Polyester can conjure up images of scratchy synthetic clothes in garish colors in some people’s minds. Polyester comes in a wide range of textures and thicknesses, but there are a lot of different types. It can be found on its own, woven with other fibers, or disguised as more expensive materials such as silk.
Where does polyester come from, and what is it made of? This ubiquitous fabric has a fascinating history and production process. Let’s take a look at where polyester comes from and where you can find it today.
What is Polyester Made From?
Synthetics and semi-synthetic materials fall under the umbrella term of polyester. A polymer is most commonly polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which can be found in polyesters. Plant cutin, however, may be present in some polyesters when they contain a synthetic or naturally derived ingredient.
Then polyester is plastic, isn’t it? That’s right. This is just a tiny part of what it is. There are a number of fabrics in the polyester category that you may recognize, including:
Despite the fact that many of us think of polyester as a fabric, there are different types of polyester that have a variety of applications. Polyester is the material used in thermal blankets and foil balloons such as Mylar. The PET plastic used in beverage bottles is another everyday polyester. Packaging and other applications use PETF (PET film).
How is Polyester Made?
What is the origin of polyester? Coal, air, water, and petroleum are the four main components of polyester material. The chemical reaction between an acid and an alcohol produces long, strong polyester molecules.
Fabric fibers made from polyester are extruded like rayon. Once long molecules are formed by the chemical reaction, they are pushed out into a long ribbon. Chips are then cut from the dried ribbon. A spinneret forms fibers by melting the chips and spinning them. A further process may be applied to the fibers after that.
Calendered, for instance, is one way to do this. The process of calendering involves pressing fibers at high temperatures with high-pressure rollers. Strengthening and smoothing fibers are achieved through this process.
It is also possible to singe polyester fibers. By doing so, they become more pill-resistant, and their texture improves. Additionally, the fibers may be treated at this point to make them more stain- and water-resistant.
The fibers can then be knitted or woven into fabrics once they have been treated. Polyester fibers may make up the fabric alone or may be mixed with other fibers. In addition to adding stretch and durability to natural fibers like cotton, polyester fibers also provide wrinkle resistance.
It is even possible to recycle some polyester products in order to make other polyester products, as shown in the video below.
When Was The Polyester Invented?
The first synthetic fabrics, which included nylon, were developed in the 1920s based on research into synthetic fibers. At the time, W.H. Carothers was working for DuPont and was largely responsible for this research. A polyester patent was also granted by the International General Electric Company in Britain.
Imperial Chemical Industries’ John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dixon further developed Carothers’ research. In 1941, PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) and Terylene, the first polyester fabric, were produced. Imperial Chemical Industries sold the rights to these materials to DuPont in 1946.
In 1950, DuPont began producing Dacron. The technology used to manufacture nylon is incorporated into dacron, a polyester fiber. Mylar, PET film, and other products were produced by Dupont in the following years.
Polyester materials multiplied and became more diverse after that. Today, polyester can be found in hundreds of applications, from garments to housewares and furnishings to surprising industrial uses.
What Is The Difference Between Nylon and Polyester?
There are many similarities between nylon and polyester. Both fabrics are petroleum-based synthetics. UV rays and mildew are resistant to both, and both fabrics are easy to wash and dry. The two are found in a variety of clothing items, housewares, and furnishings. Industrial applications are also available for both fabrics.
There is a subtle chemical difference between the two. As a polymer, polyester is made up of molecules. In other words, it’s a chemical compound composed of small molecules of the same kind arranged in a large structure. Polyamides such as nylon are polyamides. An amide bond connects molecules in a polyamide, which is a type of synthetic polymer.
To what extent do consumers care about these differences? Generally, you’ll find that:
- Polyester is weaker and less durable than nylon
- In addition, nylon is more resistant to the elements
- The weight of polyester is greater than that of nylon
- The cost of polyester is lower than that of nylon
- As well as having a negative environmental impact, each material has a positive side as well. Oil refineries produce nylon as a by-product. It is possible to recycle polyester into other polyester products.
What Are The Different Types Of Polyester Fabric?
Given polyester’s multitudinous uses and forms, you might think there are many types. Polyester fabrics, however, can be categorized into two categories: PET and PCDT.
Polyethylene terephthalate is used to make PET polyester materials. PET polyester is primarily composed of ethylene from petroleum. The ethylene is converted into a polymer by catalysts. After extrusion and drying, the polymer is ready for use. After the dried PET ribbon has been cut into very small pieces, it will then be blended with yarn and spun.
The most widely used polyester is PET polyester. Food and beverage containers probably familiarize you with the term. The use of PET fabric in garment construction is also widespread.
PET polyester and PCDT polyester are both produced in a similar manner. It’s the molecule that makes a difference. Terephthalic acid and 1,4-cyclohexane-dimethanol are combined to make PCDT polyester.
There are two types of polyester fibers that can be spun into yarn: PET and PCDT. The diameter and staple length of polyester yarns can vary greatly. Because of this difference in processing, different polyester fabrics have different weights and textures.
PET Filament Yarns
Monofilament and multifilament yarns can be spun from PET fibers. There are different subtypes of both types with different properties.
