Clothing made of natural fabrics are on the rise in fashion as we all become more eco-conscious. For Earth Day we thought it would be helpful to tell you about natural fabrics and how to care for them.
What are Natural Fabrics?
Investing in natural fabrics and knowing how to care for them is a great first step into a more eco-conscious lifestyle. But first of all, what are natural fabrics? Natural fabrics are those made of fibres we get from plants and animals. Cotton, wool/cashmere, linen, Tencel, bamboo, viscose/rayon, and silk are all natural fabrics. There are many benefits to choseing to invest in natural fabrics over synthetic ones.
- They are absorbent. Natural fabrics are highly absorbent so they are great at moisture-wicking. Most are also soft, breathable and help to regulate your body temperature.
- They are super eco-friendly. Not only are the majority of natural fabrics biodegradable, but they require less chemicals than synthetic fabrics to make. This makes them the ideal choice when looking for sustainable clothing.
- They are durable. Plant-based natural fabrics contain cellulose, which makes them stronger than synthetic fabrics. Fabrics made from animals like silk and wool are also naturally strong.
- They are often hypoallergenic. Fabrics like bamboo, cotton, linen, and silk are naturally hypoallergenic and contain anti-bacterial properties. This helps your nose as well as keeps odours at bay.
How to Care for Natural Fabrics
Natural fabrics tend to get a bad reputation for being harder to clean and care for than synthetic fabrics. We think this is unfair as the care of natural fibres isn’t much harder than any other clothing. Of course you should always read and follow the label of any clothing you have to make sure you are caring for it properly, but there are some basic rules that you can follow when dealing with natural fabrics.
- Hand-washing in cold water is your best bet, but you can get away with gentle cycles for most fabrics.
- Do not tumble dry. Heat damages natural fibres and they may break.
- Do not wring out or twist to get excess water out. Instead, roll them up in a towel until they are only damp.
- Only iron when completely necessary. Or you can do what we do and embrace the wrinkle!
If you’re looking for more specific care, read on!
Wool & Cashmere
Wool and cashmere are mostly made from sheep and goats. It is a fabric that almost keeps itself clean due to it’s natural ability to rid itself of odors through it’s moisture control. It is also naturally stain and wrinkle resistant. These two facts combined mean that you can simply air these items out by laying them flat to dry in a well-ventilated room for the majority of care. However, dirt happens and sometimes you have to go deeper.
- Washing. Hand washing cashmere is recommended using cold water and a wool-specific detergent. Other wools can be machine washed on the most gentle cycle using the same water temperature and detergent.
- Drying. After washing your cashmere or wool, roll it up in a towel to soak up the excess water. Do not wring or twist the garment as this will cause it to become misshapen. Once you’ve gotten the excess water out, re-shape with your hands by gently pulling on the garment and lay flat to dry.
- Ironing. If you must iron wool or cashmere, make sure the iron is set to medium heat with steam and spray the garment with water before you start.
- Storage. Store your wool and cashmere clothing folded in a cool, dry place. Do not hang as this may cause hanger dimples or cause the garment to stretch out. If you’re worried about moths getting at your clothing you can use cedar wood mothballs to deter them.
Linen is made from fibres of the flax plant. It is very strong and dries quicker than most natural fabrics. Due to it’s quick drying nature, linen is ideal for warm weather to maintain a cool body temperature and to stay dry. This super durable fabric is two to three times stronger than cotton and boasts anti-bacterial properties. Although linen is strong it is also soft, and will only get softer with each wash.
- Washing. Most linen can be washed by hand or machine-washed in cold water using the gentle cycle. You should use a mild detergent to maintain the fibres in the garment. We recommend dry-cleaning linen when it is a super structured piece, like a blazer or suit.
- Drying. You can tumble dry your linen on low heat but do not dry it fully in a dryer. It is best to remove the garment while it is still slightly damp and lay flat to dry for the remainder of the drying time. You can also lay it flat to dry right away as linen dries quickly.
- Ironing. If you have knit linen, lucky you! You don’t need to worry about it wrinkling much. For woven linen it’s best to iron on medium-hot heat while it is still damp.
- Storage. Linen should be stored in a cool, dry place. Avoid putting garments in bags or boxes for long periods of time. Linen has a natural insect repellent so you won’t have to worry about pests with it.
As you can probably guess, bamboo clothing is fabric made from bamboo fibres. Bamboo fabric is super soft and luxurious feeling while maintaining a small carbon footprint. It is usually pre-washed which eliminates the fear of shrinkage, and is anti-microbial which prevents odour and mildew.
