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What is Polyester?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Polyester is a manufactured product, usually a textile, that is made from synthesized polymers. It tends to be very resilient, quick drying, resistant to biological damage such as mold and mildew, easy to wash and able to hold forms well. Although polyester is often maligned as a textile, it has many useful applications. It is, however, highly flammable, so care should be taken when wearing it. Many synthetic fabrics are subject to flammability because they are made from polymers.

This substance is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material that is used to make plastic drink bottles. Many drink bottles are recycled by being reheated and turned into polyester fibers, which, in addition to being an efficient use, also helps keep polymers out of landfills. Polyester is a plastic that was invented in Britain in the early 1940s. In the 1950s, it became popular as a textile because of its easy care, its drape and its versatility.

Chemical Process

To make polyester, ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate are mixed together. The chemical reaction results in bisterephthalate. This substance is heated to 270 degrees Fahrenheit (132 degrees Celsius), and it reacts again to form polyethylene terephthalate. Like many chemical reactions that result in polymers, the polyester-making process results in unhealthy off-gassing, and protection should be worn by anyone who is making PET. After synthesizing the polymers, the manufacturer decides what to do with them.

PET can be formed into plastics that can later be recycled. It is a highly malleable material and appears in all sorts of applications, such as drink bottles, food trays and hoses. PET can also be used to make fibers that are used in products such as auto upholstery, quilt batting and clothing of all sorts.

To make polyester fiber, an extruder is used to produce very fine threads of PET. Polyester clothing tends to be slippery and silky in feel, although it can cause skin irritation for some wearers. This type of fibers used to make clothing can be knitted or woven, although most are knit, to maximize the flexibility of polyester. Some polyester is blended with other fabrics to provide more loft or stretch or to minimize skin irritation.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon999849 — On Mar 28, 2018

Is it waterproof or not?

By anon980148 — On Dec 02, 2014

Does dog hair stick to polyester?

By anon970266 — On Sep 17, 2014

Is polyester cloth stretchable?

By anon961946 — On Jul 21, 2014

Does anyone have any information on Polyester Plastics?

By anon948740 — On May 01, 2014

No you can't dye it.

By anon336337 — On May 28, 2013

When was polyester made and by whom?

By anon331543 — On Apr 23, 2013

Polyester should be easier to sew if you use a ballpoint needle on your sewing machine.

When I was in the Army, many years ago when almost everything was made from polyester, I worked at an Army airfield in Germany. The female pilots and crew chiefs had to order their bras and underwear from Sears - the only place they could get all cotton undergarments. The reason was due to the possibility of a flash fire in the helicopters. The polyester under garments could melt and cause severe burns, whereas the cotton was not affected by the flash fire.

By anon322825 — On Mar 01, 2013

Is polyester waterproof?

By anon318495 — On Feb 07, 2013

I have just bought a Kuny 16" large Bolso bigmouth tool bag! I thought it would be great as a knitting bag. It has a great design and 25 pockets! Now I do not know if it would be a good idea. Is it safe? Being made of polyethylene foam, polyethylene vinyl acetate and acrylic fibers. It does have a "shop smell" of sorts!

By anon314218 — On Jan 16, 2013

Yes, polyester is a man-made fabric.

By anon289514 — On Sep 04, 2012

I wear a 100 percent polyester tunic and I do physical work at my job and get hot. Is this fabric suitable?

By anon262749 — On Apr 20, 2012

Where is polyester made?

By anon255973 — On Mar 20, 2012

Is polyester a good material for a reusable shopping bag?

By anon230575 — On Nov 19, 2011

Why do I get hives as big as my head when I am touching polyester for more than five minutes? If I were to try on something that was polyester that entire area would be covered in hives!

By anon227460 — On Nov 04, 2011

Polyester fiberfill stings my skin! It feels just like fiberglass or stinging nettle!

By anon216889 — On Sep 23, 2011

Is it possible to melt polyester? I heard that when it melts, it goes all gooey and smells of tipex! How random!

By rommelva — On Aug 20, 2011

I am investigating the components or substances (additives, solvents, dye, etc) used in the fabrication of the polyester film of the mobile resistive cell phones' touch screen. It has been very difficult to find tax information. could you help me please?

By anon205325 — On Aug 12, 2011

Polyester is a strong and durable synthetic fabric. Polyester dries quickly and can be washable or dry clean only, so check your tags. Polyester is often used as a blend with other fabrics to lend wrinkle resistance. It is not the easiest fabric to remove stains from, and doesn't breathe as well as other fabrics may.

By anon181446 — On May 29, 2011

Polyester itself is not anti-bacterial unless you apply the agents needed to make it anti-bacterial.