Many industrial applications use PET filament yarn with high tensile strength. Semi-dull PET filament yarn is commonly used in blouses, dresses, and lingerie garments.
On the other hand, Tulle, voile, and organdy are made of sheer, lightweight fabrics made of regular-tenacity PET filament yarn.
Various textures can be achieved by processing PET multifilament yarns.
PET or PCDT Spun Yarns
It is possible to make yarn from PET or PCDT fibers that have been cut or stapled (short fibers). Fiber may have a regular, mid, or high tenacity and a bright, semi-dim, or dull luster.
It is possible to spin these yarns on their own. Blends of cotton, rayon, and wool are also common before they are spun.
What is Polyester Used For?
What isn’t it used for might be a better question. Listed below are a few of the different types of polyester you might find.
Polyester Fabric Uses
- Linens and Housewares
- Handbags and Luggage
- Tents and sleeping bags
Polyester Film Uses
- Audio and videotape
- Metal can lamination
Other Uses for Polyester Materials
- Beverage bottles
- Food storage
- Industrial belts
- Synthetic artery replacements
- Microwave susceptors
What is Polyester Like?
The question is very broad. Let’s limit our discussion to polyester fabric. The unique characteristics of polyester fabric make it a very popular choice, whether you like it or not.
What Is The Stretchability Of Polyester?
Due to its unique chemical properties, polyester is naturally stretchy. The figure-forgiving and comfortable nature of polyester clothing are due to this property. It is possible, however, for polyester blends to have varying degrees of stretch.
Stretching polyester fabric generally results in the fabric snapping right back into place. Try blending polyester with a natural fiber, like cotton, if this isn’t what you’re looking for. In comparison to 100 percent polyester, a blended fabric has some stretch, but not quite as much as a 100 percent polyester fabric.
Is Polyester Soft?
This depends on a variety of factors. It can be scratchy to wear 100 percent polyester. The texture of some treatments, however, is soft and silky. Moreover, polyester can be softer if it is blended with other fibers.
Is Polyester Waterproof?
Both yes and no. Waterproof fibers are made of polyester. Moisture is repelled by them. Polyester fabrics may leak water through the gaps between fibers. The good news is that polyester fabric is a very quick-drying fabric due to its fibers’ ability to repel water.
Does Polyester Shrink?
In general, no. Fabrics made from polyester resist shrinkage and wrinkles. Cotton and wool, which shrink and wrinkle easily, are often combined with polyester fibers.
Is Polyester Breathable?
In general, no. Polyester fibers are synthetic, petroleum-based materials that do not allow air to pass through. Nevertheless, some air may be able to pass through a loosely woven polyester fabric.
What Does Polyester Feel Like?
A number of factors determine this, including the type of yarn used, how the fibers were processed, and whether they were blended with other types of fibers.
The feel of 100 percent polyester is scratchy and plasticky. Additionally, it is very stretchy and does not breathe well. There may be a smoother, softer texture to polyester blends.
What Is the Reason for the Popularity of Polyester?
Why is polyester so popular? I’m sure you’re wondering why. Here’s what we at SewingWithEase can tell you.
- Versatile – Would it be possible for your gym bottle, athletic shoes, the carpet underneath your workout equipment, and clothes to be made from any other material? There are a lot of uses for polyesters. There is no doubt that life would be very different without polyester.
- Shrink Resistant – There is no doubt that polyester fabric is highly shrink-resistant. Even though polyester can melt at high temperatures, you can wash it without worry. The shrink resistance of cotton/polyester blends is one of the reasons they are so famous for t-shirts and other clothing.
- Wrinkle-Resistant – You do not have to iron polyester clothing, which is one of the reasons it is so popular. Effort and time can be saved by doing that.
- Abrasion Resistant – As a result of its resistance to abrasion, polyester fabric is durable. Pilling can also be prevented with unique treatments.
- Resilient – In addition to holding its shape, polyester snaps back into shape after stretching.
- Easy to Wash and Dry – Polyester is one of the easiest fabrics to care for since it is stain-resistant, wrinkle-resistant, machine washable, and quick-drying.
- Moisture Wicking – In addition to not being waterproof, polyester fabric is also not absorbent. Moisture will be wicked away from the skin and dissipated outside your garment.
- Insulating – In spite of the fact that polyester is not exceptionally breathable, it can act as a wind barrier and trap heat against your skin. Windbreakers and outerwear made from this material are excellent.
Is Polyester Easy to Work With?
This depends on the treatment, spinning, and blending of the fibers. Is sewing polyester something you want to learn? After that, you’ll need to know a few tips and tricks.
- Polyester Should Be Pre-Treated – Wash and press your polyester with cold water before laying out your pattern. By pre-treating your fabric in this way, you can avoid any seam interference caused by excess coatings or dyes.
- A Good Layout Is Essential – When laying out your pattern pieces, keep an eye on the direction of your fabric’s stretch. Stretch fabrics should be considered when designing your pattern. When it comes to cutting and laying out the pattern, follow the directions provided.
- The Right Thread – Synthetic fabrics should always be matched with synthetic threads. With polyester fabric, the polyester thread will stretch as well. As a result, puckering and thread breakage will be prevented.
