acrylic textile.

Acrylic textile has the following properties.

  • It is lightweight.
  • It is soft and warm.
  • Acrylic resembles wool in its texture.
  • It is highly resilient to chemical solvents.
  • It is resilient to insect digestion or microbial degradation.

Uses of acrylic textile.

Acrylic textile is used in the following ways.

  • It is used in upholstery.
  • It is used to make warm jumpers.
  • It is used to make blankets and duvets.
  • It is used to make gloves and tracksuits.
  • It is used to make socks.
  • It is used to make carpets


This is a semi-synthetic fiber made from natural cellulose from wood and animal products and other chemical substances.

Properties of rayon textile.

These are the properties of rayon textile.

  • It is more slippery than natural fibers.
  • It has the same texture as silk, wool, and cotton depending on the chemicals used to process it.
  • It is easily dyed into different colors.
  • It is smooth, soft, and has high adsorbent properties.
  • They have low durability as compared to other fibers.

Uses of rayon textile.

Rayon textile is used in the following ways.

  • Used to make bedsheets.
  • Used to make clothes such as sarees, blouses, dresses, and socks.
  • Used to make curtains.
  • Used to make blankets.
  • It is used to make carpets.
  • It is used to make bandages and surgical dressings.


This is a thermoplastic synthetic fiber made from petrochemical products, with the main monomer used being diamine acid.

It is one of the most used fabrics in industries today.

Properties of nylon.

Nylon has the following properties.

  • High abrasion resistance.
  • High tensile strength.
  • It is highly elastic.
  • High resistance to sunlight.
  • It is highly durable.
  • It is hygroscopic; it absorbs water.
  • It is less crystalline.
  • It is clear and transparent.
  • It can be dyed into different colors.
  • It has a high melting point.
  • It is less flammable.

Uses of nylon textile.

Nylon is used in the following ways.

  • To make stockings.
  • To make yoga pants.
  • To make sportswear

Eco-friendliness of fabrics to the environment.

According to a study, the different fabric materials have different effects on the environment.

Fabrics such as silk, cotton, hemp, wool, and bamboo do not have toxic effects on the environment because they are susceptible to microbial degradation.

Synthetic fabrics like rayon, acrylic, olefin, and polyester are non-biodegradable and they, therefore, pollute the environment by accumulating in water bodies and landfills.

Plastic fibers are also big carriers of carbon and gases such as chlorofluorocarbons which bring the greenhouse effect, causing global warming.

Are fabrics toxic?

Yes, some fabrics are toxic. Acrylic is a potential carcinogenic. It also contains allergens that react with sensitive skin.

Wool contains an allergen that may cause skin rashes and irritation.

Plastic fabrics produce fumes that are toxic to respiratory and nervous systems. The fumes also cause toxic acidic rains which irritate the skin and eyes and also corrode the roofs.


This article has answered the question,” is fabric biodegradable?”.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • The properties and uses of fabrics.
  • The eco-friendliness of different fabrics.
  • The toxicity of fabrics.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is fabric biodegradable?

Is organic cotton biodegradable?

Yes, organic cotton is completely biodegradable because it is an organic material that is prone to bacteria and fungal degradation.

What fabric is biodegradable?

All the natural organic fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, hemp, and bamboo are completely degraded by microorganisms into small non-toxic materials that are not harmful to the environment.

Is ramie renewable?

Yes, ramie is a renewable, natural, organic fiber that is obtained from ramie plants.


Sutherland TD, Young JH, Weisman S, Hayashi CY, Merritt DJ (2010). “Insect silk: one name, many materials”. Annual Review of Entomology. 55: 171–88. doi:10.1146/annurev-ento-112408-085401

Braaten, Ann W. (2005). “Wool”. In Steele, Valerie (ed.). Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Vol. 3. Thomson Gale. pp. 441–443. ISBN 0-684-31394-4.

McIntyre, J. E. (2005). Synthetic fibers: nylon, polyester, acrylic, polyolefin (1st ed.). Cambridge: Woodhead. p. 10. ISBN 9780849325922. Retrieved 5 July 2017

Leave a Comment