20 Natural Fibres- Which Tops the List?

Textile fibres can be broadly classified into two categories namely natural and artificial (man-made) fibres. Natural fibres are known to have existed for ages and are still the main source of all textile articles. The natural fibres are further classified into three categories - plant fibres, animal fibres and mineral fibres. 

This article presents the top natural fibres according to their features, usefulness, origin, and production. This post is written by Adita Banerjee.

Different types of Natural fibres


20. Wood based fibres

Wood fibre may not be used to manufacture garments; however, it is till date the major source of paper production. It is made up of cellulosic elements.

Property: Wood fibres can also be recycled from used paper materials.

Use: Wood fibres are used to make paper, composites and can be used as a substrate in hydroponics.

19. Fibre from Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus as a material is known as Tencel or Lyocell. Tencel is a fibre that has gained a considerable reputation for its biodegradable nature is often used as a synonym to Lyocell. These fibres are compostable and hypoallergenic in nature.

Property: It has low resistance to mould and fire attacks.

Use: It can be used to make good quality and ethical clothing.

18. Kenaf fibre

It is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant similar to jute. Kenaf fibre obtained from the plant are extracted from the bast (bark) or core (wood) part. Paper pulp is produced from its whole stem which is advantageous in terms of environmental conditions.

Property: It has a low density and high specific mechanical properties.

Use: It is used for making ropes, bags, cordage, animal bedding and also for the body of automobiles.

17. Bamboo fibre

It has the property to regenerate so it requires less attention and can grow pretty much anywhere that too faster than any other plant. Interestingly, it is known as natural glass fibre due to the alignment of fibres in the longitudinal directions. It has thicker and stronger fibres which increase its durability as well as it is naturally antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, thermal regulating and a good absorbent. It has the potential to compete with the high variety of cotton. It requires less water, no use of pesticides or herbicides and is harvested at its base, leaving the root intact.

Property: Bamboo fibre has high strength to weight ratio.

Use: It is used to make bamboo mats, rugs, beddings, saree, etc. and it is an alternative to plastic that is renewable and can be replenished at a fast rate.

16. Mohair fibre

Mohair fibre is long, lustrous, strong, resilient, and durable. It has good moisture absorption and has good affinity for dyestuffs but is more sensitive to chemicals.

Property: It has thin scales on the surface which reflects light thus giving it the lustre.
 
Use: It is used to make outerwear, summer-weight suits, and dresses, and mohair fibre is also used to manufacture knitted goods.

15. Cashmere fibre

Cashmere is referred to as wool derived from cashmere goats, pashmina goats, and similar breeds. It has a natural crimp, allowing it to be spun into fine, lightweight fabrics. Cashmere is known as a highly expensive fibre.

Property: Its natural crimp allows it to spun into lightweight fabric.

Use: It is used to make clothing (like the famous Kashmir shawls) and other textile articles.

14. Angora fibre

Angora fibres are very fine and fairly regular in diameter. The diameter of the fibre ranges from 12 to 14 m and the fibre length is up to 60 mm. Angora rabbit has the softest fibre among other of its kind. The density of the fibre is 1.14 g/cm3, and hence lighter than wool.

Property: These fibres have good insulation property.

Use: It is used in high-quality knitwear.

13. Sisal fibre

Sisal fibres are obtained from Agave Sisalana, a native of Mexico. It is lustrous and creamy-white with a diameter of 200-400 microns. Although it has lustre it is unsuitable for textiles or fabrics due to its course nature. It is strong, durable and stretchable, does not absorb moisture easily and is resistant to alkali, acid and saltwater. Sisal pulp is also acting as a substitute for wood fibres in the manufacturing of paper.

Property: Sisal fibre is abrasion resistant.
Use: It has a wide variety of applications starting from twine, ropes, string, yarn (that are woven into carpets, mats etc.) to being used as reinforcing composites.

12. Ramie fibre

Ramie, a plant-based fibre, is white with a silky lustre and superior in moisture, dispersion, and absorbency. This property makes it look like silk. Ramie fibres are thick and long (up to 190 cm in length) with better durability. Ramie fibre is composed of 75.6% cellulose with an irregular polygon-shaped cross-section. There are more than 200 species of Ramie plant known till date.

Property: Ramie has a good specific strength and specific modulus.

Use: Ramie is considered suitable for shirt material.

11. Pineapple fibre

It is one of the easily cultivable plants which grows over almost every soil. Pineapple grows in warm and humid climates. Pineapple leaves are multicellular and lingo-cellulosic and show good mechanical properties. It can easily be blended with other fibres. Heirloom textiles have used pineapple fabric for home tech, auto mobitech, and geotech.

Property: Pineapple fibre has excellent mechanical, physical and thermal properties.

Use: The treated and surface-modified fibres are used for making conveyor belt cords, airbag, advanced composites, etc.

10. Abaca fibre

Manila hemp (abaca), sometimes mistaken as banana fibre, is a leaf fibre that has high lignin content and can easily be seen in the tropics. It is a leaf fibre, composed of long slim cells with high content of lignin (15%). It is grown only for the cultivation of fibre and not for the purpose of eating as its fruit is not edible. It has lustre and is light beige in colour.

Property: Abaca fibre has good mechanical strength.

Use: It is used for making paper, ropes, twines, fishing lines and nets, as well as coarse cloth for sacking.

9. Camel fibre

Camel fibre, another animal-based fibre, is around 20 microns in diameter and varies in length from 2.5 to 12.5 cm (in the case of finer variety). Camel hairs with a lesser diameter are softer and expensive. Among the two breeds of camel, the finer is called the Bactrian Camel.

