Coping with Today's Fabrics
Fiber Content Labels
Rapid changes in the textile industry have produced various fibers and fabrics in the marketplace. Each requires its own care techniques and has its own performance characteristics. Choosing just the right items to meet your needs can be fun, but it can also be confusing if you don't have all the facts needed to make a good choice. Labels on fabrics and garments can help, but only if you read and understand them.
Fiber content labels are required by the 1960 Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. Their purpose is to protect you from mislabeling of fiber content on textile products and from misleading advertising. The Act was amended in 1985.
The Textile Fiber Products Identification Act requires that fiber content labels:
- Identify the fiber by generic name (the name of the family of fibers with similar chemical composition or origin)
- Give the percentage by weight of each kind of fiber in the product in amounts of 5 percent or more; if less than 5 percent, the label should read "other fiber(s)", the exception is if the fibers have a definite functional significance; example: spandex for elasticity.
- Tell who the manufacturer is (by name or registered number)
- Tell where the item was processed and manufactured (if it was imported or made in the U.S.A.).
Fiber content labels do not have to be permanently attached to garments. As a rule, however, textile garments with a neck must have the label attached in the center of the neck between the shoulder seams. Other garments should have the label attached so it may be easily seen by the consumer.
The Textile Act applies to all mail-order catalogs and mail-order promotional materials. The materials must say whether the textile product was made in the U.S.A., imported or both. If the disclosure of fiber content is made in any advertisement, the names of the fibers must be listed in order by weight. Percentages are not required, but fibers in amounts of less than 5 percent shall be listed as "other fibers".
Learning about fabrics and fiber families will help you make better buying decisions. Fibers are divided into natural and synthetic. In general, the natural fibers - cotton, linen, wool, silk, are usually absorbent, tend to soil, but are easily cleaned. They are slow drying and need ironing unless specially finished. Synthetic fibers are usually strong, heat sensitive and do not absorb moisture readily, so they dry quickly. They need little or no ironing. See Fiber Facts at the end of this section.
Synthetic fibers are divided into generic classes or families; each performs differently. Learning the generic family class is important since they must be used on clothing labels. Trade names are given to the fibers by the manufacturers. Trade names do not have to be on labels, but they often are. Some common names using trade and generic names are: Orlon acrylic, Dacron polyester, Antron nylon, Celanese acetate and Lycra spandex. Fabric performance, appearance and durability are affected by fiber characteristics, length of fibers, yarn size and ply and the amount of texturizing.
Manufacturers often create fiber blends because there is no perfect fiber. The reasons for producing blends are to reduce costs by using a cheaper fiber, for aesthetic purposes such as additional luster, unusual color interest and novelty effects, or to retain the desirable properties of fibers and to eliminate the undesirable qualities of fibers.
The proportions of fibers in a blend vary with fiber properties and the intended end-use of the fabric. Usually a textile product must have at least 15-20 percent of the fiber to make a meaningful difference in the texture or performance. Sometimes fiber names appear on labels just to make clothing seem superior or more prestigious. Silk and cashmere are often used in this way. Spandex is an exception. As little as three percent spandex will provide additional elasticity in a fabric.
Generally there should be no more than three or four fibers present in a textile product.
Some successful double blends are:
- 65% Dacron polyester/35% cotton
- 70% Orlon acrylic/30% Avril rayon
- 80% cotton/20% wool
- 80% Acrilan acrylic/20% cotton
- 55% Dacron polyester/45% rayon
Pattern and color are the only factors that are affected by a fiber when it makes up 10 percent or less of the total fiber content.
When blending fibers, manufacturer will add:
- cotton and rayon to other fibers to increase absorbency and comfort decrease static build-up, improve dyeability and cut costs
- acrylics to improve softness and warmth without adding weight
- polyester for abrasion resistance, wrinkle resistance and dimensional stability
- nylon or silk for strength
- acetate to improve drapability and texture
- linen for appearance, moisture absorption and wearing comfort.
In caring for items made of blended fabrics, use the care method recommended for the fiber present in the highest percentage. When the percentage of fibers is almost equal, care for the fabrics according to instructions for the most sensitive fibers. Whatever the fiber or fabric, follow the manufacturer's care instructions to keep the garment looking its best and make it last longer.
Read labels carefully and be sure you understand their meaning. Remember that labels are there to give you information and to help you. Make them work for you in getting more for your clothing dollars.
FIBER FACTS Fiber and Tradenames Special Properties Natural Fibers Advantages Limitations Cotton
absorbent, cool, strong
wrinkles and shrinks (unless treated), can mildew, lacks elasticity Linen absorbent, cool, strong wrinkles, shrinks, weakened by mildew Silk absorbent, warm, drapes beautifully weakened by sunlight and perspiration Wool absorbent, warm, flame and wrinkle resistant shrinks, absorbs odors, attracts moths Synthetic Fibers Advantages Limitations Acetate
Avisco, Celanese, Chromspun, Estron
silk-like luster, drapes well, resistant to mildew and moths weak when wet, dissolves in acetone, has static cling, low abrasion resistance Acrylic
Acrilan, Creslan, Orlon, Zefran, Zehkrome
warm; good resistant to mildew, moths, wrinkles, shrinkage, and abrasion pilling, has static cling Nylon
Antron, Cantrece, Caprolan, Cumuloft
strong; lightweight; high resistance to moths, mildew, wrinkles, and abrasion has static cling, absorbs and holds body oils, heat sensitive Polyester
Dacron, Fortel, Kodel, Trevira
strong; warm; resistant to wrinkles, mildew, mold, and sunlight has static cling, pills, oily stains hard to remove, hold body heat Rayon
Bemberg, Cupioni, Fortisan, Viscose
absorbent, resistant to pilling, drapes well weak when wet, low elasticity and resiliency, wrinkles (unless treated) High Modulus Rayon
Avril, Avron, Zantrel
increased strength, abrasion and pilling resistance low resiliency, susceptible to mildew Spandex
Blue C, Lycra, Vyrene
resists abrasion, body oils, and perspiration; excellent stretch and recovery heat sensitive, some discoloration from chlorine bleach
SOURCE: Rose Marie Tondl, Extension Clothing Specialist, Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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