Velvet is a smooth and soft fabric that has been synonymous with luxury due to its shiny and elegant appearance.
Very prominent in home decor items such as curtains, pillows, and blankets, it is also popular to use in fashion design.
Retail stores are filled with velvet dresses, shoes, and purses especially around the holidays.
But is velvet an eco-friendly fabric choice?
After all, it is a widely used fabric. And for those who care about their fabrics being eco-friendly, it’s an important question to ask.
In the past, velvet was made from silk, so it was more eco-friendly.
But today, velvet made from silk is very rare and expensive. Today, velvet is mostly made from polyester, nylon, or rayon.
Being made from these materials usually means that particular product is not eco-friendly.
But does that mean that all velvet fabrics aren’t eco-friendly?
In this article, we’ll look at some of the characteristics that are necessary to consider when determining how eco-friendly velvet is.
Is Velvet Natural or Synthetic?
Since the main materials that are used to make most of today’s velvet fabrics are polyester, nylon, or rayon, that means that most velvet is a synthetic fabric.
Polyester and nylon are 100% synthetic materials, having been created by chemical means combining petroleum, water, and other chemicals.
Rayon is semi-synthetic, meaning that it comes from a plant-based source but is usually modified by chemical means in order to give it better qualities.
It’s worth noting that not all velvet that is produced today is made from synthetic materials.
Some velvet is still made using more natural sources such as cotton or wool. But most of the more affordable velvets are made from polyester or nylon.
The original source of velvet came from silk, which is produced by silkworms.
But pure silk velvet is a very rare and expensive fabric today. Even if you were to find “silk velvet,” it more than likely has rayon blended in.
Some types of velvet on the market today are made from cotton.
But cotton is not the best choice for making velvet because it doesn’t produce the same shiny texture or stretch as well as velvet made from synthetic materials.
There are actually different kinds of velvet fabric that have slightly different appearances.
That’s why synthetic materials are mostly used. They can be modified to create different looks without losing their quality.
Common Types Of Velvet
- Crushed velvet– has a ‘crushed’ appearance made by twisting the fabric while it is wet.
Natural fibers will stretch out of shape if twisted, making synthetic fibers a better choice for this type of velvet.
- Embossed velvet– imprinted with designs using a heat press. This type of velvet is mostly used for upholstery where synthetic fibers are preferred for durability.
- Stretch velvet– velvet isn’t known for being a stretchy fabric. Stretch velvet has a small percentage of spandex blended in to make it more stretchy.
- Plain velvet– this type of velvet is usually made with cotton, but it isn’t preferred due to being heavy and not as shiny as other types of velvet.
Is Velvet Eco Friendly?
When velvet is made from synthetic materials, unfortunately it is not eco-friendly.
Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon from which velvet is usually made are essentially types of plastic.
Synthetic materials and plastics are made from petroleum, which comes from refining crude oil. Neither the collection or refinement of crude oil is eco-friendly.
Crude oil is collected by drilling, usually from deep under the ocean floor or regions where there is little human population.
Drilling for oil in this way causes habitat destruction as well as the potential for pollution and oil spills.
Both of those consequences can be detrimental to plant, animal, and human life.
After the oil is collected, it also has to be refined and turned into plastic. This is done using harsh chemicals and solvents.
Again, this can cause air pollution and contamination of soil and water, especially if the waste products haven’t been disposed of properly.
To sum up, as long as velvet continues to be made from primarily synthetic materials, it is not an eco-friendly fabric.
Is Velvet Sustainable?
Just like most velvet is not eco-friendly, it is also not sustainable. It all goes back to being made from crude oil.
Crude oil is a non-renewable resource. That means that continued drilling will eventually cause crude oil supplies to run out.
Oil is not replenished as quickly as renewable resources like plants are. Collecting oil at a faster rate or in large quantities will eventually lead to having nothing left to collect.
If velvet could be made from a plant-based source like cotton and still have the same unique qualities, it would be a more sustainable option.
Velvet that is made from rayon is more sustainable than velvet made from polyester or nylon, but even velvet made from rayon is still not entirely eco-friendly.
Is Velvet Biodegradable?
