Flax Fibre: Types, Chemical Composition, Properties and Uses

What is Flax Fibre?
Flax comes from the stem of the flax plant of the species Linum usitatissimum. Flax fibre is classified as a natural cellulose, bast and multicellular fibre. When the fibre is processed into fabric, it is called linen. Flax is one of the oldest textile fibres and some evidence dates as far back as 6,000 BC. It is one of the strongest fibres, and it is considered luxurious – requiring care during each stage of production, which is a costly process. They are known for their strength, durability, and absorbency, as well as their unique texture and luster. The fibres are processed to remove the woody part of the stem, leaving behind the long, flexible fibres that can be spun into yarn or woven into fabric. In addition to its traditional uses, flax fibre is becoming increasingly popular in modern times as a sustainable alternative to synthetic fibres. Flax for textiles is grown in a number of countries, including Austria, France, Poland, Germany and Denmark, but the best quality flax comes from Belgium, Ireland and Italy.

flax fibre
Fig: Flax fibres and products

Microscopic View of Flax Fibre:

Longitudinal View of flax fiber
Fig: Longitudinal View of flax fiber
Cross-Sectional View of flax fiber
Fig: Cross-Sectional View of flax fiber

Chemical Composition of Flax Fibre:
Chemical composition of flax fibre is given in below table:

Component Percentage
Cellulose 65-75%
Hemicellulose 15-25%
Lignin 5-15%
Pectins 1-5%
Ash 1-3%

Properties / Characteristics of Flax Fibre:
Flax fibre is a natural material that possesses a unique set of properties that make it useful for a variety of applications. Physically, the fibre is soft, lustrous and stronger than cotton. However, it is comparatively stiffer (less flexible). Let’s look at each property in more detail:

a) Strength: Flax fibre is one of the strongest natural fibres, with a tensile strength that is comparable to some types of steel. This means that it can withstand a significant amount of stress and strain before breaking. This property makes flax fibre ideal for applications that require high strength, such as ropes and twine.

b) Durability: Flax is naturally resistant to abrasion and degradation, making it a durable material that can last for many years with proper care. This property makes flax fiber a popular material for items such as clothing, linens, and upholstery.

c) Absorbency: Flax fibres have a much higher absorbency rate than cotton, and it dries quickly, hence its use for tea towels and handkerchiefs. It can absorb 20% moisture without feeling wet, and its strength increases by 20% in wet conditions. It has a much better wicking ability than cotton, which makes it more comfortable to wear in warm and humid conditions. Flax fibre absorbs dyes, but the colours have a tendency to fade in the wash.

d) Lusture: The natural luster of flax fibers gives them a unique, attractive appearance that can add to the beauty of textiles and clothing. This luster is a result of the unique way that light is reflected by the fibres, and it gives flax fibre a distinctive look that sets it apart from other natural fibres.

e) Conductivity: Linen conducts heat and is therefore suitable for hot climates.

f) Comfort: Flax fibres have a smooth, cool feel that makes them comfortable to wear, even in hot weather. The fibres are naturally breathable, allowing air to circulate and keep the skin cool and comfortable. This makes flax fibre a popular material for clothing, especially in warm climates.

g) Flammability: Flax is a cellulosic fibre, which means it is highly flammable and smelling of paper burning.

h) Versatility: Flax fibres can be processed into a variety of different forms, including yarn, fabric, and paper. This versatility makes flax fibre suitable for a wide range of applications, from clothing and textiles to paper and building materials.

i) Shrink-Resistant: There is little shrinkage in linen due to the processes the fibres undergo during production.

j) Resistance: Linen is resistant to insect attacks and alkalis. However, alkali perspiration may cause discoloration.

k) Sustainability: Flax is a rapidly renewable resource, making it a sustainable alternative to synthetic fibres that are derived from non-renewable sources. In addition, flax fibres are biodegradable and can break down in the environment over time, making them an environmentally friendly material. Growing flax also requires relatively low inputs of water, pesticides, and fertilizers compared to other crops, which makes it a more sustainable choice from an agricultural standpoint as well.

Types of Flax Fibre:
There are two main types of flax fiber: primary (tow) and secondary (linen).
  1. Primary (Tow) Flax Fiber: This type of flax fiber is produced from the outer part of the flax stem and is usually shorter, coarser, and more flexible than secondary flax fiber. It is typically used for industrial applications, such as the production of ropes and twine, and for composite materials, such as those used in the construction of buildings and vehicles.
  2. Secondary (Linen) Flax Fiber: This type of flax fiber is produced from the inner part of the flax stem and is longer, finer, and stronger than primary flax fiber. It is often used for textiles, such as clothing, linens, and upholstery. Linen flax fiber is prized for its softness, luster, and absorbency, and is also used in the production of high-quality paper products.

Uses / Application of Flax Fibre:
The better varieties in flax are used to make linen fabrics (damask, sheeting, etc.). The coarser fibre varieties are used for making twines and ropes. Whereas the fibres are useful in making banknotes, the seeds have high nutrition values and contain ‘Omega-3’. The seeds are very useful for heart patients as they control cholesterol level. Recently, it is found that the seeds also have anti-cancer characteristics.

Common uses of flax fibre are described below:

1. Textiles: One of the most popular uses of flax fibre is in the production of textiles, such as clothing, linens, and upholstery. The fibre’s strength, durability, and comfort make it an ideal material for a wide range of textile applications. For example, the luster and softness of flax fibres make them a popular choice for bed linens and towels, while the absorbency of the fibre makes it useful for tablecloths and sanitary napkins.

2. Ropes and Twine: The high tensile strength of flax fibres make it ideal for use as ropes and twine. It has been used for this purpose for centuries, and it is still a popular choice for applications that require a strong and durable material, such as tying down loads and securing ships.

3. Paper: Flax fibre has been used to make paper for thousands of years, and it is still used today to make high-quality paper products. Because of its strength and durability, flax fibre is often used to make paper products that require a strong and durable material, such as bookbinding and cigarette paper.

4. Building Materials: Flax fibre is also used as a reinforcement material in the production of composite materials, such as those used in the construction of buildings and vehicles. The high strength of flax fibre makes it an ideal material for use in composites, as it helps to increase the strength and stiffness of the final product.

5. Automotive Applications: The automotive industry makes use of flax fibre to produce lightweight and strong composite materials for use in car parts, such as door panels and trunk liners. The use of flax fibre in these applications helps to reduce the weight of vehicles, which improves fuel efficiency and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Personal Care Products: Flax fibre is also used in the production of personal care products, such as baby wipes, facial tissues, and sanitary napkins. The absorbency and softness of the fibre make it an ideal material for these applications.

7. Agriculture: In addition to its industrial uses, flax is also an important crop for farmers. The seeds and oil from the flax plant are used for food, animal feed, and industrial purposes, making it a valuable crop for farmers around the world.


  1. Principles of Spinning: Fibres and Blow Room Cotton Processing in Spinning by Ashok R. Khare
  2. A Novel Green Treatment for Textiles: Plasma Treatment as a Sustainable Technology By Chi-wai Kan
  3. Fibres to Fabrics by Bev Ashford
  4. Textile Engineering – An Introduction Edited by Yasir Nawab
  5. https://fashion2apparel.com/properties-and-uses-of-flax-fiber/

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