What is the decomposition time of fabric?

August 10, 2023
min read

Short answer

The decomposition time of fabric can vary depending on the type of fabric and environmental conditions. However, on average, natural fabrics like cotton may decompose within 1 to 5 months, while synthetic fabrics like polyester can take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose.


When fabric decomposes, it undergoes a natural process of breakdown and decay. This process is influenced by various factors such as the type of fabric, environmental conditions, and the presence of microorganisms. Generally, natural fabrics like cotton and linen decompose relatively faster compared to synthetic ones like polyester and nylon. Natural fabrics are made from plant material, so they can be broken down by organic processes. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics are usually derived from petroleum-based materials and are designed to be more durable, which makes decomposition a slower process.

The decomposition of fabric is greatly affected by environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture, and exposure to sunlight. Higher temperatures and humidity levels can accelerate the decomposition process, as they provide favorable conditions for microorganisms to break down the fabric. Sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation, can also speed up the degradation of fabrics, particularly synthetic ones, by breaking down the polymers that compose them. However, if fabrics are stored in dark and dry conditions, decomposition may occur at a slower rate.

Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi play a crucial role in the decomposition of fabrics. They secrete enzymes that break down the chemical bonds within the fabric, allowing for its organic compounds to be broken down and consumed. These microorganisms are naturally present in the environment, and their activity increases with the presence of moisture and nutrients. As they feed on the fabric, they release by-products like carbon dioxide, water, and other organic substances. Over time, the fabric disintegrates and becomes part of the soil, contributing to the nutrient cycle in nature.

In conclusion, the decomposition of fabric is a complex process influenced by various factors such as fabric type, environmental conditions, and microorganism activity. While natural fabrics tend to decompose faster than synthetic ones, the speed of decomposition can be affected by temperature, moisture, sunlight, and the presence of microorganisms. Understanding the decomposition process of fabrics is important for waste management, as it provides insights into their environmental impact and potential for recycling or repurposing.

Is it possible to recycle fabric?

Intresting facts

  • Fabrics made from natural fibers, such as cotton and linen, decompose much quicker than those made from synthetic fibers. Natural fibers can break down within a few months to a few years, while synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • The decomposition of fabric is primarily influenced by environmental factors like temperature, moisture, and oxygen availability. Warmer and more humid conditions can accelerate decomposition, while cold and dry conditions can slow it down.
  • When fabric decomposes, it releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment. This can contribute to climate change and global warming.
  • Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi play a vital role in decomposing fabric. They break down the organic materials in the fabric, utilizing it as a source of energy and releasing byproducts.
  • Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, do not decompose easily due to their chemical composition. Instead, these fabrics gradually break down into smaller microplastic particles, which can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

Summary and final thoughts

The decomposition time of fabric varies depending on the type of fabric and environmental conditions. Natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to decompose, as they are biodegradable. Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, on the other hand, can take hundreds of years or more to decompose, as they are not easily broken down by natural processes. Factors such as exposure to sunlight, moisture, and oxygen can also influence decomposition time. Considering the significant environmental impact of synthetic fabric decomposition, it is crucial to promote the use of biodegradable materials and prioritize recycling and upcycling efforts to minimize the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste.

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