Full Biodegradable Fabrics List: Is Polyester Biodegradable?

It is all about the environment. At least that is what the environmentalists claim. But when it comes to fashion, it is all about how one looks. Sometimes those looks seem a little out of touch with reality in the hopes of being called creative and innovative.

Almost all natural fiber fabrics are biodegradable, depending on how they were made. You have cotton, linen, hemp, wool, and other fabrics that will disappear over time. However polyester is not biodegradable and it can sit in landfills for generations.

To learn more about what fabrics are or aren’t biodegradable, just continue to read our article. It does the leg work for you so you can make smart fashion choices. Forget what fashion designers say and go with what you want to wear and be eco friendly at the same time.

What Are Biodegradable Fabrics?


This type of fabric contains no synthetic components to it. That means that the material is not blended with synthetic fibers that do not degrade through bacteria or micro-organisms like fungi and returned to the earth as organic waste.

It sounds technical but the plain English definition of biodegradable is simply that those fabrics that will disintegrate over time and return to the earth as new raw materials.

That means that to be biodegradable fabrics cannot have any plastic, petroleum products, or other non-natural materials in them at all. Fabric blends do not qualify because often those blends are created with synthetic material and not all-natural fibers.

One of the problems with having those bacteria, etc., eat the fabrics is that they are killed off by the toxins contained in the plastic parts of fibers and fabrics. Those toxins are not good for you nor are they good for the environment

Are All Fabrics Biodegradable?

No, they are not. All non-natural fabrics are not biodegradable. As an example, polyester is made from petroleum products that do not disappear for decades. The best one can hope for is that they will degrade in about 20 years but the reality is that polyester will last up to 200 years before it is gone.

While rayon and other fabrics are considered to be mostly natural fibers, they are not all-natural and may not degrade as they should. It would depend on the chemicals and other materials used to create those fabrics before they could be declared biodegradable.

To use polyester as another example, this fabric may not be biodegradable but it can be recycled. Instead of throwing the polyester clothing in the trash, place it your recycle container and reuse the petroleum products already in that material.

That way you can be environmentally friendly and make sure raw materials are reused n a better way.

Are Natural Fabrics Biodegradable?

Yes, they are but only as long as they do not have any synthetic material blended in with their natural fibers or part of their construction process. One fabric that is in the other category is Tencel. It is said that it is 100% biodegradable but it too has chemicals used in its production.

The natural fabrics that are biodegradable do not contain any synthetic materials which allow the friendly bacteria and other micro-organisms to have a free lunch. All of these fabrics are quite affordable, except for silk, and make very attractive outfits without needing any of that plastic fashion designers like to use.

If you have a wool and cotton blend then you have a biodegradable outfit but if you have a cotton-poly blend then you do not. No synthetics can be in the blend for it to be considered biodegradable.

Are Synthetic Fabrics Biodegradable?


No, they are not. They are made from either petroleum products or plastics and do not have the ability to degrade quickly or be placed in a compost box to help make the soil richer and better.

The definition of biodegradable is that a fabric must be able to be decomposed by friendly bacteria or other living organisms. Petroleum products and plastics do not contain anything those organisms can eat and return to the earth in an organic way.

In fact, those fabrics with those components often contain toxins that kill those friendly bacteria and other living organisms with a lower supply of those creatures it is harder to break down biodegradable materials.

Those synthetic fabrics may ease your laundry time, look good, and last for years but in the end, they just take up space in a landfill or other location till after your grandchildren have passed on.

What is a Biodegradable Fabric Made Of?

They are made of all-natural materials. The analogy of the leaf may help you understand what the process of biodegradable is. In the spring, a tree grows new leaves. Those leaves are used to help the plant get food through the photosynthesis process.

Then as the year continues, those leaves fall off the tree, decompose and then provide more nutrients to the tree it came from so that it can be strong and healthy. In other words, there is nothing unnatural in the leaves or the biodegradable process.

The same goes for fabrics. If there is nothing synthetic in the construction of the fabric, then the fabric will disappear and return nutrients to the soil so that new plants can be nourished through the nutrients the fabric left behind.

Having something synthetic in the mix is only adding poison to the process and limits the nutrients or kills the tree or soil.

What is The Most Biodegradable Fabric?

Cotton is the hands-down winner in this competition. It is said to be the most biodegradable fabric around. But it is not alone in that race as other fabrics make the race very close. One example is linen.

Linen can decompose in as little as 2 weeks and to make that process go faster, just cut the material into tiny little pieces. You can do that for all-natural fabrics. While cotton takes a week to decompose, it can take up to 5 months while wool will take about a year to 5 years depending on the blend.

Bamboo will take about a year or more to finally disappear, with hemp only taking about as long as linen. There are some in the other category that are said to be biodegradable and the amount of time they take to decompose would depend on the chemicals, and how much was used in the construction process.

Is Linen Biodegradable?


Yes, linen is biodegradable and it is probably the second most biodegradable fabric on the market today. Its short decomposing time can be enhanced if you take the time to cut it up into little pieces. Of course, you can speed up the decomposing time of all-natural fibers by doing that simple act.

That characteristic goes inline with all the other positive characteristics linen brings to your wardrobe. You can wear this fabric guilt-free because you will not be harming the environment when it is past its prime and you toss it out.

If you are a gardener, you may be able to put it in your compost pile and make your homegrown soil much more nutritious for plants. But that only works if the material is not part of a synthetic blend. If you don’t there is no need to worry as the material will be gone in less than a year

Is Rayon Biodegradable?

