Wool isn’t an option for everybody.
Vegans, and people with allergies need alternatives.
While I prefer natural alternatives to wool myself, like cotton and bamboo, there are plenty of synthetic alternatives as well.
Synthetic materials are all derived from petrochemicals (i.e. oil), and are chemically speaking ‘plastics,’ even though they are not what you think of when you think of plastics.
The big downside of synthetics from an environmental point of view is that when you wash clothing made of them, microplastic particles are released and end up in the water supply.
Regardless, they are very common and versatile materials, so sometimes they’re still your best options.
Let’s go through them one by one.
Polyester covers a few different types of chemicals.
There are actually some natural occurring polyesters, but those aren’t the ones you’ll find in products.
Why is it so popular?
Polyester has many desirable properties:
- Doesn’t wrinkle, stretch, or shrink much
- Hydrophobic (water-repelling)
All these properties make polyester suitable for clothes, which need to be washed frequently and may get wet outdoors.
What About “Microfiber”?
Microfiber is an umbrella term for material that meets certain criteria, and can be made out of different synthetic materials.
However, the most common type of microfiber is 100% polyester microfiber.
The next most common synthetic material you’ll see is acrylic.
Acrylic really does look and feel a lot like wool. It’s warm and soft as well.
And like polyester, it’s naturally water-resistant, which is why it’s a common wool alternative for hats that might get wet.
One big difference between wool and acrylic, is that acrylic is fairly flammable. Just be careful by the campfire!
Nylon is known for its strength and elasticity (i.e. flexibility).
It’s easy to wash and dries quickly, while also being resistant to heat and chemicals.
It’s not super common in clothes, but some heavier duty blankets incorporate it. Nylon is more used for equipment like ropes (for boating purposes).
The last common synthetic alternative to wool is spandex.
Although, it’s not really an alternative by itself. Usually a small percent of spandex (also known as elastane in some places) is combined with other materials in order to add that extra stretch that certain products need.
You’ll find spandex in all sorts of clothes, from hats, to pants, to sweatshirts, and more.
There are other synthetic materials as well, but they’re pretty rare at this point.