By anon181444 — On May 29, 2011

Look for polyester's flash point to find the heat of reaction.

By anon181442 — On May 29, 2011

This explains the process for the different methods that polyester is made. For those asking if it's poisonous, a product made from raw oil, used in combination with glycol would appear to be only slightly poisonous to me but it's apparently used to make soft drinks. However, the idea that they are using such a chemical to make soft drinks is a little concerning. If the sugar doesn't kill you, then something else in the soft drink may.

By anon173971 — On May 09, 2011

Recently bought a pair of sock liners made from 'Tactel' (100 percent Polyamide) and experienced severe reaction (hot red blotches) to the ankle region when first worn and again after washing. Rest of foot unaffected. Is this a known problem?

By anon162424 — On Mar 23, 2011

polyester melts into a sticky substance while cotton burns. nylon burns faster then cotton. i hope that cleared things up.

By anon139535 — On Jan 05, 2011

is polyester harmful for the environment?

By anon123595 — On Nov 02, 2010

Thanks for the information!

By anon110442 — On Sep 12, 2010

what is the strength of polyester?

By anon84198 — On May 14, 2010

I'm an electrician with a polyester uniform of 65 percent. My assumption is that this is a bad idea due to possible arch flash. Do you agree?

By anon81435 — On May 01, 2010

Is it safe to use as the inner in a modern cloth nappy, to wick moisture away from baby's bum?

By anon76195 — On Apr 09, 2010

I am making a caftan with polyester fabric at the moment.

The fabric is devilish. The only needle i am able to use to get a stitch is number 16/100 which is for thick fabrics..

This fabric is light weight but does not want to be penetrated by the sewing machine needle.

I wonder if the fabric has been treated in some way.

By anon67932 — On Feb 27, 2010

does polyester viscose burn faster than polyester by itself?

By anon61803 — On Jan 22, 2010

which fabric burns faster: polyester or cotton?

By anon59278 — On Jan 07, 2010

Is polyester antibacterial?

By anon56844 — On Dec 17, 2009

To answer, yes it is man made and I'm not sure about strenuous activity since pajama pants can be made of polyester.

By anon52898 — On Nov 17, 2009

is polyester good for strenuous activity?

By anon52303 — On Nov 12, 2009

Rayon is derived from wood pulp and polyester is derived from oil.

By anon50965 — On Nov 02, 2009

i don't know.

By anon49424 — On Oct 20, 2009

Is Polyester fabric Man Made?

By anon43811 — On Sep 01, 2009

How is rayon viscose different from polyester lycra fabric?

By anon38545 — On Jul 27, 2009

Are all forms of polyester fabrics washable? I have a cushion cover that states on the label it is 100 percent polyester yet also says dry clean only?

By anon35745 — On Jul 07, 2009

Is polyester a nylon?

Is nylon a polyester?

What is the relationship (if any) between the two?

By anon35650 — On Jul 06, 2009

Is there any info about polyester chips???

By anon34237 — On Jun 19, 2009

The author stated that polyester is made into thread by the process of, "an extruder is used to produce very fine threads."

These threads would be woven or spun together with other fabrics to make a textile. Polyester can either be dyed after production or tinted by adding coloring agents during production.

Most clothing is of a polyester blend.

I hope you find this answer helpful.


By toml101 — On Apr 27, 2009

Is polyester capable of producing Static Electricity?

By anon30085 — On Apr 13, 2009

Way to go S.E. Smith! (writer)

By anon29245 — On Mar 29, 2009

Is polyester water proof?

By johnbeem — On Feb 02, 2009

It is a Science Fair Question. Why does a fiber reactive dye produce a deeper color with a natural fabric than it does with a synthetic fabric?

By anon25088 — On Jan 23, 2009

What about it being made into fabric??

By anon23835 — On Jan 03, 2009

could i have some more info on how the polyester is made into a textile as well please??

By anon21061 — On Nov 09, 2008

is polyester like nylon?

By mart2234 — On Jul 07, 2008

How is polyester is made into a textile?

Is polyester Eco Friendly?

By anon14869 — On Jun 26, 2008

what are the properties of polyester, like its density, youngs modulus, etc?

By anon13366 — On May 26, 2008

what can I use to glue a polyester shower curtain?

By textilegal — On May 22, 2008

is polyester inherently anti-bacterial?

By anon12686 — On May 12, 2008

what is the burning rate for polyester?

By goodsounds — On Apr 18, 2008

Is it possible to dye a polyester product? For example, can you dye something from white to black?

By anon9853 — On Mar 15, 2008

could i have some more info on how the polyester is made into a textile?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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