This will depend on the quality and style of the rayon fabric. It is said to be faster at decomposing than cotton but in some cases, it is a lot slower because of the water-resistant coatings that fabric received.

The more water repellent the rayon fabric the slower the decomposition time. Then you have to worry about the amount of chemicals added to the natural fibers. But one study showed that 59% of the ocean's fabric content was rayon.

There are different species that will feed on this fabric, but some damage was done to those species depending on the amount of chemicals used in creating the rayon material used in the study.

One of the chemicals used in creating this material is sulfuric acid which is not good for any application where fibers and cloth are concerned. There are other chemicals inside rayon that undermine the positives that come from its biodegradable nature.

Is Polyester Biodegradable?

While there may be some good news on the horizon, the answer to this question right now is that polyester is a synthetic fabric and not biodegradable. Some researchers are working on creating polyester that degrades but their success is low at this point and limited to only certain applications.

Polyester comes by mixing ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid with the first chemical made from petroleum. To put this in plain English terms, polyester is nothing but plastic and has uses that go beyond the fashion industry.

This construction material is not biodegradable and contributes to the large amounts of pollutants the oil industry gives the earth. The oil industry is the largest polluting industry in the world.

If you are ready there is more bad news. The polyester dyes used to create the different colors found in this part of the fashion world, do not decompose that well either. Any wastewater creating those dyes is basically untreatable and the toxins enter the soil and oceans at full strength.

Is Spandex Biodegradable?


No, spandex is not biodegradable as it too is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum products and other chemicals. That makes it similar to polyester. But spandex is not the same as that material even though they have the same source. Spandex has different properties to make it stronger than rubber.

This all applies to Lycra and Elastane, the other names for spandex. There is more bad news as some of the contents of spandex contains known carcinogens. While spandex blends well with other fabrics, it is not a material you can throw into the trash or the landfills. It will last almost as long as polyester will when tossed out.

A lot of energy is used to create spandex as well as toxic chemicals which means that spandex material may not be as healthy to wear even though it is very form fitting and stretches when you do.

Is Cotton Biodegradable?

This is arguably the most biodegradable material on earth. The fastest it will decompose is 1 week and the longest is about 5 months. The time frame depends on how the fibers were woven, how the material was constructed, and what type of material it was blended with.

Also, cotton can be recycled or reused and by that latter term, we mean that if the fabric can’t be used for clothing anymore, it can be cut into strips and turned into a rug. What will slow cotton’s decomposing time down are the different chemicals used to create a particular fashion style.

They say that some forms of rayon degrade faster than cotton but that is only a small part of the rayon lineup not all of that fabrics’ types. Even other natural fibers do not decompose as fast as cotton can making it the all-time best fabric you can buy, or so you hope.

Is Viscose Biodegradable?

Since this is just another form of rayon that can be made from different natural products including bamboo, it will be treated differently than rayon. Some people have claimed that rayon is not as biodegradable as described earlier.

But that may depend on the processing of those natural fibers. Viscose is given the same biodegradable rating as rayon and it is said it will take decades for it to completely disappear. They include bamboo viscose in that assessment and say that form of fabric is not biodegradable.

What makes viscose so bad environmentally are the different chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Those chemicals will influence the decomposition rate and make this material give off methane gas.

Also, since different raw materials are used to create this type of rayon, the decomposition time should follow the biodegradable time table of those natural products. Try to recycle fabrics instead of throwing them out to help solve the landfill problem.

What Fabric is Biodegradable?

If you want to know which fabrics are biodegradable, just keep reading. It is not a long list as it only extends to those materials made from natural fibers.

  • Cotton- probably the fastest in degrading.
  • Cotton- probably the fastest in degrading.
  • Linen- the second fastest on the degrading time table.
  • Silk- expensive but at least it returns to nature.
  • Hemp- has a bad reputation but still biodegradable.
  •  Bamboo- the fastest growing grass and very sustainable.
  •  Wool- fur takes longer to decompose than other fibers.
  • Jute- used in handbags and other fashion applications.

Honorable mentions

- Rayon- the debate is on about this fabric. A lot depends on the chemicals used in its construction and how water repellent it is.

- Tencel- is said to be very biodegradable but chemicals are still used in the construction process.

If there are synthetic materials blended in with natural fibers then those blends do not qualify as biodegradable. Natural blends are considered biodegradable but a lot will depend on if chemicals were used in the process.

Where Can I Find Biodegradable Fabric?


There is no such thing as a stupid question and some people do not know where to find these fabrics. The reason for that is they may never have thought about the need to be environmentally friendly when creating clothes.

The first place to look will be at your local fabric stores. Their prices may be higher than other stores but supporting your local shops helps the economy and make friends. Then if they do not have the biodegradable fabric you want, move on to your local department stores.

After that, the national chain box stores should have a nice selection for you to choose from. These stores may have cheaper prices than your local stores and a wider selection but that is because their buying power is so strong.

Finally, if you do not like the box stores, go online. The internet has myriads of options, like Amazon and other retailers, that can give you good biodegradable fabrics at wholesale prices.

A quick search should turn up more results than you can spare the time to research.

Some Final Words

Protecting the environment has been a priority for almost 5 decades now. Once people realized that this was the only environment we will have, they have taken steps to make life more eco-friendly.

You can do your part by switching from those fabrics made from petroleum products to those made from natural fibers. It may cost a little more and cause you to spend more time in the laundry room, but in the long run, the sacrifice will be worth it.

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