7 junio, 2024

Synthetic materials: concept, types, examples

What are synthetic materials?

The Synthetic materials are those materials that are made of synthesized polymers or small molecules. The compounds used to make these materials come from petroleum-derived chemicals or petrochemicals.

Different chemical compounds are used to make different types of fibers. Most synthetic materials are made from chemicals that come from polymers, therefore they are stronger and more resistant.

Synthetic materials make up almost half of all the materials that are used in all fields of textile technology. There are different methods for manufacturing these materials, but the most common is melt turning. In this process, high temperatures are used to change and mold the shape and dimensions of the fibers or synthetic materials.

These materials are strong and often offer consumer-friendly features. Some of the most common features are waterproof materials, stretchable materials, and stain resistant parts.

Types of synthetic materials and characteristics


Plastics do not degrade, which is why they are a great source of environmental pollution. Additionally, most plastics are derived from crude oil, which is not renewable.

But technology has made it possible to convert renewable resources into plastics and synthetic rubbers. These substances are sustainable because they save fossil resources and although they are not yet biodegradable, it is a great advance for science.


It is a family of synthetic polymers and was first produced in 1935; it was the first mass-produced synthetic fiber. This was due to the need to replace Asian silk and hemp in parachutes during World War II. At that time it was used to make tires, tents, ponchos and other military supplies. It was even used to make paper money in the United States.

It is highly flammable, it burns instead of melting. It is quite elastic; it is very strong, it resists insects, animals, fungi and many chemicals very well.

It has many commercial applications in synthetic fibers, such as floor coverings and rubber reinforcements; It is also used to model automobile parts, especially the engine compartment, and in electrical equipment, toothbrushes, carpets, nylon stockings, and clothing fabrics.

Solid nylon is also used to make hairbrushes and mechanical parts, such as screws and gears. Nylon resins are used in some food packaging; especially in those that come in bags for the oven and in packaging of sausages and meats.

plastic compounds

This is the name given to plastics that have been reinforced by different fibers to make them more elastic and strong. An example is the mixtures between polymers and carbon, which create a lightweight material that is used to transport things using fuel efficiently.

These compounds are increasingly used, particularly in the aerospace industry. Airbus A360 and Boeing 787 aircraft are made of 50% plastic composite. The only thing that prevents it from being used more, especially in the manufacture of vehicles, is its high cost.


This material is widely used in the textile industry; most clothing has some degree of polyester. There are some varieties that are even biodegradable, although most are not.

In addition to clothing, many polyester woven fabrics are used in home furnishings and household clothing. Polyester can be found in shirts, pants, jackets, hats, sheets, comforters, cushions, padding, upholstered furniture, and towels. Industrial polyester is used to reinforce tires, seat belts, and to reinforce highly absorbent plastics.

This material is also used to make bottles, canoes, cables, and holograms, among others. Additionally, it is used as a finish on wood products such as guitars, pianos, and yacht interiors.

Polyester is highly resistant to stains; the only dyes that can dye it are the so-called disperse dyes. On many occasions, combinations between polyester and natural fibers are created to obtain different results. For example, a blend of polyester and cotton, polycotton, is a strong, wrinkle-resistant, and shrink-proof fabric.

Self-healing material

These new materials that are being developed have the ability to repair damage that on other occasions could be considered irreparable. They were discovered in the early 2000s.

Polymers are not the only material capable of self-healing, but they are the most efficient. They involve very complicated designs and are difficult to manufacture, but when repaired they are more durable than other polymers. It is expected that they will be used more and more in coatings, electronics and in transportation.

carbon fiber

It is a strong and light reinforced plastic that contains carbon fiber. Carbon fiber can be expensive to manufacture, but it is widely used in the automotive, aerospace, civil engineering, sporting goods, and other technical applications.

It is rigid but at the same time moldable and has good resistance to high temperatures.


Kevlar is a very strong plastic. It has highly sought after properties, since it is made of fibers that are strongly pressed against each other. It is a relative of nylon, it is considered a superpolymer and it was introduced to the market in the 70s.

It is a very strong material, but relatively light. It does not melt and only decomposes at a temperature greater than 450°C; The cold doesn’t hurt it either, it can survive temperatures down to -196°C. It resists attacks from different chemicals and humidity does not damage it.

Kevlar is an excellent anti-ballistic material, since it is difficult for a bullet or a knife to pass through the fibers. It is stronger than steel, like modern armor, but lighter and more flexible than steel.

Other uses for Kevlar include being used in the manufacture of bicycle tires, sailboats, and drumheads for musical drums.


Lycra or spandex is a fiber known for being exceptionally elastic; It can expand up to 5 times its size. Its most precious characteristics are that despite being stretched it returns to its original size and that it dries faster than other fabrics. It is stronger and more durable than rubber and was invented in the 1950s.

Due to its elasticity and strength, it is used in many articles of clothing, especially in sports. Cycling shorts, swimming suits, ski pants, triathlon suits, and wetsuits are just a few of the more common uses. Other uses include underwear, swimsuits, gloves, and lycra.

Smart reactive polymers

Synthetic rubbers and gels can adjust their shape in response to external stimuli; this means that they respond to changes in the environment. This capability is very useful as it can help design other smart materials such as sensors and alarms. When self-healing technology is added to this equation, the results could have important uses in many industries.

These materials can be sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity, pH, light intensity, and magnetic and electronic fields. They can alter its color, transparency, or even its shape.

They are used in biomedical engineering, hydrogels and biodegradable packaging.


It was developed in the 1940s. It is strong, light, and warm, therefore it is commonly used in sweaters, as furniture upholstery, on carpets, and to coat boots and gloves.

It is so soft that it feels like wool to the touch; after going through a correct procedure, it can be used to imitate other fabrics such as cotton. Sometimes it is used as a substitute for more expensive cashmere.

Acrylic is very durable and strong. It accepts color very well, has no problems washing and is usually hypoallergenic. As for clothing, it is usually used in the manufacture of stockings, scarves and hats. Additionally, it is used in knitting threads, especially in crochet.

Synthetic rubber

The origins of synthetic rubber go back to the end of the 19th century due to the need to create a variant of natural rubber that could meet the demand of the automobile industry.

Synthetic rubber improves natural rubber because its composition allows it to be more manageable and suffer deformations without losing its elasticity.


Adhesives can be of animal, vegetable or synthetic origin. The latter is based on polymers derived from petroleum, as well as synthetic rubber or polyurethane glues.

In turn, adhesives can be classified, according to their composition, into one-component adhesives and two-component adhesives.

Polymer clay

It performs the functions of earthen clay, only it is made up primarily of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It has been on the market for a short time, but its low cost and possibilities are allowing its increasingly widespread use compared to traditional clay.


The synthesized composition of silicone was carried out in 1938. It is a very versatile product and for daily use in industries such as electronics, construction, pharmaceuticals, or furniture. Its greatest possibility is that it can be heated to high temperatures without deforming or losing its properties.


Thermoplastics are a combination of plastics derived from crude oil along with oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Its main ability is that they can be melted so that they can later take on the shape you want.

It is applied in the automotive industry for the development of headlights, for waterproof products such as shower curtains or raincoats or for the manufacture of pipes.

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