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Periodic Graphics

Periodic Graphics: The chemistry of textile fibers

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning weaves together chemical information about the different fibers in our clothing

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
June 26, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 23


An infographic on textile fibers in three columns. The first column explains that natural fibers usually exist as short staple fibers, whereas synthetic fibers are produced as continuous-filament yarns. 
The second column highlights natural textiles such as cellulose-derived textiles, including cotton, and protein-based textiles, such as wool. Intermolecular forces between cellulose-based textiles are responsible for creases, while directional surface scales in wool are responsible for shrinkage.
The third column highlights manufactured fibers. These included fibers, such as rayon, that are produced by dissolving cellulose fibers, purifying them, and then extruding them. They also include synthetic fibers made from petroleum derivatives. While synthetic fibers are less prone to shrinkage and creasing, they are also less absorbent than cotton, so the fibers are often blended together.

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References used to create this graphic:

Bechtold, Thomas, and Tung Pham. Textile Chemistry. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. DOI: 10.1515/9783110549898.

Hassan, Mohammad M., and Christopher M. Carr. “A Review of the Sustainable Methods in Imparting Shrink Resistance to Wool Fabrics.” J. Adv. Res. (July 2019): 39-60. DOI: 10.1016/j.jare.2019.01.014.

Mather, Robert R., and Roger H. Wardman. The Chemistry of Textile Fibres. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2011.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit



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