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Artificial Fibers

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What are Artificial Fibers?

Le artificial fibers are those fibers created with materials of natural origin mixed with synthetic substances.

They are often confused with synthetic fibers, but they are distinguished from these by using a portion of natural materials (instead of using 100% synthetic materials).

These natural materials can be formed from cellulose (the main component of plants and fruits), or proteins derived from plant elements such as plants, nettles, foods, or in some cases from animal DNA.

Le artificial fibers they can be defined as cellulose fibers, cellulosic fibers, regenerated cellulose fibers, protein fibers or bio-based materials (wholly or partially composed of biomass).

The growing demand for sustainable fashion e vegan clothing, pushes science towards a constant search for nuove ecological and animal friendly fibers.

In fact, in the last decade we have seen the birth of many artificial fibers derived from citrus fruits, milk, corn, pomace, waste from apple and pineapple production, coconut water, fruit, cacti, from trees such as eucalyptus and beech.

The substantial difference between man-made textile fibers and synthetic textile fibers therefore lies in the fact that artificial fibers contain a good part cellulose or proteins of vegetable origin, while synthetic fibers contain exclusively synthetic substances derived mostly from petroleum.

While using materials of natural origin artificial fibers cannot be defined as natural fibers.

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What are the Artificial Fibers

Le man-made textile fibers are classifiable as Viscosa, are growing in number from year to year becoming more and more innovative from the point of view of comfort and sustainability.

These are the best known artificial fibers:

To get the list of all variants including their suppliers, click here.

How Artificial Fibers are born

Il rayon is the first man-made artificial textile fiber, on the market since 1880, it was created in France where it was originally developed as a cheap alternative to silk. Most rayon production begins with wood pulp, although any plant material with long molecular chains can adapt.

There are several manufacturing techniques for artificial fibers, but the most common method is known as the "viscose“, Hence the name of the homonymous fiber. In the viscous process, cellulose is treated with caustic soda (aka: sodium hydroxide) and carbon disulfide, converting it into a highly “viscous” golden liquid with honey-like color and texture.

The fluid is filtered to remove impurities, forced through very small holes directly into a chemical bath where it hardens into fine threads. When washed and bleached, these strands become one artificial fiber, then a yarn and finally a fabric.

A quick scan of the viscose can show that it is "unsafe for the environment", and the reason why the production of artificial fibers is considered harmful to the environment it is mainly based on the chemicals used in the production process, on the consumption of water and energy.

Although sodium hydroxide is routinely used in organic cotton processing and is therefore approved by the cotton Global Organic Textile Standard, carbon disulfide can cause nerve damage on long exposure.

Even the "chemical bath" to harden the strands of the fiber is done with a material that is anything but sustainable, sulfuric acid.

These chemicals remain only minimally on the fabrics we wear every day. Evidence for this claim is that much of the artificial fibers can be certified Oeko-Tex: a textile certification that analyzes fabrics in search of any chemical substances harmful to the environment and human health.

The environmental problem therefore derives from the disposal of chemical products: sodium hydroxide, although not harmful to humans, is still harmful to the environment, as it is too often discharged into the water without proper purification, thus contributing to pollution. environmental.

The same goes for carbon disulfide and, of course, for sulfuric acid. The aspect of the emissions of these chemicals into the air, which contribute to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, should also be carefully evaluated.

The weaving of textile fibers artificial fabrics, when made in a conventional way, in remote places where national laws do not protect the environment, and without the standards of textile certifications, is equally devastating, both for the massive use of chemicals and for the consumption of water.

Ecological Artificial Fibers

Artificial textile fibers are partially biodegradable, they decompose in soil or water, but most of them release numerous chemicals. This is why their life cycle does not end in composting, but in special containers for the disposal of used clothes, or in unsorted collection.

In some cases, if not blended with other fibers, it is possible to recycle them, but the companies involved in this process are very few in Europe.

Although the production of artificial fibers has been implemented for many years, only 2003 was a method devised for using the plant of Bamboo in this process, a plant in itself very sustainable: it is a weed and grows rapidly, it does not require special agricultural practices, nor chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, it requires little water.

We hear about fibers extracted from eucalyptus, beech, soy, milk proteins, etc., but they all remain synonyms of viscose: fibers are created in the same way starting from cellulose, but with production processes that are very different from each other, especially when it comes to sustainability.

Definitely the standard production process of the artificial fibers it cannot be considered ecological, but we know artificial fibers as Lyocell Tencel, Orange Fiber, Lanital and others that we can consider ecological.

These fibers are "brands" attributed to artificial fibers with low environmental impact production processes, mainly based on closed-circuit systems: chemicals and water resources are recycled and reused, without having to worry about the disposal of these substances.

Over 99% of the solvent can be washed from the fiber and purified for reuse, which minimizes emissions and conserves resource consumption. For example, the Austrian company Lenzing AG which owns the brand TENCEL - artificial fibers of Modal e Lyocell extracted respectively from Eucalyptus and Beech- uses a nuovo non-toxic solvent called "amine oxide", and the cellulose of plants is dissolved in "methylmorpholine oxide", a substance that replaces sulfuric acid.

Acetic acid, xylose and sodium sulfate are filtered and separated and recycled as key ingredients in the food and glass industry. The remaining materials are used as energy for the closed loop process devised by Lenzing AG.

Clearly, these artificial fibers have a higher cost, in this regard a project conceived by H&M in collaboration with IKEA and Stora Enso is born: TreeToTextile, an idea that aims to create ecological clothing with a low-cost artificial fiber. Read our article “TreeToTextile” comes the Low Cost Sustainable Fashion

Artificial Fiber Clothing

Natural. Comfortable. Biodegradable. Rinnovabile. Sustainable. Clearly they are adjectives attributable only to artificial fibers certified with low environmental impact, produced in Europe according to the standards of the legislation REACH.

If made from pure vegetable cellulose, artificial fiber clothing it is very similar to silk, with the same properties of comfort, breathability and absorbency.

Soft and gentle on the skin, artificial fiber clothing is the more sustainable alternative to synthetic fabrics acrylics, polyester, nylon and other petroleum derivatives.

Easy to dye, the artificial fibers can be woven or knitted to make underwear, clothing for men, women and children, skirts, shirts and evening dresses, but also sports and activewear. Also for the home, an artificial fabric is ideal for sheets, towels, tablecloths, napkins and curtains.

The application for artificial fiber clothing it grows as people become aware that synthetic fabrics can no longer be the future of fashion.

Artificial fibers do not release microplastics when washing clothes, but they release cellulosic microfibers (as indeed i natural fabrics). Therefore, if the products we have purchased do not have textile certifications, and have absorbed large quantities of chemicals, these will be released into the water, still causing serious damage to the ecosystem.

Artificial fibers remain a "better" choice than synthetic fibers, but is it better to buy clothing made from artificial or natural fibers? To understand this, we recommend reading our article Differences between Natural, Artificial and Synthetic Fabrics.


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Where can I buy artificial fabrics?

Vesti la natura has created a table with more than 40 sustainable materials, their respective applications in the textile sector, and their suppliers (even for small quantities). To access the table we ask you to donate a small financial contribution to our association. Click here for more information.

When is an artificial textile fiber sustainable?

Artificial fibers are sustainable when they have at least 1, or even better 2 textile certifications, which attest to both a production with a low environmental impact and an ethical production from a social point of view.

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