- Washing. If the bamboo is woven into something delicate like a scarf with lots of tassels, we always recommend hand washing in cold water with a mild detergent. More durable bamboo garments can be machine-washed on the gentle cycle using warm or cold water (not hot).
- Drying. Lay flat to dry is best when dealing with bamboo. However, since it is a highly absorbent fabric, it has a longer drying time than other natural fabrics. If you’re in a rush, you can throw it into your dryer on the low or no-heat setting until it is damp and then air dry the last bit.
- Ironing. Iron bamboo fabrics on low heat and no steam. High temperatures can scorch the fibres and leave a yellow stain that cannot be removed.
- Storage. Bamboo need to breathe so avoid storing your garments in closed containers. The best way to store bamboo is by hanging them up so that they do not wrinkle. If you have to fold it, don’t make any harsh creases and don’t fill the drawer too much.
Cotton is the most commonly found natural fabric in the fashion world. It is made from the protective ball that forms around cotton plant seeds. There are many different cotton processes out there – some more eco-friendly than others. To ensure you are getting cotton with the least environmental impact, look for organic cotton.
- Washing. We all know that cotton is prone to shrinking. To avoid this you must make sure that your cotton garments stay away from heat. We recommend hand washing or machine washing your cotton in cold water on the gentle cycle.
- Drying. Once your cotton clothing is clean, gently stretch it back into shape and then lay flat to dry. Do not tumle dry cotton unless you use the no-heat setting.
- Ironing. Since cotton can wrinkle fairly easily, you will probably have to iron it at some point. You should iron your garment when it is still damp on high heat. Make sure the steam is on and keep a spray bottle with you to make sure it remains damp while you iron.
- Storage. To avoid wrinkles cotton should be hung up when stored. To avoid any sort of pests getting into your closet and ruining your cotton garments, make sure it has room to breathe.
Viscose/Rayon is a cellulose fibre with the same molecular structure of cellulose. The cellulose is made most commonly from wood. It is highly absorbent and inelastic which makes it one of the more delicate natural fabrics. Wondering what the difference between viscose and rayon is? Viscose is simply rayon that was made using a viscous cellulose solution.
- Washing. We highly recommend hand washing your viscose/rayon inside out with cold or lukewarm water (no hotter than 20 C). If you insist on machine washing this delicate fabric we suggest doing so on the gentlest cycle with cold water and to first put it in a mesh wash bag.
- Drying. This natural fabric tends to feel rigid and stiff until it is completely dry. Remove all excess water by rolling up your viscose/rayon garment in a towel. Then you can lay it flat to dry or hang to dry if it is woven. Do not tumble dry this fabric as it may damage and/or rip it.
- Ironing. Iron viscose/rayon inside out while it is still wet to the touch on low to medium heat. When viscose/rayon is hot is when it has the most stretch. So, make sure you only iron in small portions to avoid stretching the garment out.
- Storage. You can store your viscose/rayon garments if they are woven on a hanger but to avoid hanger dimples, we suggest using one that is padded. If you are storing in a drawer or bin, make sure it is sealed to keep bugs out and don’t stuff it too full so that you can avoid deep creases.
Silk is a natural protein fibre that is made from the cocoons of silkworms. This luxurious fabric is great at regulating your temperature in both warm and cold weather. It is also anti-fungal, hypoallergenic, and does not attract dust mites.
- Washing. Normally silk should be dry cleaned whenever possible. However, if you are stuck washing it on your own it should be done by hand in cold water with gentle detergent. We suggest looking at your detergents label to make sure it is good for use on silk. Put the silk into the water basin with the detergent, let it sit for no more than 5 mins, and then gently swish it around until clean.
- Drying. Once your silk is clean, take it out and gently remove the excess water by rolling it up in a towel. Then lay it flat to dry.
- Ironing. Silk should only be ironed when it is completely dry, on low heat, with a clean cloth in between the iron and the garment. However, we think the easier way to get the wrinkles out of silk is to hang up in the bathroom while you shower. The steam should fix the problem!
- Storage. You can hang your silk when you store it in a cool, dry place.
Natural fabrics are not something to shy away from. With just a few simple steps you can invest in these sustainable choices without the fear of them becoming worse for wear.
Natural Fabrics at espy
At espy, we are always looking for eco-concous and sustainable brands to works with. One of our all-time favourites in Armedangels from Germany. Not only do they make clothes exclusively with natural fabrics, they also keep the environment and fair working conditions a top priority at every level. They even wrap every item that arrives in biodegradable plastic! Learn more about their ultra eco-friendly ways here. Then watch the below video to see what Megan & Nikki have to say about them!