What is Polyester? Essential Things to Know

From clothing and home furnishings to tires and sports gear, polyester is one of the world’s most popular textiles and is used in thousands of different consumer and industrial applications. But what is polyester? Since it is such a big part of our everyday lives, it makes sense that we understand how polyester is made, as well as its pros and cons.

What is polyester?

Polyester is a general term for any fabric or textile made using polyester yarns or fibers. It’s made by mixing ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid, which means that polyester is a plastic. It is typically derived from petroleum, but polyester can also be made from recycled plastic, agricultural crops, or waste.

Polyester was invented in 1941 by British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson, and it became popular in the 1970s, especially in that decade’s fashions. Polyester’s sleek and shiny look fit in perfectly with the disco ensembles that were all the rage during that time.

But as you read on, you’ll learn that polyester has so many other uses aside from clothing.

The Different Types of Polyester

Polyethylene Terephthalate

Also knows as PET, this is the most common type of polyester, mainly because its durable and affordable.

Plant-Based Polyester

Made with bio alternatives to petroleum, including plants like sugar cane or bio-waste, as well as waste that mainly includes organic materials, such as food scraps or sawdust. As a result, it’s more environmentally sustainable than other types of polyester.

PCDT Polyester

While it is similar to PET, its chemical structure is different. PCDT polyester is less popular but it is often more elastic and durable, which makes it ideal for heavy-duty applications like curtains or upholstery.

What is polyester’s strengths?

  • It is durable and resistant to shrinking, stretching, wrinkling, and abrasions
  • It is a strong but lightweight fabric
  • Polyester is easy to dye
  • It is stain resistant
  • It is easy to care for and retains its shape.
  • It dries quickly
  • It can be easily modified, such as adding UV protection to the fabric
  • It combines well with other fabrics, including cotton or viscose

What is polyester’s drawbacks?

It’s not biodegradable: While plastic can be recycled, it’s not biodegradable. For those who want to only use eco-friendly material, this can be a deal breaker.

It retains heat:  While polyester is a great fabric for the colder months, it is not optimal in warmer weather because of its ability to retain heat. It could also be an uncomfortable for people with sensitive skin or people who simply “run hot.”

It can attract odor: Due to polyester’s penchant for retaining heat, polyester develops unpleasant odors faster than natural fibers like cotton.

It’s prone to static: Polyester doesn’t absorb moisture as well as natural fibers, making it more prone to static.

What is polyester used for?

There’s simply no shortage of things that can be made with polyester. Some of its most common uses include:

  • Clothing
  • Sportswear
  • Sporting goods
  • Fleeces
  • Coats and parkas
  • Bedding
  • Sleeping bags
  • Mouse pads
  • Footwear
  • Roads and landfills
  • Fillings for comforters
  • Sewing threads
  • Soft furnishings and upholstery
  • Textiles
  • Luggage
  • Conveyor belt fabrics
  • Seat belts
  • Plastic reinforcements