Polyester, once a fashion punchline, has grown to become the world’s most popular synthetic fabric.
The popular material is known for its performance and moisture-wicking properties, and it is used in nearly half of all clothing. However, many people are unaware of how to properly care for polyester clothing, and there is some uncertainty about whether it can shrink.
We’ve done the research and have the definitive answers below.
What Is Polyester?
Polyester is the generic term for a textile (fabric) made of polyester fibers. The name is an abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate, which is essentially a type of plastic.
The “miracle fiber” has been around for nearly a century and has proven to be one of the most useful and versatile materials ever invented. Take a quick look around your home or business and you will undoubtedly come across something made of polyester: couches, pillows, curtains, bedspreads, placemats, lampshades, and dog toys, to name a few.
Consider polyester to be superfine plastic hair that can be woven into yarns and then fabrics, but with greater resilience, durability, and versatility than natural counterparts (cotton, wool, silk, and linen). It is the material of choice for athletic apparel, sportswear, outdoor gear, and the massive athleisure market.
It’s also less expensive and can be easily dyed or chemically treated to have special properties like flame-retardant or anti-microbial, making it an undeniable first choice for businesses and institutions all over the world.
Polyester is a hydrophobic material. As a result, polyester fabrics do not absorb perspiration or other fluids, leaving the wearer with a moist, clammy feeling. Polyester fibers typically have low wicking properties. Polyester is stronger and more stretchy than cotton. Fiber strength can range between 2.5 and 9.5 grams per denier.
Polyester is frowned upon by environmentally conscious buyers. Polyester is not considered sustainable or biodegradable because it is a man-made fiber derived from petroleum-based products.
Polyester fabrics have numerous applications:
- Sewing threads
- Coats and anoraks
- Luggage & other bags
- Upholstery and Soft Furnishing
- Duvets Fillings
Polyester fibers are used in a variety of products in businesses, including plastic reinforcements, seat belts, and conveyor belt fabrics.
Pros and Cons of Polyester Fabric
|Wash & wear (anti-wrinkle)||Yellow armpits|
|Durable (anti-snag, anti-rip)||Oil-based substances stain|
|Retains shape (anti-shrink)||Less breathable|
|Retain color (anti-fade)||Can be irritant to the skin|
|Moisture-wicking||Can be uncomfortable|
|Stain-resistant (mostly)||Environmental impact|
|Quickly drying||Issues with printing|
|Inexpensive||Can retain odors|
How Is Polyester Made?
Polyester is created through a chemical reaction that involves petroleum, air, and water. This synthetic fiber is made from purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and monotheluene glycol (MEG).
Polyester is thermoplastic, which means it can be melted and reformed. Chemists melt polyester pellets and force them through small holes to create polyester (spinnerets). The continuous filaments of polyester fibers solidify on the exit side of the spinnerets. The shape and diameter of the fibers are determined by the size and shape of the hole. The fibers are solid polymer with no void spaces within them. These continuous filaments, known as “tow”, can be cut to any length (no length distribution, all fibers are manufactured to be perfectly homogeneous) to produce staple fibers for use in textiles and nonwovens, or they can be left as a continuous monofilament, similar to fishing line.
Does 100% Polyester Shrink?
Yes, after multiple hot water washes and high-temperature drys, 100% polyester will shrink slightly.
Cotton/poly blends may shrink slightly as well.
Polyester does not shrink in a warm washing machine cycle and can also be dried on a normal dryer setting. However, soaking polyester in hot water or drying it for an extended period of time can cause the fabric to shrink or warp. Polyester blends shrink faster than 100% polyester (pure polyester).
To avoid shrinking, never wash polyester at temperatures higher than 230°F.
At What Temperature Does 100% Polyester Shrink?
100% Polyester is quite durable and usually resists shrinkage unless exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time. This may occur in home laundries when dryer or washing machine temperatures exceed 70°C (158°F). The degree and exact temperature largely depend on how the garment was made.
How to Shrink 100% Polyester?
I’m guessing your polyester item doesn’t fit well and you’d like to shrink it a little, but you’re not as fond of the intricate sewing process as I am? So, what are your options?
