What are the different types of plastic in clothes?
So many of us walk around with plastic on our bodies and we don’t even know it. Worse still, we wash them in the washing machine and they shed tiny plastic particles called microplastics. They then go into our water supply, oceans, fishes stomachs, then back to us… it’s not ideal. In fact, it’s pretty horrifying.
We don’t want to name names, but most big name lingerie brands are using plastics to make their bras and undies. All that demand for polyester fabric just puts money in the pockets of oil companies.
Most new fabrics are made from plastic - in fact, 64% of them are. It’s popular because polyester is super cheap to produce and convenient for consumers. But it comes at the high cost of the planet and even our own health. Some brands are now looking into using recycled polyester, which is a good step. But it’s important to note that even recycled polyester releases microplastics into the water supply.
The most important tool we have as consumers is to read our labels and educate ourselves on what those labels mean. If we want to buy sustainable clothing and live sustainable lifestyles, we have to consume responsibly.
Plastic fabrics come in so many different names that they can be hard to spot. So what are the different names for plastic in our clothes?
Polyester is a plastic fibre made from a chemical reaction between coal, petroleum, air and water. In the 1970s it was advertised as “a miracle fibre that can be worn for 68 days straight without ironing, and still look presentable,”.
There are a lot of advantages to using polyester. It doesn’t really wrinkle and it’s pretty stain-resistant. But for the more eco-conscious among us, it’s best avoided. Polyester is second only to acrylic in the amount of microplastics it releases when washed.
Nylon is pretty synonymous with tights or leggings, but what exactly is it? Nylon, like polyester, is extracted from crude oil or petroleum. It’s one of the most energy-intensive fabrics - you’d have to keep it 62.5 times longer than linen if you wanted to neutralise its carbon footprint. What’s more, producing nylon emits nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2.
Polyamide is essentially a type of nylon. Some brands will label their clothing with more “scientific” names. For now, it’s up to us as the consumer to understand what kind of fabric we’re buying when we buy it.
Acrylic is made in a similar way to nylon and polyester - from crude oil. It’s essentially a bunch of plastic threads made into a “synthetic wool”. The only difference between polyester and acrylic is the “feel” of the final fabric that comes out.
The fabric can last up to 200 years and releases the most amount of microplastics than any other synthetic material when washed.
We were more disappointed than anyone to hear this, but just because something is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. The majority of vegan leather is made from plastic-based polyurethane chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). There are some new innovations making it out of cork or pineapple leaves - so it’s important to read the label!
Faux fur is made of plastic - usually either with acrylic or polyester. We think it’s time the fur fashion trend stayed where it belongs - in the past.
Spandex is a super stretchy fibre with a polyurethane plastic base. The only difference is - spandex is not made from petroleum or coal. It’s made from chemicals that are synthesised in lab settings. It’s only after the lifecycle of the fabric that spandex begins to have a harmful effect on the environment (it doesn’t biodegrade).
It’s so important to know what we’re wearing on our bodies, and to know what will happen to these fabrics after we’re done using them. Plastics are some of the worst offenders in terms of affecting the environment, especially after being disposed of. We hope you found this guide useful, and remember to read your labels.