A Guide to Polyester Fabric
Did you know that polyester is the No. 1 synthetic fiber used in fabrics worldwide? Polyester’s discovery in the early 1900s transformed the textile industry. Today, people use this versatile synthetic fabric in clothing, outerwear, upholstery, home décor, sails, outdoor covers and more. In this fabric guide, we’ll take a closer look at polyester.
In the late 1920s, a DuPont chemist named W.H. Carothers discovered that, by mixing acids and alcohols derived from petroleum, he could create the synthetic fiber that we now call polyester. Although this was an exciting development, Carothers paused his research on polyester to focus on his next breakthrough discovery — nylon.
Then in the 1940s, a group of British chemists at the Calico Printer’s Association of Manchester, England, restarted Carothers’ work. They patented the first polyester in 1941 under the name Terylene. Soon after, DuPont purchased the rights to Terylene and began manufacturing its own version of polyester. This debuted in 1951 under the name Dacron®.
The name “polyester” comes from its makeup of many (poly) common organic compounds called esters. Polyester can also be made from recycled materials. We don’t know the specific processes for creating polyester, since manufacturers keep them secret to remain competitive.
There are many different forms of polyester, each with a specific end use. The most common is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used for fabric, 2-liter bottles, tennis balls, packaging films, fiber filling and more.
Why Polyester Is Great:
- Strong and durable.
- Good abrasion resistance.
- Stands up well to sunlight.
- Resistant to water and mildew.
- Resistant to most chemicals.
- Resistant to shrinking and stretching.
- Doesn’t wrinkle.
- Retains heat-set pleats and creases.
- Easy to clean.
Drawbacks of Polyester
Polyester, like all fabrics, has a few drawbacks. In the 1960s, polyester had a bad reputation for being a cheap fabric that uncomfortably retained heat. New manufacturing processes and the invention of microfiber (a supersoft, durable, lightweight polyester) are making this less and less the case today.
Additionally, polyester is prone to pilling and static cling. It also gets dirty easily. Oil stains can be difficult to remove from polyester. Most other stains, however, will come out with solvents or detergents.
It’s All in the Blend
Manufacturers often blend polyester with other fibers, both natural and synthetic, to enhance both. This is especially common in upholstery fabrics, where polyester is rarely used alone.
Polyester is frequently blended with cotton to make it more absorbent and comfortable. Or it’s blended with rayon to give the fabric a different texture with a good hand, a nice drape and more absorbency.
Blending polyester with wool strengthens the wool and gives the polyester elasticity and a nice drape. However, polyester/wool blends pill a lot.
Polyester is also sometimes blended with nylon because of nylon’s strength and polyester’s wrinkle-free nature. This combination also pills. And because neither material is very absorbent, polyester/nylon fabric can feel wet and clammy in hot or humid weather.
Depending on the blend and the application, polyester has some great features to offer. Try this popular, versatile fabric for patio cushions, upholstery, draperies, boat and other outdoor covers, and more. Share your thoughts on polyester fabric with us in the comments!
Note: This blog was updated in July 2022 to add more information about the discovery of polyester.