Here’s how: Wash your item several times in hot water and dry it at the highest temperature setting until the desired result is achieved. You’ve reached maximum shrinkage when it stops shrinking.
This is what I did in my test. I cannot guarantee these results on every polyester item because, as previously stated, polyester is a synthetic fabric that resists shrinkage, but this method worked for me.
More about Polyester
Why is Polyester a Popular Fabric?
Polyester is popular because it is inexpensive, washable, and does not fade or wrinkle easily. In other words, it’s both convenient and inexpensive.
Cotton, on the other hand, has a tendency to shrink, requires ironing, and fades easily, particularly along seam lines. Furthermore, good cottons are more expensive than polyester because they are less likely to shrink or fade. Cotton, on the other hand, “breathes” better than polyester, hangs more gracefully, and looks lovely when freshly ironed.
The fact that there is so much polyester available online and in stores suggests that people prefer its convenience and low cost over the beauty of natural fibers. Or it could simply mean that retailers believe that is what customers want.
I understand your anguish. I sew a lot and prefer to use natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Unless you’re looking for calico, most fabric stores today have a limited selection of natural fibers. I’ve frequently complained that if any of the fabric stores near me caught fire, the majority of the merchandise would melt rather than burn.
Is Polyester Moisture-Wicking?
Polyester has a natural moisture-wicking property. It is the ability to draw moisture away from the body and disperse it through the material, allowing for rapid evaporation. In otherwise hot and sticky conditions, this allows the wearer to stay cool and dry.
Polyester, which is petroleum-based, is the ideal textile for this function due to its naturally water-resistant properties. It is hydrophobic, which means it repels water. Water and oil do not mix.
Leading competitors, such as Under Armour, have made advancements in the way fibers are woven or the fabric is layered, improving moisture-wicking functionality, improving breathability, and adding finishing features such as stain and odor resistance. Other brand names for high-tech performance fabric include Dri-Power, Climacool, Cool Dri, and the list goes on.
Does Polyester Shrink the First Time You Wash It?
Pure polyester is strong enough to withstand high temperatures. The only way it will shrink is if you immerse it in boiling water. Even then, it would be by a small margin. However, most products are polyester blends rather than pure polyester.
When in doubt, simply follow the washing instructions on the label. In general, most items can be washed at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Does Polyester Wrinkle?
Polyester is known to be wrinkle-resistant, but this is dependent on the quality of the garment. To put it another way, polyester can wrinkle, but not as easily as cotton. Poly/cotton blends are a little more prone. Tri-blends, which contain some rayon, have a better drape and almost no wrinkling.
Can Polyester Be Ironed?
Polyester can be ironed, but it must be done carefully because it is heat sensitive. If you get wrinkles, turn your garment inside out, use a damp cloth or towel between the iron and the fabric, and keep the iron on warm/low.
Better yet, hang the garment and use a hand-held steamer in a vertical motion to remove all wrinkles. If you don’t have a steamer, now is the time to add one to your wish list because they are both inexpensive and fantastic.
Keep in mind that polyester is heat sensitive; at higher temperatures, it can melt, and even at lower temperatures, it can buckle and become damaged or misshapen. When ironing or steaming, keep your strokes short and moving. Don’t go overboard.
Is Polyester Stretchy?
Most polyester garments, particularly in performance and athletic apparel, can stretch significantly and retain their shape. Much depends on the knit, construction, and fabric quality. The addition of rayon or lycra can further improve the stretch factor.
Does Polyester Breathe?
Polyester isn’t known for its breathability, but that’s another feature that’s being improved with advanced design and manufacturing technology. The design of the knit and how tight it is will be the most important factors. Many high-tech performance fabrics are increasingly designed to strike a balance between breathability and wicking.
Does Polyester Dry Fast?
Polyester dries much faster than blended fabrics and much faster than cotton when compared to its competitors. It repels water at the microscopic level because it is petroleum-based and hydrophobic. Depending on the tightness of the knit, any moisture held by the material will evaporate quickly, especially with warmth and airflow.
Is Polyester Odor-Resistant?
