Everything You Need to Know About Polyester Fabric: The Ultimate Guide

Wondering what's behind the widespread use of polyester clothing? This article offers insights into the pros and cons of using polyester, helping you make informed choices for your wardrobe and home.

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Everything You Need to Know About Polyester Fabric: The Ultimate Guide

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Key takeaways

  • Polyester is the most widely used synthetic fabric
  • Compared to other natural fibers, polyester is quite cheap
  • Polyester has several negative environmental impacts from production to disposal


When we discuss textiles, one material stands as a testament to both innovation and controversy: polyester fabric. Its inception marked a significant stride in textile technology, yet its widespread use has ignited debates surrounding its environmental implications. Approximately 69% of clothes are made of synthetic fibers, and polyester is the most common. Polyester, while celebrated for its affordability and durability, has also come under scrutiny for its detrimental effects on our planet. This article holistically explores polyester fabric – tracing its origins, examining its characteristics, and confronting the often unsettling ecological footprint it leaves behind. By delving into the complex tapestry of polyester, we aim to shed light on its dual nature: a symbol of human ingenuity intertwined with a stark reminder of the challenges we face in balancing convenience with environmental responsibility.

Polyester fabrics: What are they?

Polyester fabric is a synthetic textile made from polymer fibers that are derived from petrochemicals, primarily a compound known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This polymer is created through a chemical reaction involving purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG), resulting in a polymer that can be melted and spun into fibers.

The process of creating polyester fabric involves several steps. First, the PET polymer is melted and extruded through spinnerets, which are small holes that shape the molten material into long, thin fibers. These polyester fibers are then cooled and solidified to form long filaments. These filaments can be used as they are, or they can be cut into shorter lengths, which are then spun together to form yarn.

Polyester fabric is known for its versatility and is used in a wide range of applications. It can be found in clothing, upholstery, home textiles, sportswear, outdoor gear, and even industrial applications. The fabric's properties can be adjusted during manufacturing to achieve specific characteristics such as softness, strength, water resistance, and more.

Advantages of polyester fibers

From clothing to home furnishings, sportswear to industrial products, polyester's ubiquity is grounded in its ability to meet diverse demands while offering a range of practical advantages. The prevalence of polyester fibers is not by chance. It is a result of some of its advantages. Let’s take a closer look.


Polyester fibers are known for their strength and durability, making them resistant to wear and tear. This robust nature has propelled polyester into a leading role in various industries, from fashion to outdoor gear. This durability ensures that products made from polyester fiber, such as clothing, upholstery, and even industrial materials, can withstand the rigors of daily life and continue to perform reliably. 


One of the reasons clothing manufacturers prefer polyester is because of its affordability. This cost-effective fabric offers a wide range of possibilities for creating diverse styles at a lower production expense. It is not unusual to find shirts made of a cotton and polyester blend. While this economic advantage has driven its widespread use, it's crucial to recognize the larger environmental and sustainability considerations that come hand in hand. As the fashion industry evolves, finding a harmonious balance between cost-efficiency and responsible manufacturing remains a vital challenge.


If you need wrinkle-resistant synthetic fiber, there aren’t many synthetic materials that can trump polyester. Unlike some other fabrics that tend to crease and crinkle easily, polyester's inherent wrinkle resistance ensures that garments and textiles retain a smooth and polished appearance, even after hours of wear or storage. This characteristic has simplified the lives of busy individuals who seek clothing that looks good without the hassle of constant ironing or steaming. 


Polyester is moisture-wicking and moisture-resistant. The moisture-wicking property of polyester is one of its key performance features that has contributed to its popularity in sportswear, activewear, and outdoor gear. Moisture wicking refers to the fabric's ability to pull moisture (such as sweat) away from the skin and onto the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate more easily. This helps to keep the wearer dry and comfortable during physical activities or in humid conditions.

Polyester's moisture-wicking capability is a result of its hydrophobic (water-repelling) nature. The fibers themselves do not absorb moisture like natural fibers such as cotton do. Instead, they create a surface tension that encourages moisture to spread out and evaporate more quickly. This process helps to regulate body temperature by reducing the accumulation of sweat and preventing the discomfort caused by damp clothing.

In sportswear, polyester's moisture-wicking property is highly valued because it aids in preventing chafing, irritation, and the cooling effect that occurs when sweat evaporates from the skin. It also contributes to odor control, as moisture-wicking fabrics inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria that thrive in damp environments. This is why it is not surprising that polyester is the foundation of the moisture-wicking Nike Dri-FIT clothing line.

