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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research by scientists to improve upon naturally occurring animal and plant fibers. In general, synthetic fibers are created by forcing, usually through extrusion, fiber forming materials through holes (called spinnerets) into the air, forming a thread. Before synthetic fibers were developed, artificially manufactured fibers were made from cellulose, which comes from plants. These fibers are called cellulose fibers.

The first artificial fiber, known as artificial silk, became known as viscose around 1894, and finally rayon in 1924. 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. Although these artificial fibers were discovered in the mid-nineteenth century, successful modern manufacture began much later (see the dates below).

Nylon, the first synthetic fiber, made its debut in the United States as a replacement for silk, just in time for World War II rationing. 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.

Common synthetic fibers include:

Specialty synthetic fibers include:

Other synthetic materials used in fibers include:

Modern fibers that are made from older artificial materials include:

  • Glass Fiber is used for:
    • industrial, automotive, and home insulation (Fiberglass)
    • reinforcement of composite and plastics
    • specialty papers in battery separators and filtration
  • Metallic fiber (1946) is used for:
    • adding metallic properties to clothing for the purpose of fashion (usually made with composite plastic and metal foils)
    • elimination and prevention of static charge build-up
    • conducting electricity to transmit information
    • conduction of heat

In the horticulture industry synthetics are often used in soils to help the plants grow better. Examples are:
expanded polystyrene flakes
urea-formaldehyde foam resin
polyurethane foam
phenolic resin foam


  • The original source of this article and much of the synthetic fiber articles (copied with permission) is Whole Earth magazine, No. 90, Summer 1997.

See also



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