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Synthetic fiber

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Synthetic fibers or synthetic fibres (in British English; see spelling differences) are fibers made by humans through chemical synthesis, as opposed to natural fibers that are directly derived from living organisms, such as plants (like cotton) or fur from animals. They are the result of extensive research by scientists to replicate naturally occurring animal and plant fibers. In general, synthetic fibers are created by extruding fiber-forming materials through spinnerets, forming a fiber. These are called synthetic or artificial fibers. The word polymer comes from a Greek prefix "poly" which means "many" and suffix "mer" which means "single units". (Note: each single unit of a polymer is called a monomer).

The first synthetic fibres[edit]

Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer. DuPont began its research project in 1927. The first nylon, nylon 66, was synthesized on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Hume Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station.

The next step was taken by Hilaire de Chardonnet, a French engineer and industrialist, who invented the first artificial silk, which he called "Chardonnet silk". In the late 1870s, Chardonnet was working with Louis Pasteur on a remedy to the epidemic that was destroying French silkworms. Failure to clean up a spill in the darkroom resulted in Chardonnet's discovery of nitrocellulose as a potential replacement for real silk. Realizing the value of such a discovery, Chardonnet began to develop his new product,[1] which he displayed at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.[2] Chardonnet's material was extremely flammable, and subsequently replaced with other, more stable materials.

Commercial products[edit]

Nylon was first synthesized by Wallace Carothers at DuPont.

The first successful process was developed in 1894 by English chemist Charles Frederick Cross, and his collaborators Edward John Bevan and Clayton Beadle. They named the fiber "viscose", because the reaction product of carbon disulfide and cellulose in basic conditions gave a highly viscous solution of xanthate.[3] The first commercial viscose rayon was produced by the UK company Courtaulds in 1905. The name "rayon" was adopted in 1924, with "viscose" being used for the viscous organic liquid used to make both rayon and cellophane. A similar product known as cellulose acetate was discovered in 1865. Rayon and acetate are both artificial fibers, but not truly synthetic, being made from wood.[4]

Nylon, the first synthetic fiber in the "fully synthetic" sense of that term,[citation needed] was developed by Wallace Carothers, an American researcher at the chemical firm DuPont in the 1930s. It soon made its debut in the United States as a replacement for silk, just in time for the introduction of rationing during World War II. Its novel use as a material for women's stockings overshadowed more practical uses, such as a replacement for the silk in parachutes and other military uses like ropes.

The first polyester fiber was patented in Britain in 1928 by the International General Electric company.[5] It was also produced by British chemists working at the Calico Printers' Association, John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson,[6][7] in 1941. They produced and patented one of the first polyester fibers which they named Terylene, also known as Dacron, equal to or surpassing nylon in toughness and resilience.[8] ICI and DuPont went on to produce their own versions of the fiber.

The world production of synthetic fibers was 55.2 million tonnes in 2014.[9]


A device for spinning Viscose Rayon dating from 1901

About half of all fibres are synthetic, with applications in every field of fiber and textile technology. Although many classes of fibers based on synthetic polymers have been evaluated as potentially valuable commercial products, four of them - nylon, polyester, acrylic and polyolefin - dominate the market. These four account for approximately 98 percent by volume of synthetic fiber production, with polyester alone accounting for around 60 percent.[10]

Synthetic fibers are a source of microplastic pollution from laundry machines.[11]

Common synthetic fibers[edit]

Common synthetic fibers include:

Specialty synthetic fibers include:

[citation needed]

Other synthetic materials used in fibers include:

Modern fibers that are made from older artificial materials include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Garrett, Alfred (1963). The Flash of Genius. Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. pp. 48–49.
  2. ^ Inventive Genius. New York: Time-Life Books. 1991. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-8094-7699-2.
  3. ^ Day, Lance; Ian McNeil (1998). Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology. Taylor & Francis. p. 113. ISBN 978-0415193993.
  4. ^ Woodings, Calvin R. "A Brief History of Regenerated Cellulosic fibers". WOODINGS CONSULTING LTD. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  5. ^ Loasby, G. (1951). "The Development of the Synthetic Fibres". Journal of the Textile Institute Proceedings. 42 (8): P411–P441. doi:10.1080/19447015108663852.
  6. ^ World of Chemistry. Thomson Gale. 2005. Archived from the original on 28 October 2009. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  7. ^ Allen, P (1967). "Obituary". Chemistry in Britain.
  8. ^ Frank Greenaway, 'Whinfield, John Rex (1901–1966)', rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 20 June 2011
  9. ^ Man-Made Fibers Continue To Grow Archived 28 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Textile World
  10. ^ J E McIntyre, Professor Emeritus of Textile Industries, University of Leeds, UK (ed.). Synthetic fibers: Nylon, polyester, acrylic, polyolefin. Woodhead Publishing - Series in Textiles. Vol. 36. Cambridge. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  11. ^ Katsnelson, Alla (2015). "News Feature: Microplastics present pollution puzzle". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112 (18): 5547–5549. Bibcode:2015PNAS..112.5547K. doi:10.1073/pnas.1504135112. PMC 4426466. PMID 25944930.

Further reading[edit]

  • The original source of this article and much of the synthetic fiber articles (copied with permission) is Whole Earth magazine, No. 90, Summer 1997. www.wholeearth.com Archived 6 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine