Most plants and animals produce natural fibers. This article deals mainly with those fibers that are useful for Martian settlement. Synthetic fiber has succeeded natural fiber in many applications on Earth, but it requires a larger industrial base than will not be available to initial settlements. Moreover, many synthetic fibers are made from crude oil, which is unlikely to exist on Mars in the first place. Eventually an industry based on hydrogen extracted from water and carbon extracted from CO2 will emerge to compete with natural fibers.
Plant fibers are likely the first to be produced in any settlement. Though they often involve post-processing, overall they require less resource and time investment than animal fiber.
- Cotton. The cotton plant produces white fibers which surround its seeds. These seeds must be removed before the cotton can be processed. Cotton is commonly used in textiles and fine paper. Wet cotton clothing looses much of its insulating properties.
- Linen. Linen is obtained from the processed stocks of the flax plant. It is used in clothing and bedding.
- Hemp. Hemp is a strong fiber obtained from the plant of the same name. It was commonly used in ropes and rigging. Hemp bridges still span canyons and rivers in some regions on Earth. It has been replaced by synthetic fiber in many applications. Hemp is an alternative name for Cannabis and various cultivars contain variable amounts of psychoactive substances. Cultivars grown for fibers have very low concentrations. Hemp fibers can be used to produce paper.
- Bamboo. The fibers of bamboo, once chemically processed, become soft and easily woven into textiles. The chemical treatment needed may restrict bamboo to food and structural applications.
The production of animal fibers is more resource intensive than that of plant fibers. The animals take up space and resources, and require constant care by residents.
- Silk. Silk is produced by the silkworm as it spins its cocoon. Silkworms feed on mulberry leaves, and may be impractical for small settlements.
- Spider Silk. Spiders produce silk for shelter, support, and the capture of prey. So far, efforts to produce commercially viable quantities of spider silk have failed.
- Wool. Wool is the long, flexible hair of mammals such as goats, alpacas and sheep. It is a better thermal insulator than cotton or linen, and retains much of its insulation value even when wet. Certain wools are rough and can cause skin irritation.
- Hair. Many types of hair are unfit for use as wool. These hairs are used as bristles in brushes and brooms. When still attached to the hide they can be fashioned into fir clothing.
- Sinew. The ligaments of animals contain large amounts of the natural polymer collagen. Sinew is durable (for a natural fiber), and is used as thread and cordage.
- J.G. Smith - Organic chemistry Int'l ed. 2011. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-007-108186-3. p. 1059.