How to Tell if a Fabric is Natural or Synthetic

So you want to know how to tell if a fabric is natural or synthetic?

With so many variations, blends and materials it can be pretty hard to tell if a fabric is cotton, silk, linen, wool or a polyester. Below we go over a few ways you can test your fabric yourself.

The fabric burn test

A fabric burn test is simply burning the edge of a fabric so see how it burns (and how the burnt fabric smells).

Just light the edge of the fabric with a match or lighter – take precautions since you’re dealing with fire, like using a fireproof container or tweezers. Let the fabric burn for a second or two and then analyze the results.

How to tell if a fabric is natural or synthetic depends on how the burnt material burns, smells and behaves after being burned.

If a fabric is 100% cotton

Cotton fabric will burn like most natural materials since it comes from a plant. The ash will be delicate and turns to dust when you touch it.

The material should also burn pretty quickly and the smell should be pretty weak like burning paper or leaves.

how to tell if a fabric is natural
photo by Stacie

If a fabric is silk

Silk fabric a natural material, but not from a plant. The fabric won’t burn quickly, but it will leave a fine ash that turns to dust if you touch it.

The silk fabric should smell like burnt hair.

how to tell if a fabric is cotton
It’s best not to wear the fabric while burn testing it.
photo by Jason Brown

If a fabric is wool

Wool is similar to silk in that it’s natural but not from a plant. It also should smell like burnt hair and will crumble on touch.

The biggest difference is that its ash is not as fine and it takes longer to ignite.

If a fabric is linen

Linen comes from a plant and burns a bit slower than cotton does. Its ash will crumble on touch.

If a fabric is synthetic

Synthetic fabrics are sometimes hard to differentiate from natural fabrics by look and feel, but behave much different in a burn test.

Most synthetic fabrics will burn like plastic when lit. The fabric will curl backwards as it burns.

The burnt fabric will also harden to a plastic-like consistency and smell like plastic as well. Did I mention it burns like plastic?

how-to-tell-if-a-fabric-is-natural-infographic

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