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Highlight: Natural vs. Synthetic Material

A common curiosity for consumers arises when they see the base material for a particular product - Natural Fibers vs Synthetic.  Each group includes many fiber sources, each with their own unique capabilities and strengths.

 

Natural Fibers:

Natural fibers have two main sources, either plant fibers (ie cotton) or animal hair (ie wool).  In some cases, the main body of the plant is used; for instance in sisal made from various grasses and/or bark fibers.  Natural fibers are typically tough-wearing and resilient.  They are very good in many situations.  But they may not be the 'best' fit for particular circumstances.  Their generality is their greatest weakness.

Natural fibers tend not to take bright colors well.  It is possible that colors are lost during cleaning routines, or that they stain if exposed to things like wine or other spills.  They may be sensitive to moisture, either molding or rotting if exposed for long periods.  They may slowly break down in direct sunlight as well, fading or losing structural integrity.  Don't let those notes discourage.  These fibers have been used for hundreds of years for rugs, clothes, and other textiles.  Some of those items still remain to this day.  Depending on the usage and the material, some fibers are very soft and pleasant to the touch, and others more rigid and scratchy.

Synthetic Fibers:

Synthetic fibers are those created industrially.  The ultimate source is typically crude oil, refined into inert fibers.  Some fibers have qualities that allow products made from them exclusively.  Others are better suited in a support role with other natural fibers.  Chemical names that may be found are: nylon, polyester, polypropylene and the like.  Sometimes, trade names are used instead of the scientific name.

Synthetic fibers tend to focus on one (or a few) characteristic.  For instance, nylon is solution-dyed, meaning the color is throughout the fiber and not just on the surface.  This material holds color very well, meaning physical and chemical damages has little impact on color.  Alternatively, Olefin is an extremely tough fiber.  However, it cannot be used in all the same situations as other fibers as it may not behave of feel the same in a given situation.  Synthetics, in general, can take more extreme colors, holding on to them more brilliantly than natural fibers for longer.  Some fibers are created with the color within, others require unusual circumstances to open the 'pores' of the material for dying.  Therefore, synthetics are less prone to accidental soiling for household liquids.  However, because they are oil-based, petroleum products in the home act as the Achilles' heel for many of these fibers - nail polish remover will eat right through synthetic materials.  Alternatively, oil and water do not mix, synthetics typically ignore water, as the fibers themselves are not absorbent.

 

Material choices abound.  Despite the base construction, all materials will eventually break down, fading and rotting away.  The question is if the given environment is asking too much of a given material or if there is a better option to accomplish the desired results.  Regardless, all of these materials should be professionally cleaned, as the professional will know how best to treat the fiber and the construction for maximum effectivity as well as maintaining integrity.


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