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Things you need to know about Polyester

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What is polyester? In this article, we'll explore polyester, a synthetic textile fiber that has been a staple of the fashion industry since its invention in the 1940s. We'll delve into what polyester is, its properties, and its use in polyester fabric, which is known for being lightweight, soft, breathable, heat-resistant, and quick-drying, making it a popular choice for sports and outdoor wear. However, due to growing environmental concerns, the use of polyester is increasingly being scrutinized as it is derived from various plastics, which can cause harm to the environment. We'll discuss possible solutions and provide you with all the essential information you need to know about polyester.

What is polyester?

The basic building materials of polyester are petroleum, hard coal, lime and natural gas. The chemical fiber is manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PET.  The synthetic fiber is mainly made from petroleum-derived chemicals, specifically, purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG). Polyester is WIDELY used in the textile industry to produce a variety of products, including clothing, home furnishings and industrial fabrics. The main reasons for the wide usage include its durability, wrinkle resistance, color retention and affordability.

Unfortunately, the usage of the synthetic fiber polyester comes with a lot of environmental disadvantages. The production of polyester is not only very energy-intensive, but it also is based on non-renewable and damaging resources like petroleum. Additional, polyester itself is not biodegradable, and the usage of polyester fibers is one of the main contributors to the world's plastic and microplastic pollution.


7 things you need to know about polyester

Although polyester is widely popular and has numerous advantages when it comes to usage, the synthetic fiber had major drawbacks in regard to its sustainability. Here are 7 things you need to know about polyester.

  1. "Polyester" is an umbrella term for numerous textiles and fabrics
  2. Waterproof, windproof, breathable, light, heat-resistant and wrinkle-resistant: That is why active wear is often made of polyester
  3. Polyester can be processed and modified well and easily
  4. Polyester combines well with other textile fibres
  5. Polyester fibers provide a breeding ground for unpleasant odors
  6. Polyester has a poor life cycle assessment
  7. Recycled polyester is not optimal, but the better alternative

"Polyester" is an umbrella term for numerous textiles and fabrics

When we talk about the synthetic fiber polyester, we mean all textiles and fabrics made of polyester yarn. This can be fleece or neoprene, for example. Or also many textiles with a high stretch content, such as running tights or swimwear, and also, for example, softshell jackets and all kinds of athleisure wear. Most synthetic fibers are made of polyethylene terephthalate - PET for short - or polycarbonate, but numerous other plastics also provide the basis for polyester.

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hopefilmphoto / unsplash

That is why active wear is often made of polyester

Polyester fibers are three times finer than silk and can be woven very tightly into super small-pored fabrics that are windproof and waterproof. The fabric remains breathable and is also very light, heat-resistant and wrinkle-resistant. This is particularly interesting for technical textiles, for example in the outdoor sector: from waterproof hiking clothing to textile travel equipment that needs to be stowed compactly and easily, to backpacks, insulated mats or hammocks and, last but not least, the tent.

Polyester is versatile.
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Danka Peter / unsplash

Polyester can be processed well

Another great advantage of the synthetic fiber is that it can be easily modified. Thus, polyester fabric is often enriched with UV protection or additionally impregnated to make it even more weather resistant.


Polyester combines well

The uncomplicated fiber can be superbly combined with other textile fibers and is therefore often found in blended fabrics, for example with cotton or viscose. The polyester content provides the fabric with greater dimensional stability and ensures that the garment is easier to care for, wrinkle-resistant or stretchy.


Polyester fibers provide a breeding ground for unpleasant odors

Compared to natural fibers, sports and outdoor clothing made of polyester develops unpleasant odors more quickly. This is because the smooth fibers hardly absorb any moisture, but merely absorb it: Sweat is automatically wicked to the outside. This ensures a pleasant wearing sensation for a while, because no stagnant moisture forms and the textile never feels damp. The skin, however, does, at least during heavy sweating. Polyester fibers lack the natural protective film which, in the case of absorbent natural fibers such as wool or cotton, ensures that no unpleasant perspiration odor spreads for a very long time. Thanks to it, natural fibers have the ability to clean themselves virtually by themselves. Polyester cannot do this and therefore has to go into the washing machine much more often.


Polyester has a poor life cycle assessment

That in itself is a major problem: microplastics dissolve from the polyester fabric in the washing machine and end up in the environment via wastewater. The synthetic fiber is so robust that it can hardly be degraded. And there are also downsides to the production process. Although less water is needed than in the production of cotton, the energy input is much higher. Polyester is made from crude oil and is found not only in textiles, but also in PET bottles, plastic-containing products and packaging. 100 million barrels of crude oil are consumed annually for this purpose. The textile industry accounts for 70 percent.

Polyester has a poor ecological balance.
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Well Bertolt Jensen / unsplash

Recycled polyester is not optimal, but the better alternative

To conserve resources, many textile manufacturers are turning to recycled polyester. Patagonia is also a pioneer here and has been processing fabrics from recycled PET bottles, plastic waste from the oceans and worn-out clothing for years. There are also many sustainable sneaker labels, which make running shoes from recycled polyester. No new petroleum needs to be used for the recycled fibers and they are not inferior to "new" fibers. However, it's important to remember that this doesn't solve the microplastic problem, and the recycling process also requires a lot of energy. In addition, recycling plastic has limits; PET cannot be endlessly reused. And it is currently hardly possible to recycle polyester from blended fabrics.


The good combination and processing options make polyester a versatile material that also offers good alternatives in terms of sustainability. Nevertheless, polyester has a poor eco-balance, because microplastics dissolve in the waxing machine and end up in the wastewater. Polyester is also found in PET bottles and other plastic packaging. 


At the end of the article we answer frequently asked questions about polyester.

Is polyester breathable?

Polyester is a very breathable fabric and is therefore ideal for sports textiles.

How is polyester made?

Polyester is formed into fibers by a melt spinning process. Polyester granules are heated to 280 degrees and melted. This process produces the man-made fiber.

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