fiber, threadlike strand, usually pliable and capable of being spun into a yarn. Many different fibers are known to be usable; some 40 of these are of commercial importance, and others are of local or specialized use. Fibers may be classified as either natural or synthetic. The natural fibers may be further classed according to origin as animal, vegetable, or inorganic fibers.

Animal fibers are composed chiefly of proteins; they include silk, wool, and hair of the goat (known as mohair), llama and alpaca, vicuña, camel, horse, rabbit, beaver, hog, badger, sable, and other animals. Vegetable fibers are composed chiefly of cellulose and may be classed as short fibers, e.g., cotton and kapok; or long fibers, including flax, hemp, Manila hemp, istle, ramie, sisal hemp, and Spanish moss. The chief natural inorganic fiber is asbestos. Fibers are also derived from other inorganic substances that can be drawn into threads, e.g., metals (especially gold and silver). Artificial fibers can be produced either by the synthesis of polymers (nylon) or by the alteration of natural fibers (rayon).

Fibers are classified according to use as textile, cordage, brush, felt, filling, and plaiting fibers. The largest volume is used for textiles and cordage. The chief textile fibers used for clothing and domestic goods are cotton, wool, rayon, nylon, flax, and silk. Coarse-textured fibers (principally jute) are used for burlap, floor covering, sacks, and bagging materials. Cordage fibers include most of the long vegetable fibers and cotton. Brush fibers include istle, sisal, broomcorn, palmyra, and animal hairs. The chief felt fibers are rabbit and beaver hair. Filling fibers include horsehair, wool flock, kapok, cotton, and Spanish moss. Plaiting fibers are used for braided articles (e.g., hats, mats, and baskets) and include Manila hemp, sisal, rushes, and grasses.

Flax, hemp, and wool have been used extensively from remote times; cotton, however, became the leading commercial fiber c.1800. The demand for fibers was greatly increased by the invention of spinning and weaving machinery during the Industrial Revolution. The artificial fibers (see synthetic textile fibers) have rapidly grown in diversity and extent of use since the development of rayon in 1884.

fiber, dietary, bulky part of food that cannot be broken down by enzymes in the small intestine of the digestive system. Almost all natural fiber comes from plants. Although fiber has little nutritional value, it offers other health benefits. By adding bulk to the diet, fiber prevents constipation, minimizes intestinal disorders, and may serve as an aid in dieting. The benefits of consuming foods high in fiber include lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Foods high in fiber include legumes, green, leafy vegetables, whole fruits, and unrefined foods such as bran and sprouted seeds. Fiber is also known as roughage. Robert L. Ory, Grandma Called It Roughage: Fiber Facts and Fallacies (1991).

Fiber or fibre is a class of materials that are continuous filaments or are in discrete elongated pieces, similar to lengths of thread. They are very important in the biology of both plants and animals, for holding tissues together. Human uses for fibers are diverse. They can be spun into Filaments, string or rope, used as a component of composite materials, or matted into sheets to make products such as paper or felt. Fibers are often used in the manufacture of other materials. Synthetic fibers can be produced very cheaply and in large amounts compared to natural fibers, but natural fibers enjoy some benefits, such as comfort, over their man-made counterparts.

Natural fibers

Natural fibers include those produced by plants, animals, and geological processes. They are biodegradable over time. They can be classified according to their origin:

Human-made fibers

Synthetic or man-made fibers generally come from synthetic materials such as petrochemicals. But some types of synthetic fibers are manufactured from natural cellulose, including rayon, modal, and the more recently developed Lyocell. Cellulose-based fibers are of two types, regenerated or pure cellulose such as from the cupro-ammonium process and modified or derivitized cellulose such as the cellulose acetates.

Mineral fibers

  • Fiberglass, made from specific glass, and optical fiber, made from purified natural quartz, are also man-made fibers that come from natural raw materials.
  • Metallic fibers can be drawn from ductile metals such as copper, gold or silver and extruded or deposited from more brittle ones, such as nickel, aluminum or iron.
  • Carbon fibers are often based on carbonised polymers, but the end product is pure carbon.

There are two sorts of man-made fibers: synthetic fibers and regenerated fibers.

Polymer fibers

  • Polymer fibers are a subset of man-made fibers, which are based on synthetic chemicals (often from petrochemical sources) rather than arising from natural materials by a purely physical process. Such fibers are made from:
    • polyamide nylon,
    • PET or PBT polyester
    • phenol-formaldehyde (PF)
    • polyvinyl alcohol fiber (PVOH)
    • polyvinyl chloride fiber (PVC)
    • polyolefins (PP and PE)
    • acrylic polymers, pure polyacrylonitrile PAN fibers are used to make carbon fiber by roasting them in a low oxygen environment. Traditional acrylic fiber is used more often as a synthetic replacement for wool. Carbon fibers and PF fibers are noted as two resin-based fibers that are not thermoplastic, most others can be melted.
    • Aromatic polyamids (aramids) such as Twaron, Kevlar and Nomex thermally degrade at high temperatures and do not melt. These fibers have strong bonding between polymer chains
    • polyethylene (PE), eventually with extremely long chains / HMPE (e.g. Dyneema or Spectra).
    • Elastomers can even be used, e.g. spandex although urethane fibers are starting to replace spandex technology.
    • polyurethane fiber
  • Coextruded fibers have two distinct polymers forming the fiber, usually as a core-sheath or side-by-side. Coated fibers exist such as nickel-coated to provide static elimination, silver-coated to provide anti-bacterial properties and aluminum-coated to provide RF deflection for radar chaff. Radar chaff is actually a spool of continuous glass tow that has been aluminum coated. An aircraft-mounted high speed cutter chops it up as it spews from a moving aircraft to confuse radar signals.


Micro fibers in textiles refer to sub-denier fiber (such as polyester drawn to 0.5 dn). Denier and Detex are two measurements of fiber yield based on weight and length. If the fiber density is known you also have a fiber diameter, otherwise it is simpler to measure diameters in micrometers. Microfibers in technical fibers refer to ultra fine fibers (glass or meltblown thermoplastics) often used in filtration. Newer fiber designs include extruding fiber that splits into multiple finer fibers. Most synthetic fibers are round in cross-section, but special designs can be hollow, oval, star-shaped or trilobal. The latter design provides more optically reflective properties. Synthetic textile fibers are often crimped to provide bulk in a woven, non woven or knitted structure. Fiber surfaces can also be dull or bright. Dull surfaces reflect more light while bright tends to transmit light and make the fiber more transparent.

Very short and/or irregular fibers have been called fibrils. Natural cellulose, such as cotton or bleached kraft show smaller fibrils jutting out and away from the main fiber structure.

See also


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