Fabric Guide & How to Care

This is kind of a long post so I apologize now but I believe it has tons of helpful information on natural vs. man-made fabrics, their properties & general care instructions. I also want to start off by saying I am no expert but I am trying to learn. This post is based off knowledge I have collected and wanted to share with all of you :) 

Now starting out with some definitions:

Sustainable Fashion: a system which can be supported indefinitely with little impact on the environment or social responsibility.
Natural Fibers: fairly self explanatory but they come from natural materials such as plants or animals
Semi-Synthetic Fibers: derive from natural materials but are chemically altered
Synthetic Fibers: made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural fiber

One topic I know people have had questions on is what makes a sustainable material? In my personal research I’ve come to find that unfortunately, like pretty much all things in this topic, it’s not an easy answer. Not only do you have to look at where the raw fibber came from but how the fibers were manipulated into making the fabric. So for example, if you’re trying to grow a crop of cotton how do the fertilizers or pesticides you use affect the environment? How much water do you use? And then to actually process and make the cotton into a cloth how many resources are needed? Do you need to dye the cotton? Or for man-made fibers, how harmful were the chemicals needed to create the fibers and how will they decompose once the garment is no longer being used and inevitably ends up in a landfill?

The only way to know if a piece of clothing is truly sustainable is for the company to be transparent about their full manufacturing & design process. 

But knowing some properties about materials that are sustainable - if we eliminate the manufacturing element -  then you can start to make more responsible decisions. 

This topic alone shows you how many different layers there are to sustainable fashion. It’s crazy but there is so much to learn if you take the time.

So if we remove the different techniques of manufacturing and just focus on the fabrics themselves, natural fabrics are more sustainable than man-made. However, using recycled materials is another great way to produce a sustainable garment - see so many different levels!

So now that I’ve touched on the factors you have to consider with different types off fibers and processes, I’ll go through some natural vs. man-made fabrics & their properties/how to care for them.

Natural Fabrics
Cashmere - made from goat hair, strong, warm & lightweight

  • Washing: hand wash with gentle detergent in lukewarm water - can even use baby shampoo
  • Drying: roll into a ball and gently squeeze out water - do not ring to dry & do not put in direct heat! Lay completely flat so the item does not stretch out. 
  • Ironing: steam to remove wrinkles
  • Climate: ideal for cooler climates/times of the year
  • Wrinkle Level: fairly wrinkle-resistant

Cotton - comfortable, versatile, breathable & biodegradable 

  • Washing: if the fabric has not been pre-shrunk was in cold water. If it has then it can be washed in hot (dark colors), warm (dark colors) or cold (warm colors) 
  • Drying: low heat
  • Ironing: iron inside out on low heat setting
  • Climate: good for hot climates do to breathability 
  • Wrinkle Level: will wrinkle easily

Linen - made from flax plants, stronger and more absorbent than cotton, biodegradable

  • Washing: wash on gentle cycle. Linen tends to absorb water more than other garments so avoid overcrowding in washer
  • Drying: do not overcrowd
  • Ironing: iron inside out with steam or while garment is still damp
  • Climate: good for hot climates do to breathability 
  • Wrinkle Level: will wrinkle easily (I tend to think linen can pull off a wrinkled look though)

Silk - usually made from moth caterpillars.Strong yet drapes well. Is not a very breathable fabric.

  • Washing: most silk garments need to be dry cleaned due to some silk weave patterns tightening during washing. If the silk is washable, hand wash or use gentle cycle with gentle laundry detergent. HGTV suggests using a baby shampoo without conditioning properties
  • Drying: never tumble dry. Hang dry then iron with warm iron. I’ve also hung my 100% silk dresses in the shower and the steam has taken out all of the wrinkles - seriously amazing!
  • Climate: not ideal for tropical or hot climates
  • Wrinkle Level: will wrinkle easily

Wool - made from sheep hair, naturally insulating & easy to dye

  • Washing: in it’s natural state wool is washable but due to construction techniques it generally needs to be dry cleaned. If machine washable use gentle detergents on the hand/gentle cycle in lukewarm water - cold water can shrink garments.
  • Drying: roll into a ball and gently squeeze out water - do not ring to dry & do not put in direct heat! Lay completely flat so the item does not stretch out. 
  • Ironing: can steam to remove wrinkles.
  • Climate: best for cold weather - obviously :) 
  • Wrinkle Level: very wrinkle-resistant

Hemp - durable, breathable & plant based

  • Washing: gentle or handwash with a delicate detergent in cold or warm water (cold for dyed items)
  • Drying: line dry or dry flat. Smooth out to reduce wrinkles. 
  • Ironing: iron while still slightly damp and with the garment inside out
  • Climate: good for hot climates do to breathability 
  • Wrinkle Level: will wrinkle a little but I think it adds to the texture :) 

Man-Made Fabrics
Acetate (aka rayon or viscose rayon) - a soft & delicate fabric that can be found in blends. Semi-synthetic fiber - man-made but derived from natural fibers. Sometimes has trouble with dyes and can lead to dye transfer during wash. 

  • Washing: most garments will say “dry clean only” However, you can wash in cold water on gentle cycle or hand wash
  • Drying: no harsh heat, twisting or wringing to dry
  • Ironing: iron inside out while still slightly damp
  • Climate: good for hot climates do to breathability
  • Wrinkle Level: fairly wrinkle-resistant

Acrylic Knit: light weight, soft & warm. Similar feel to wool but can be made to mimic other fibers. Can easily pill.

  • Washing: wash cold on gentle/hand wash cycle - no hot water
  • Drying: line dry or dry flat 
  • Ironing: cool iron only - steamer not recommended
  • Climate: not ideal for hot weather
  • Wrinkle Level: fairly wrinkle-resistant

Polyester - easy-care fiber, not very breathable

  • Washing: machine wash warm 
  • Drying: tumble dry on low heat
  • Ironing: low heat iron - will melt if iron is too hot!
  • Climate: not ideal for hot/tropical climates
  • Wrinkle Level: wrinkle-resistant

Spandex - blended with other fibers to add stretch 

  • Washing: hand or machine. Avoid hot water and chlorine bleach.
  • Drying:  hang to dry unless otherwise directed by label. 
  • Ironing: use a warm iron and press quickly. Do not let the iron linger on the fabric.
  • Climate: has some breathability and great for workouts
  • Wrinkle Level: wrinkle-resistant

Even though I provided all of this washing and caring information I generally will wear a top serveral times before actually washing to long-gate the life. I find that system has worked for me and no one has told me I smell, yet :) 

One laundry item I did want to share is my travel steamer. My mom gave to me after she used it for my wedding and I love it! It’s actually in the above flat-lay :) here’s a link to where you can get the same one: Travel Steamer

Hopefully you learned a little more about sustainable materials and the complexity that goes into this system. If you have any other questions about fabrics, how to care for them or sustainable fashion please let me know!

Cheers!

Allison