What Is Polyester?

What Is Polyester?

You may have seen this material quite a bit in your shopping excursions. While silk, cotton, and wool may be well known, polyester has a different origin than these natural fibers and a different story.

Polyester is well-known for its stain resistance, quick-drying abilities, lightweight feel, and breathability. These qualities make it an ideal fabric in many ways, for items from men's jackets to bath towels. Before you purchase clothing made with polyester, it's good to know where it comes from, its uses, and how to care for it.

What Is Polyester?

Polyester is a fiber chemically produced from compounds derived from petroleum, a carbon-rich fossil fuel produced over millions of years by the remnants of ancient marine organisms. In essence, polyester is a plastic. Polyester can be made into many items, including handy fabric thanks to its versatility, performance, and low cost. You can thank polyester for items ranging from women's tee shirts to kids rain jackets and much more.

The fibers produced from this substance are highly durable and can withstand strenuous use. Polyester is moldable and, thus, can be transformed into shapes in its raw form. It's also moisture resistant which makes it ideal for waterproof clothing, and it's wrinkle-resistant, which helps keep the items retain their shape.

Polyester is a shortened version of its technical name, polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, made up of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG).

Polyester Uses

Polyester is unique because it is moldable and made into many different products. We'll discuss clothing further, but know that polyester is also used in the production of:

  • Home furnishings and textiles, including bedding and naturally stain-resistant furniture coverings, cushioning, and tablecloths.
  • Tires as a reinforcing material.
  • Sprays such as spray coating applications as an alternative to epoxy coating.
  • Sports gear because it is durable for outdoor clothing and materials.
  • Bottles are made with this material because of polyester's resistance to biological degradation and microorganisms.
  • Conveyors and safety belts use polyester to reinforce and increase tensile strength.


Yes, you can wash polyester in the washing machine (one of the many perks). Always check the label before washing, as the manufacturer may mix the polyester fabric with other fibers, affecting care instructions. When washing your polyester garment, know that heat can break down polyester, so it is important to wash with warm or cold water, not hot.

Pretreat the garment if stained. Wash dark colors and whites separately and further separate loads by fabric density and roughness. Run delicate items like panties and bras through in a separate cycle. Use a gentle detergent and set the cycle to regular or gentle.

And yes, you can dry polyester in the dryer. Be sure to read the label for special drying instructions; commonly you will load up and run the dryer at a medium heat tumble dry setting.

Washer and Dryer Polyester Pro Tips:

  • To avoid clothing items ripping each other in the washer and dryer, fasten buttons, hooks, and zippers.
  • Turn clothing items inside out.
  • Minimize the washer's loads (don't overwhelm the machine).
  • 100% polyester doesn't typically shrink, but other constituents in a fabric may cause it to shrink in hot temperatures, such as in hot water or a hot dryer.


There are many different reasons polyester is being used so frequently in clothing, but a few aspects of the material make it less than ideal. Most polyester isn't biodegradable, as cotton tends to be, though researchers are trying to change this. That means that most items made from polyester will not break down over time and will eventually become waste. However, because polyester is durable and long-lasting, it can last a lifetime with proper care.

The texture of polyester clothing can be rough, mainly if made cheaply; high-quality polyester tends to be softer. Certain polyesters hold on to body odors more than other fabrics, so more frequent washing may be necessary.

What Consumers Can Do

Give polyester items a second life by donating. A circular economy is the best way to prevent clothing from ending up in a landfill sooner than it needs to. Reusing the clothing items already in circulation reduces the demand for new items. Plus, you can save money when you buy second-hand and receive tax write-offs for donations at certain thrift stores.

As we've established, polyester is durable and long-lasting. If you're ready to donate clothing items, these articles will still be in good shape when you bring them to the second-hand shop, making them more likely to be reused rather than thrown away.

Polyester constitutes a ton of the world's clothing. Polyester provides a durable, lightweight, and stain-resistant fabric that is very useful in modern life for a range of items from mens pants to towels and much more. With the proper care, these items can last a long time.


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