Low maintenance

Polyester's low-maintenance nature is a boon for individuals seeking practical and hassle-free clothing and textiles. One of its standout features is its remarkable ability to retain color over time. Unlike some natural fibers that might fade or lose vibrancy with repeated washes and exposure to sunlight, polyester fabrics exhibit exceptional color retention. This means that even after numerous cycles in the washing machine and exposure to the elements, polyester items tend to maintain their original hue, looking fresh and vibrant for an extended period.

Moreover, the ease of caring for polyester is a definite advantage. The fabric's resistance to wrinkles means that garments and textiles made from polyester often emerge from the washing machine or storage, looking relatively smooth and ready to wear. This feature is particularly valuable for busy individuals who appreciate clothing that requires minimal, if any, ironing or steaming. Additionally, polyester fabrics typically dry quickly due to their moisture-wicking properties, further contributing to their low-maintenance appeal.

Disadvantages of polyester fabrics

For all its advantages, polyester comes with a set of considerations that extend beyond its surface appeal. While its durability, wrinkle resistance, and easy maintenance are undeniable strengths, a closer examination reveals a complex relationship with environmental sustainability. 


Polyester is not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for a long time after disposal. Unlike natural fibers that break down over time, polyester fibers are resistant to the microbial processes that lead to decomposition. This characteristic poses challenges in waste management, as discarded polyester items can accumulate in landfills and contribute to the growing issue of plastic waste.

When polyester products are discarded, whether as clothing, accessories, or other items, their non-biodegradable nature means they do not easily integrate back into the natural environment. This not only has implications for the visual aesthetics of landscapes but also raises concerns about the long-term impact on ecosystems, wildlife, and aquatic environments.

Microplastic pollution

Washing polyester fabrics can release microplastic particles into water systems, contributing to pollution. This phenomenon stems from the structure of polyester fibers, which are composed of synthetic materials that are not easily broken down. When polyester garments are laundered, particularly through machine washing, tiny fibers—often referred to as microplastics—are shed from the fabric and can enter wastewater streams.

Microplastics, including those from polyester, have been found in rivers, lakes, oceans, and even tap water. A report shows that polyester fibers make up almost three-quarters of microplastic pollution in the Arctic and probably come from textile manufacturing and household laundry. These minuscule particles have the potential to harm aquatic life, as they can be ingested by marine organisms and work their way up the food chain. The widespread presence of microplastics in water systems has prompted researchers, policymakers, and industries to explore ways to minimize their release and the resulting environmental consequences.

Fossil fuel dependency

Fossil fuel dependency is another significant aspect of polyester's environmental impact. The raw material for polyester production, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), is derived from petrochemicals, which are extracted from fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas. This reliance on non-renewable resources raises concerns about carbon emissions, energy consumption, and the finite availability of these fuels.

The extraction, processing, and transportation of fossil fuels contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. Moreover, the energy-intensive nature of polyester production involves multiple stages, including polymerization, extrusion, and fiber spinning, all of which require substantial energy inputs. 

Polyester is prone to static

Polyester fibers can generate static electricity, causing clinginess and discomfort. This is due to the synthetic nature of polyester, which can create an imbalance of electrons on the fabric's surface. When two materials with differing electron charges come into contact, static electricity can build up, leading to garments that stick to the skin or to each other.

The phenomenon of static cling is particularly noticeable in dry and low-humidity environments, as moisture in the air helps to dissipate static charges. While not a significant drawback in all situations, static cling can be a minor annoyance, leading to clothing that bunches up, sticks to hosiery, or causes hair to stand on end.

The case for recycled polyester

Due to the unsustainable nature of polyester, there has been a shift towards recycled polyester. This transition represents a conscious effort to address the environmental challenges posed by traditional polyester production. Recycled polyester, often abbreviated as rPET, has gained traction as a more eco-friendly alternative that reduces the strain on finite resources, curbs plastic waste and mitigates carbon emissions.

The emergence of recycled polyester reflects a growing awareness of the need for sustainable choices in the textile industry. By repurposing post-consumer plastic bottles and existing polyester waste, this approach lessens the demand for new petroleum-based materials, which are integral to the production of conventional polyester. This reduction in raw material consumption directly contributes to decreased reliance on fossil fuels and minimizes the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycled polyester also resonates with the principles of the circular economy, emphasizing the importance of reusing materials and prolonging their life cycles. By diverting discarded plastic and polyester from landfills, recycled polyester aligns with the goal of waste reduction and promotes a more responsible use of resources.

