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Fact Sheet: Fabric Treatment

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 1 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
Fabrics Treatment Properties Laundry

The right way to treat a stain can depend not only on the type of stain you’re treating but also the type of fabric you’re working with. Get it right and removing the stain could be easy…get it wrong and you could end up shrinking, damaging or discolouring the fabric.

But are you sure you know your fabrics? Do you know your wools from acrylics? Cottons from nylons? Do you know which ones are synthetic and which ones are natural? And which fabrics are more resilient or cope better with high temperatures? These things can all make a difference to how your fabric can be treated for stains.

Read on to find out the properties of some common fabrics…


  • Type: Natural
  • Made of: fibres in cotton plant’s seed pod
  • Absorbent and breathable: Yes, and breathable due to “hollow” centre of fibres
  • Withstand high temperature: Yes – fabrics made of pure 100% cotton fabrics can withstand very hot washes, even boiling water, and can also be ironed at high temperatures.
  • Cope with chlorine bleach: Yes – but cotton fabrics with chemical finishes may turn yellow and any cotton that is dyed may fade.
Note: pure cotton is very hardy, however cotton is now often combined with other fibres (e.g. polyester to reduce wrinkling) to get the best properties of both – and this will reduce the fabric’s ability to withstand vigorous washing. It is a good idea to always check the label and see if a fabric is 100% cotton.


  • Type: Synthetic
  • Made of: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material used to make plastic drink bottles through a process where the substance is extruded and formed into filaments, which in turn make up fibres that are woven into a fabric.
  • Absorbent and breathable: No
  • Withstand high temperature: No – melts easily at medium to high temperatures, so although it can be machine-washed, do not use hot water and only tumble dry or iron on a low setting
  • Cope with chlorine bleach: Yes
Note: Polyester is popular because it is crease-resistant and colourfast and retains its shape after stretching, as well as being very strong as a fabric. However, it does tend to yellow with age and will also attract oil stains.


  • Type: Natural
  • Made of: fibres from the coat of sheep, although you can also get wool from other animals, such as angora and mohair.
  • Absorbent and breathable: Yes.
  • Withstand high temperature: No – wool shrinks very easily and permanently when washed at high temperatures.
  • Cope with chlorine bleach: No.
Note: wool is warm due to the “pockets” of trapped air formed within the curly wool fibres. Other unique properties include the ability to absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture, without feeling damp and being flame resistant and dirt-resistant.


  • Type: Synthetic
  • Made of: a synthetic polymer called polyamide
  • Absorbent and breathable: No – but dries quickly
  • Withstand high temperature: No – melts very easily. If you must iron, always use the lowest setting and iron on the reverse side. Can be machine-washed but too much washing and drying will cause piling.
  • Cope with chlorine bleach: No.
Note: one of the most versatile fibres made by man – nylon is incredibly strong, elastic and resilient and yet weighs less than other commonly used fibres.


  • Type: Synthetic
  • Made of: a chemically produced substance called acrylonitrile, which is also used in the production of plastics.
  • Absorbent and breathable: Yes, wicks moisture away from the body and dries quickly
  • Withstand high temperature: No – very vulnerable to heat
  • Cope with chlorine bleach: No.
Note: often used as a cheaper wool substitute as it has the same soft, “fluffy” properties although it does how give as much warmth. However, it is non-allergenic and washable.

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