Polyester naturally repels odor because it does not absorb and retain sweat like cotton. Bacteria build-up causes odor, so bacteria do not accumulate as the fabric wicks moisture. This is one of the reasons polyester is popular among athletes and hot-weather workers.
That is not to say that it is equally effective on all polyester garments. Furthermore, because polyester is oil-based, body oils can accumulate in the fibers over time, causing odor. Certain tech fabrics have been specially treated to be odor-resistant, so those will be the most effective.
The simple solution is to wash your polyester items after each use, especially if you’ve been sweating it out on the field or working out like a maniac in the gym. Good hygiene and regular detergent washing will keep you smelling fresh and clean all the time.
Is Polyester Irritant to The Skin?
Some people find the feel of polyester on their skin to be irritating. A smaller percentage may experience a mild allergic reaction. Blended fabrics, such as 50/50 or tri-blends, have a more cotton-like feel while retaining some of the benefits of polyester.
While nearly three-quarters of consumers say they prefer fabric made from natural fibers such as cotton, they may be unfamiliar with the latest polyester garments on the market, which are designed with comfort in mind.
When it comes to moisture-wicking properties, the only natural fiber that does so is wool, which you don’t want to be wearing when you’re sweating.
Does Polyester Make You Sweat?
Polyester does not perspire, but any garment with tightly-knit fibers has decreased breathability through the fabric. Polyester clothing is typically designed to be moisture-wicking, allowing sweat to transfer away from the body and evaporate rather than being retained in the material.
Does Polyester Provide UV Protection?
It is determined by the density of the knit and whether or not the fabric has been treated with a UV-resistant finish. If the knit is tight enough, almost any garment will provide some UV protection. Mesh, fishnet, or wide-open knit, on the other hand, will not provide much protection.
How Should You Wash Polyester?
Polyester can be washed and dried as usual, with no special care or treatment required. While it is less likely to shrink than other fabrics, wash it in cool water and tumble dry on low. Avoid using fabric softener or ironing, and always check the tags for instructions specific to your shirt.
How Should You Iron Polyester?
Ironing polyester can be stressful because the slippery fabric melts quickly when heated. Follow these tips on how to iron polyester like a pro.
- Set your iron to a low heat setting. Polyester is a synthetic fabric that can be damaged by excessive heat. Set your iron to “synthetic,” or 110°C (230°F). Most types of polyester fabric should be fine with a low or moderate heat setting.
- Steam should be used sparingly. Again, because polyester is a synthetic fabric, excessive steam can cause damage. If you must use steam, use it sparingly and keep the steam away from the garment.
- Make use of a pressing cloth. A pressing cloth is a thin fabric that is placed between the iron and the garment to protect it from direct iron contact. This is especially true when working with delicate or sensitive fabrics such as polyester.
- Take care not to over-iron. Although polyester is a durable fabric, over-ironing can cause damage. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and iron for shorter rather than longer periods of time.
- When ironing around buttons and other embellishments, use caution. These can be sensitive areas, so avoid using too much heat or pressure when ironing around them.
- Allow the garment to cool completely before taking it off the ironing board. This will help to shape the garment and keep wrinkles from reforming.
How to Prevent Polyester from Shrinking
If you wash your polyester garments in cold water and dry them at a cool temperature or with a permanent press, they will not shrink.
What Is the Best Printing Method for Polyester?
Polyester can be personalized in a variety of ways, including direct-to-garment printing (good) and traditional plastisol screen printing (better), but dye sublimation is by far the best print method for polyester. And the only fabric that can be sublimated is polyester. You can also do a “all over” print.
You can easily design and customize performance wear for your team uniforms on our website. Choose your style and colors, add names and numbers, and even upload an image of your mascot.
They will be printed using our cutting-edge dye sublimation process for sharp, bright graphics that will last. It’s never been easier to outfit your team with quality and style while keeping them cool and comfortable when things heat up.
Browse some of our most popular polyester styles, premium performance shirts, and polos for everyday moisture-wicking performance T-shirts and other garments to customize. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, give us a call or use our live chat and one of our project specialists will be happy to assist you.
When you’re ready to start customizing your polyester performance gear, use our simple Design Studio to upload your own logo or use our clip art and fonts to create your own design from scratch.