Furthermore, the momentum behind recycled polyester is fostering innovation throughout the industry. Manufacturers are exploring advanced techniques to create high-quality recycled fibers, and consumers are becoming more discerning in their choices, seeking products that align with their environmental values.

The problems of recycled polyester

Admittedly, recycling polyester reduces the need for new ones and potentially reduces the pile-up of polyester waste in landfills. However, the journey towards a more sustainable textile industry is not without its complexities and considerations. While recycled polyester addresses some of the environmental concerns associated with virgin polyester, it is important to approach this solution with a nuanced perspective.

The recycling process itself requires energy and resources. Converting discarded polyester into usable fibers involves various stages, from collection and cleaning to processing and production. This energy expenditure raises questions about the net environmental gain achieved through recycling, especially when compared to other more naturally derived and sustainable fiber alternatives.

Moreover, while recycled polyester diverts plastic waste from landfills and oceans, it does not eliminate the issue of microplastic pollution. Washing recycled polyester garments can still release microfibers into water systems, potentially perpetuating ecological harm in aquatic environments.

The popularity of recycled polyester has also sparked concerns about "greenwashing," where products are marketed as environmentally friendly simply due to their recycled content without addressing other significant environmental impacts of their production or lifecycle.

In essence, while recycled polyester offers a promising step towards sustainability, it's essential to recognize that it is not a panacea for all the challenges posed by polyester textiles. A comprehensive approach to a greener textile industry involves a blend of fiber innovations, reduced consumption, responsible disposal practices, and a deeper understanding of the environmental implications of our choices. 


What is the problem with polyester fabric?

Polyester fabric is made from raw materials derived from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. In addition, polyester material is not biodegradable.

Is polyester good for your skin?

Polyester clothing is considered generally good for your skin. However, its effects on the skin can vary depending on individual sensitivities and the specific type of polyester fabric. Some people may find certain polyester fabrics to be less breathable compared to natural fibers, which could potentially lead to discomfort in hot or humid conditions. Additionally, polyester may trap moisture on the skin due to its moisture-wicking properties, which could be problematic for individuals with sensitive or easily irritated skin.

Why avoid polyester clothes?

You should avoid polyester clothes due to concerns about breathability, moisture retention, microplastic pollution, environmental impact, non-biodegradability, static cling, sensitivity, and the availability of more sustainable alternatives like natural fibers.

Why is polyester so cheap?

Polyester's low cost is attributed to its efficient production process, use of petrochemical materials, and the adaptability of polyester blends to achieve specific characteristics. Polyester fibers can be mass-produced in enormous quantities at a low cost. 

What clothes have forever chemicals in them?

Clothes like waterproof jackets, stain-resistant clothing, and certain outdoor gear may contain forever chemicals, also known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals are used to provide water and stain resistance but have raised concerns due to their persistence and potential health and environmental risks.

What fabrics do not release Microplastics?

Fabrics made from natural fibers like organic cotton, hemp, and linen are less likely to release microplastics compared to synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Additionally, some innovative sustainable fabrics like Tencel or Lyocell, which are derived from wood pulp, have shown lower microplastic shedding tendencies.

What is the least toxic clothing material?

Organic cotton is often considered one of the least toxic clothing materials. It is grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, reducing chemical exposure to both the environment and the wearer. Other options include hemp, bamboo, and certain sustainable textiles like Tencel or Lyocell, which have environmentally friendly production processes and minimal chemical inputs.


In a world seeking sustainable alternatives, polyester's dominance, despite advantages like moisture resistance and durability, is clouded by environmental concerns. Derived from ethylene glycol, the production of polyester yarn relies on energy-intensive processes, contributing to plastic pollution and non-biodegradability. As we navigate the tension between convenience and ecological responsibility, exploring alternatives and encouraging innovation become paramount for a more balanced future.


Bryce, E. (2021, November 6). Are clothes made from recycled materials really more sustainable? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/06/clothes-made-from-recycled-materials-sustainable-plastic-climate 

Cfda. (n.d.). Polyester | Materials Index | CFDA. CFDA. https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/polyester 

Lafayette. (2021, September 28). What happens with static on polyester? - Lafayette. https://lafayette.com/en/faqs-list/what-happens-with-static-on-polyester/ 

Shah, K. (2021, January 20). Microplastics found across the Arctic may be fibres from laundry. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2264585-microplastics-found-across-the-arctic-may-be-fibres-from-laundry/ 

What Is Nike Dri-FIT? | Nike Help. (n.d.). https://www.nike.com/help/a/nike-dri-fit

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Ibrahim Okunade

Dedicated to promoting environmental consciousness and ecological harmony. I write to help others embrace sustainable living.

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