Property: They are excellent insulators due to a hollow air-filled matrix at the centre of their cross-section.

Use: Came fibre is used for making high-quality garments such as overcoats, suits, coats, blazers, jackets, and sweaters.


Related post: Types of Camel Fibres and their End uses

8. Alpaca fibre

Alpaca is also a natural fibre but unlike wool, it has no lanolin which is the cause of a unique “odour”. It is a soft, durable, luxurious, and silky natural fibre. Alpaca fibre is naturally water-repellent and fire-resistant. Moreover, it provides excellent insulation. Alpaca blends well with wool, mohair and silk.

Property: It is hypoallergenic in nature.

Use: It is used for making high-end luxury fabrics and outdoor sports clothing.

7. Coir fibre

Coir fibre is a natural cellulose fibre that is obtained from coconut husk. It has a low decomposition rate which makes it suitable for making durable geotextiles. However, it is less flexible than cotton and unsuitable for dyeing. Coir is a material that is widely used to overcome the problem of erosion. Cocona fabric (a natural fabric enhancer that is made with activated carbon) is ideal for sportswear and this process reduced the use of petroleum.

Property: It has strong resistance to saltwater.

Use: Due to its strength and waterproof property it is used to make fishing nets, ropes, automobile seats etc. Coir is a substitute for wood for making coir ply.

6. Hemp fibre

Mostly confused with flax, hemp is also a bast fibre that occurs in dicotyledonous plants between the outer bark and the woody central cylinder. It consists of 70% cellulose and a low level of lignin with a density of 1.47 gm/cm3. Hemp fibre is anti-bacterial in nature which makes it biodegradable. It is a good conductor of heat, resist mildew, prevents UV rays and is also dyed easily. It has good insulation properties and is stronger and durable.

Properties: Hemp fibre has excellent mechanical strength and young’s modulus.
Use: It is used in agro textiles, car panels and fibreboard, and "cottonized" for clothing.

5. Wool fibre

Wool is obtained from the fleece of domesticated sheep. Crimp is a unique feature that is seen in wool structure along with its scaly appearance. The diameter of wool fibre ranges from 16 to 40 microns with merino wool being the finest of all. Due to its good insulation property wool fibre has better comfort. In comparison to others, wool has low tenacity, good elastic recovery and excellent resilience.

Properties: Felting of wool is an irreversible shrinkage of length, breadth, or thickness of the material. The heat of wetting is also an interesting property of wool fibre.

Use: It is used to make quilts, blankets, craft items etc.

4. Silk fibre

This fibre is associated with a shiny, luxurious feel due to its continuous filament nature. The protein fibre of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and is produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. It is strong due to its linear, beta-configuration polymers and very crystalline polymer system. Silk is more plastic in nature than elastic because of its crystalline polymer system. Silk has a triangular cross-section which is responsible for refracting light. Silk has been a part of royalty for ages so it is referred to as “queen of textiles”.

Property: Silk, a natural filament fibre, can be dyed easily.

Use: Silk is mainly used for making apparel items and also home d├ęcor furnishings.


Also read: Lotus silk fibre

3. Jute fibre

Jute is renowned as “the golden fibre” for its shiny golden colour with a length of 1 to 4 m and a diameter of 17 to 20 microns however, it has other properties like high aspect ratio i.e., the ratio of length to the diameter of a fibre, high strength, and low thermal conductivity. It is a rain-fed crop so it grows without pesticides and sometimes even without fertilizers. Thus it is 100% biodegradable and hence environmental friendly. It can be blended with other fibres thus making it versatile.

Property: Jute fibre has good insulation and antistatic property.

Use: It is used in the industrial sector like sacking, packaging, & carpet backing and also for geotextile.

2. Flax fibre (Linen)

Second to cotton, flax is the most common name in the market. Fabric made of flax is referred to as linen. It is one of the ancient fibre to be extracted, spun and woven into textiles. It is made up of polymer of cellulose but what makes it different from cotton is its crystalline nature. It is stronger and stiffer than cotton. However, it creases easily. It ranges up to 900mm in length and is slightly less absorbent than cotton.

Property: Flax fibre has better specific tensile strength when compared with glass fibre.
 
Use: It is used to make summer clothes, linseed oil etc.

1. Cotton

Most popular and most commonly grown natural fibre in the world with a total production of 25 million tonnes every year is cotton. It has four different varieties growing all over the world with Gossypium hirsutum taking 90% of world production. The length of the cotton fibre varies from nearly 10mm (short-staple) to 30mm (long staple). It absorbs moisture readily, which makes cotton clothes comfortable in hot weather, also it has a softer handle.

Property: Cotton fibre is soft, and it has an excellent absorbency properties. Learn more about cotton fibre properties

Use: Cotton is used to make towels, denim jeans, most t-shirts, beddings and also coffee filters, tents and so on. Check this list to learn more about uses of cotton fibre.


References:
  • https://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/
  • Journal of Composites Science, Volume 18, Issue 12 (2021)
  • https://www.fao.org/economic/futurefibres/fibres/abaca0/en/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton (cotton)
  • https://ecoworldonline.com/coir-the-natural-fiber-from-coconut-husk/ (coir)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpaca_fiber (alpaca)
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/specialty-hair-fiber

About the Author: Adita Banerjee is pursuing her graduate degree in Textile Technology from the Government College of Engineering and Textile Technology, Serampore. She loves writing content and reading books.