Polyester clothes are everywhere as they are cheap, lightweight, and durable. They offer many advantages for the fashion world and your wardrobe. And many people wear polyester apparel all year round.
Unfortunately, polyester is a synthetic fiber made from oil with a disastrous environmental impact. It contributes to plastic pollution, waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and the destruction of ecosystems.
It's better to avoid wearing synthetic fabrics like polyester altogether as much as you can in favor of sustainable fibers like organic cotton, linen, hemp, ramie, and jute.
But polyester is still used in many valuable applications. To help you make more mindful decisions as a well-informed consumer, here is the ultimate guide to when you should wear polyester clothes.
In this article:
- What is polyester?
- What is polyester used for?
- How is polyester made?
- Polyester clothing pros and cons
- Is polyester good for summer?
- Is polyester comfortable?
- How to wash polyester clothing
- Is polyester safe to wear?
- Is polyester really that bad?
- Polyester clothing examples
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1. What is polyester?
Polyester is a type of synthetic polymer and material used in many applications, including clothing, footwear, and accessories. It's also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Polyester fabric is made from synthetic fibers manufactured with petroleum-based ingredients. It's the most widely used fiber worldwide.
2. What is polyester used for?
Fashion brands use polyester to create all types of clothing. The synthetic fiber is commonly found in swimwear and activewear, pants, shirts, shorts, jeans, blouses, dresses, jackets, and more.
Polyester is also used in a variety of domestic products, such as mattresses, pillows, cushions, and upholstery.
3. How is polyester made?
Polyester is a common thermoplastic polymer made from synthetic fibers derived from petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemical products.
The manufacturing of polyester fibers involves the polymerization of synthesized polymer compounds made from oil-derived materials.
The manufacturing process begins with a polycondensation reaction between pure terephthalic acid and mono ethylene glycol. Water and excess ethylene glycol are removed by distillation at high temperatures.
Polyester chips are produced by granulating the resulting polyester solution. Chips are then melted and extruded through spinning to form long filaments of polyester fiber.
Fibers are spun into yarns, which are woven into fabrics by textile manufacturers. Many different manufacturing processes exist to make high-quality performance fabrics out of polyester fibers.
China is the largest producer of polyester worldwide. Half of its polyester is made in the Zhejiang region and a third in Jiangsu.
4. Polyester clothing pros and cons
Polyester clothing has many advantages compared to other types of materials used for fashion. It's affordable, durable, versatile, and lightweight.
Polyester has a good tear and abrasion resistance, long working life, good UV-stability, good bias stability, good durability, no water absorption, and low stretch.
Polyester clothes are strong, resistant, easy to clean and care for. They are also fast-drying, moisture-wicking, lightweight, stiff, and resilient with good tenacity.
Polyester is a fully synthetic material so it's resistant to attacks from insects, moths, molds, fungi, and many everyday chemicals.
Polyester is often used in activewear and swimwear because it's waterproof and quick-drying, unlike natural fibers such as cotton.
But polyester isn't very breathable like many other synthetic fabrics. It's water-repellant and captures heat. It has low absorbency, wicks away moisture, and dries quickly.
Polyester is also very flammable. Avoid wearing polyester clothing while cooking, welding, or playing with fireworks.
And polyester clothing has a catastrophic impact on the environment. Polyester isn't renewable, biodegradable, or compostable.
5. Is polyester good for summer?
Polyester is moisture-wicking and will keep you dry if you sweat in summer. It can be treated to be water-repellant and quick-drying and is great to wear during an exercise session or spending some time outside in high temperatures.
On the other hand, polyester clothing isn't very breathable. Natural fibers like cotton or linen are a lot more breathable than polyester and will keep your body temperature lower in summer with air flowing on your skin.
6. Is polyester comfortable?
Polyester is soft on the skin, warm, lightweight, and comfortable. It's isn't very elastic but has good durability, strength, and resistance. Polyester is water-repellant and captures heat. It has low absorbency, wicks away moisture, and dries quickly.