- The Right Needle – It is always a good idea to start with a new needle for any project. Match the needle’s weight rating to the fabric’s weight, and use a ballpoint needle labeled for stretch fabrics.
- The Right Stitch – The zigzag or stretch stitch is the best stitch for sewing polyester. If you want to achieve the best results, stitch between 0.5 and 1.5 millimeters (0.020 and 0.059 inches).
- Stabilize if Necessary – Slippery fabrics, such as polyester satin, are made from polyester. Make a test swatch. In order to stabilize your polyester, you may want to pin it to tissue paper if it slips under the needle.
What Are The Downsides Of Polyester?
Polyester’s most significant downside is its environmental impact. A petroleum-based product, polyester is made from polyester. As a result, fossil fuels are necessary for its operation. In addition, polyester is not biodegradable, even though it is recyclable. As a result, we can look forward to the long-term existence of our polyester products.
Fossil Fuel Derived
Petroleum and coal are two of the main ingredients in polyester. As much as 60 percent of polyester can be petroleum-based. What is the problem with this?
Coal and petroleum are highly polluting fuels that are extracted from the ground. As a result of extraction, methane is released, which is 20 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Land and water are both polluted by oil spills. As a result of fossil fuel extraction, wildlife is disrupted, and biodiversity is lost.
Heavy chemicals are used in the production of polyester. These chemicals often pollute the air, land, and water when polyester-producing countries have lax environmental laws.
Microfibers are also released into wastewater when polyester is washed. As a result, the wastewater destroys aquatic life and pollutes lakes, rivers, and oceans. One-third of the plastic pollution in the ocean comes from these microfibers.
Is Polyester Biodegradable?
No. However, polyester products can easily be recycled into other polyester products.
Is Polyester Toxic?
It is known that many of the chemicals used in the production of polyester are toxic. In terms of the environment, polyester fibers and the processes that lead to them are definitely harmful.
The chances of you getting sick from wearing polyester are small, even though you probably shouldn’t eat it.
Alternatives to Polyester Made from Natural Ingredients
It’s good news that polyester can be replaced by natural alternatives. Unfortunately, they are usually more expensive. As a matter of fact, some fabrics are not suitable for specific uses.
The following are some similarities between polyester and cotton:
- Both cotton and polyester are durable materials
- The hypoallergenic properties of cotton and polyester are the same
- Cotton and polyester can both be recycled
- Moisture-wicking properties are shared by both fabrics.
When it comes to cotton vs. polyester, there are also some significant differences:
- Polyester is a synthetic material, while cotton is a natural material
- Cotton is breathable; polyester is insulating
- Polyester repels moisture; cotton absorbs it
- Stretchy polyester is different from non-stretchy cotton
- Polyester is wrinkle-resistant; cotton wrinkles easily
- Cotton is less resilient than polyester
- Polyester resists shrinkage, while cotton shrinks easily
- Cotton is biodegradable; polyester is not
- Polyester is more weather-resistant than cotton.
These two fabrics are often paired by manufacturers. There is a great deal of difference between them. The best qualities of both polyester and cotton are combined when they are blended.
Flax fibers are used to weave linen. Hunting-gatherer times can be traced back to the origins of this fabric.
Due to its durability and thickness, linen can be used for a wide range of clothing and household items. In addition to being breathable, it is excellent for use in hot weather. Furthermore, it’s quick-drying, hypoallergenic, heat-conducting, and absorbent.
The cost of linen, however, can be pretty high. Additionally, it is very prone to wrinkles, stains, and shrinkage. Depending on your project, linen does not have a natural stretch.
Polyester fabric is marketed as a silk substitute in some cases. Polyester can also be substituted with silk, which is another natural material. It doesn’t get much more luxurious than silk when it comes to lingerie, blouses, and bedding.
However, silk has a downside: it can be prohibitively expensive. Additionally, unlike polyester, it can’t be machine washed. Wrinkling is also a problem with silk, which is very delicate.
Polyester vs. Lyocell
Natural alternatives to polyester may be marketed as Lyocell. Both are true.
The cellulose found in wood is used to make Lyocell rayon. Although it is a fabric, it isn’t natural. In technical terms, it’s a semi-synthetic material. As such, it is derived from a natural product, but its fibers are produced through heavy chemical processing.
The following are some of the advantages of Lyocell:
- The material is naturally biodegradable
- Neither pesticides nor irrigation is used in the farming of cellulose trees
- Recycling solvents is part of the production process
- Water and energy are used less in polyester production than in cotton production
- Compared to linen and silk, Lyocell is slightly more expensive than polyester.
In today’s world, polyester is a versatile and widely used material. Polyester is not only used in clothing manufacture but also in medical supplies, electronics, and numerous machines and industries.
Sewing and caring for polyester fabrics are relatively simple. Polyester is strong, stretchy, and wrinkle-resistant when combined with other fibers, such as cotton and wool.
Meanwhile, polyester production is highly polluting and resource-intensive. In order to produce it, fossil fuels must be extracted. Additionally, it contributes significantly to plastic pollution.