Most velvet is not biodegradable since it is made from plastic and contains all kinds of harmful chemicals.
You may not think of fabrics as being made from plastic since they aren’t clear and shiny. But plastics don’t necessarily have to look a certain way to be plastic.
Plastic has many different forms. And the thing about plastic is that it can be created in different ways to give it different appearances.
Plastic in any form can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
When (or if) it does eventually biodegrade, all of those harmful chemicals are now being released into the environment.
What’s worse is that a lot of velvet fabric is treated with other chemicals to make it stain or water-repellent.
Those chemicals are potentially being put into the environment as well in the event that it does biodegrade.
If velvet is made from natural fibers, it could possibly biodegrade as long as it isn’t dyed with chemical dyes or treated with other chemicals.
But generally, it isn’t a good idea to let it biodegrade unless you’re 100% sure.
Is Velvet Compostable?
Velvet is not compostable either if it is made from synthetic materials. Composting and biodegradation are very similar except that composting is human controlled.
Composting is usually used to create healthier soil. If you try to compost velvet it won’t work very well since velvet isn’t compostable.
Even if velvet was compostable, it would release harmful chemicals into the rest of the compost. This would result in unhealthy compost as a result.
But like with biodegradation, you can compost velvet made with natural fibers if you’re sure that the dye used was organic and it wasn’t treated with any other chemicals.
Is Velvet Organic?
Velvet is not organic as long as it is made from synthetic materials.
In the sense of the word, the term organic is used to refer to something being grown or produced without the use of chemicals.
Synthetic materials are sometimes created using organic solvents, but in this case organic actually means that the chemicals are very volatile and possibly toxic.
If velvet were to be made with cotton or another plant-based fiber that was grown without the use of pesticides, then we could say that the velvet was made organically.
Is Velvet Vegan?
The answer to this question depends on the type of fibers that are used to create it.
Traditional velvet that is made from silk is not vegan, since silk comes from an animal source: silkworms.
Velvet made from wool is also not vegan since wool comes from sheep.
If velvet is made from cotton or another plant-based material, or even synthetic materials, then it can be considered vegan.
If being vegan is something that you look for in clothing, then velvet made from polyester or even cotton is a good option for you.
But remember that just because something is considered to be vegan doesn’t mean that the methods used to create it are eco-friendly.
Is Velvet Toxic?
Velvet isn’t toxic in a way that could cause serious harm just by wearing it.
However, it’s possible that it was made using chemicals that could be considered toxic.
The chemicals used to create velvet and other synthetic fabrics, as well as any other chemicals that were used to make them stain-resistant, could irritate your skin.
In terms of containing toxic chemicals, polyester is thought to be one of the fabrics that contains the highest concentration of them.
If velvet is made from polyester it can irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or another skin condition.
Is Velvet Flammable?
Synthetic fabrics are generally more flammable due to the chemicals that are used to make them.
But due to the texture that velvet has, it is more likely to catch on fire than other fabrics.
Dyes and other chemicals that are used to make the fabric resistant to stains or fading can also increase flammability.
A lot of fabrics that are considered to be flammable can be treated with a chemical that will make them flame retardant.
While having a flame-retardant coating can make the fabric safer to wear and use in the home, it does nothing to improve the overall eco-friendliness of the fabric.
Is Velvet Waterproof?
Some velvet fabrics that are waterproof exist and are usually used outdoors or in rooms that contain a lot of moisture, such as the bathroom.
However, synthetic fabrics aren’t necessarily waterproof themselves. They are water resistant, especially polyester which has moisture-wicking abilities.
Clothing made out of velvet will do a pretty good job of repelling water and stains.
But for velvet used in household fabrics, it can be sprayed with a special coating to make it waterproof especially if it is going to be used outdoors.
Of course, the more chemicals you use on something, the more toxic and hazardous to the environment it becomes.
Is Velvet Breathable?
The breathability of velvet is determined by what it is made out of.
Natural velvet fabrics made from silk or cotton are very breathable.
Velvet that is made from wool is breathable for winter, but it would be very hot during summer.
Synthetic velvets do have some level of breathability but aren’t as breathable as velvet that is made from natural fibers.