The qualities of polyester make it a great choice for fashion. Polyester clothing is lightweight, soft, and very versatile. It's found in men's and women's wardrobes alike.
7. How to wash polyester clothing
Polyester clothing is easy to wash and care for. It can be washed in the washing machine with a cool wash setting at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and a tumbling speed lower than 600 revolutions per minute.
Before washing polyester clothing, read the care instructions that can be found on the care tag. This way, you can easily determine if the garment is washable.
The washing instructions may vary depending on the fabric's blend. Pure polyester fabrics can be cleaned and rinsed in cold water.
To save water, energy, and preserve the quality of your garment, it's best to use a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). It saves energy and prevents fabrics from melting.
Don't use any chlorine-based or strong detergent and use a gentle cycle in the washer to avoid high spin speeds. Make sure the washing speed doesn't exceed 600 revolutions per minute.
Do not dry polyester clothing in a tumble drier. The high heat risks damaging the fabrics and melting polyester fibers. The more sustainable way of drying your clothes is to hang them to dry.
Place them on a line in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves the quality of your garments and saves an enormous amount of energy, carbon emissions, and money.
You can also lay the fabric down on a towel for a while, then flip it over. Or you can hang it up on a hanger to help it dry naturally.
8. Is polyester safe to wear?
Polyester is generally safe to wear. It isn't considered toxic and skin sensitivity to polyester is very rare. Polyester is chemically stable and inert and isn't an allergen to most people.
However, the manufacturing of polyester is very harmful to the human environment and nature. One of the biggest issues our planet is facing is plastic pollution. And polyester is part of the problem.
Many manufacturers also add chemical additives to polyester clothing, shoes, and accessories. Even if polyester isn't toxic per se, polyester clothes can contain several hazardous chemicals and allergens.
When buying new clothing, it's important to think of what you are putting on your skin. The skin is by far the body's largest organ. You have to protect it and treat it well to stay healthy.
The best you can do is get informed and don't purchase or wear harmful fabrics. With a bit of knowledge on this matter, you could greatly improve the health of your skin and body.
9. Is polyester really that bad?
Polyester is responsible for plastic pollution, landfill waste, and microfibers in the ocean harmful to ecosystems and human health. As polyester breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Plastic waste, including polyester clothing, is quickly becoming a global environmental and social issue. It contributes to the high amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills every year.
The world produces more than 300 million tons of plastic annually. Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. And the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.
Raw material sourcing, extraction, and textile fabrication contribute massively to the disastrous environmental impact of fashion. Using synthetic fibers like polyester for clothing is terrible for people, animals, and the planet.
10. Polyester clothing examples
Many fashion brands and clothing designers around the world avoid the use of synthetic fabrics like polyester completely. Others see recycled polyester as a viable alternative.
Some fashion companies prefer environmentally friendly and natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp, or regenerated cellulosic fibers made from renewable materials such as lyocell, cupro, and modal.
Ultimately, polyester can be recycled, recreated, and remolded, and become brand new again to create new products without having to use new resources.
Recycled polyester is a leading example of how the global textile industry works to find solutions to its catastrophic social and environmental impacts.
Recycled polyester isn't the most sustainable fiber but its environmental impact is much lower than virgin polyester made from oil. It's usually made from PET plastic bottles or industrial polyester waste.
Recycled polyester creates up to 35% less waste and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20%. It consumes up to 62% less energy and 99% less water compared to virgin polyester.
Here are some of the most sustainable brands creating clothes out of recycled polyester:
- Vitamin A, a sustainable swimwear brand that produces luxury bikinis, swimsuits, and beachwear.
- Toad&Co, creators of sustainable, socially, and environmentally committed garments.
- Tentree, clothing designed for a healthy, sustainable world. Made with recycled materials, and organic fabrics.
- Girlfriend Collective, a sportswear brand making activewear out of recycled PET bottles, such as leggings, bras, and shorts.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.