No matter what it is made of, the texture and sometimes heavy feel of velvet make it a better fabric choice for wearing during winter instead of summer.
Is Velvet Durable?
Velvet is a very durable fabric due to being made of a closely knit weave.
It doesn’t have a tendency to fray or have loose threads and can last for a very long time.
One of the reasons that velvet is a good choice for upholstered furniture like sofas is due to its durability.
It can withstand a lot of wear and tear, and some people love velvet because it gets better with age.
Velvet made from synthetic materials does tend to be more durable than velvet made from natural fibers. This is because synthetic fibers are created to be durable.
But even velvet clothing is extremely durable and can last for a long time.
Even though not all velvet is made in an eco-friendly way, you can feel a little better knowing that your items made from velvet will generally last a while.
Can Velvet Be Recycled?
Velvet can not be recycled like other materials because it is a textile.
Textiles are difficult to recycle due to costing a lot of money and energy to break down.
For this reason, most city recycling programs don’t take textiles as a recyclable material.
However, some companies like FabScrap will pick up fabric that you no longer have use for.
Or, you can take your velvet clothing to a secondhand or consignment shop, where other people can purchase it to be used again.
How To Dispose Of Velvet Properly
As long as the fabric is in good condition, the best way to dispose of velvet that you no longer have use for is to give it away to someone else who could make use of it.
You can throw it away with the rest of your garbage, but it will sit in a landfill for an indefinite amount of time.
Is Velvet Washable?
Velvet is 100% washable, and there aren’t a lot of special precautions you need to take when doing so.
However, if it is made from synthetic materials, they usually can’t tolerate high heat so it’s best to wash it using warm or cool water.
It’s also a good idea to dry on low or medium heat, or let it air dry.
Clothing made from velvet does have a tendency to roll up when it is washed and dried due to the texture of the fabric and the fact that it doesn’t really stretch that much.
To prevent it from rolling up, you can turn it inside out and wash it inside a mesh bag designed for delicate clothing.
Washing it using the gentle cycle will cause less agitation, which can also prevent velvet from rolling up.
Velvet upholstery can also be cleaned very easily using just mild soap and warm water. Just be careful not to scrub the fabric too vigorously.
For difficult stains, using a steam cleaner on velvet is a good option.
Is Velvet Easy To Sew?
Velvet has a reputation for being difficult to sew with since it is slippery and can pile up.
But by using the right tools, and having more experience, sewing with velvet becomes easier.
It’s best to use a sharp needle in size 70/11 for thinner velvet and 75/11 for thicker velvet.
It is easier to sew velvet using a sewing machine because you can use a universal needle.
Before sewing with the velvet fabric you plan to use, it’s best to practice on scraps of velvet fabric. (And that’s a great way to use fabric that you no longer have a use for!)
3 Eco Friendly Alternatives To Velvet
1. Natural Fibers
Velvet refers to the specific structure of the fabric and not a certain fiber type.
Since velvet can be made from many different fibers, try to choose velvet fabric made from cotton or wool instead of synthetic materials.
2. Recycled Velvet
Some companies are seeking to create fabrics made of recycled or partially recycled materials, velvet included.
Fabrics made from even some recycled materials are more eco-friendly than creating a completely new fabric from raw materials.
A quick online search should lead you to specific retailers where you can buy recycled velvet and other fabrics.
3. Buy Secondhand
Going to a secondhand shop is an easy way to find velvet clothing, decor, and spare fabric without buying it new.
Whether the preowned velvet fabric is made from natural or synthetic fabric, reusing it is a better eco-friendly alternative because it won’t end up going to waste.
Determining whether or not velvet is eco-friendly is tricky because it all depends on what it’s made of and how it’s made.
Today, most velvet is made of synthetic materials like polyester, so it is not eco-friendly.
Some velvet is made from cotton or wool which is more eco-friendly, but doesn’t have the same qualities as synthetic velvet.
Traditional velvet made from silk still exists as well, but it is expensive.
For the most eco-friendly velvet fabric, look for one that is made from natural fibers or recycled materials, or repurpose existing fabric.
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