By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

Polyester Fabric Guide

John C.


John C.


September 20, 2023

Jan 16, 2024

Polyester Fabric Guide

As one of the most popular textiles available today, polyester is a synthetic fabric that is a type of plastic derived petroleum. Polyester is beloved for its ability to hold its shape well, as well as dry quickly when wet. While pure polyester can be fashioned into a variety of garments, polyester is often blended with other textiles, such as cotton and rayon, to create a blended fabric that combines polyester’s best qualities with the breathability of natural and semi-synthetic fibers. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the various benefits and properties of polyester, the fabric’s history and place in fashion through the decades, different polyester blends, and proper care to get the most from polyester garments. 

What is Polyester?

Women's Olympia Shorts
Boxercraft BW6101

Polyester is a man-made fabric that is derived from petroleum. Technically, it’s a plastic! Ethylene glycol, a petroleum, is put through a process that produces a polymer. This polymer is then melted and transformed to create fibers. These fibers are twisted and woven together in such a way that it has a soft, smooth feel that’s comfortable to wear. The end result is a bolt of polyester fabric used to create stylish garments. 

So, what does polyester feel like? Polyester has a smooth, silky feel that glides over the body. But beyond its smooth drape, polyester is known for its durability and wrinkle-resistance. Better yet, an item of polyester clothing can stay looking like new for years – or even decades. 

Speaking of decades, although polyester was first invented during the 1930s by W.H. Carothers, a chemist with DuPont who also developed nylon. In 1941, British scientists C.G. Ritchie and W.K. Birtwhistle built upon Carothers’ work to refine synthetic fabrics. That year, a polyester fabric called Terylene was released. Then, in 1946, DuPont purchased the rights to the British team’s work and used it to create the Dacron polyester blend. 

After WWII, polyester was more actively marketed to the public as a fashion fabric. In the era of time-saving modern innovations (like TV dinners and kitchen gadgets), polyester was touted for its wrinkle-resistant properties in that it could be worn without ironing. The 1960s and ‘70s capitalized on the fabric, weaving it into mod shift dresses and other styles that exemplified the Swingin’ ‘60s and leisure suits in the 1970s. 

The fabric fell out of favor since it could sometimes feel itchy and uncomfortable. Although polyester held its shape and color and didn’t need to be ironed, many found that the synthetic fabric didn’t “breathe” as well as natural fibers like cotton, linen, and silk. 

When high fashion designers like Calvin Klein began to blend polyester, the fabric found a resurgence. Similarly, new technology and weaving techniques have made polyester much more comfortable and soft-to-the touch. Today, it’s used in microfiber that mimics silk, microfleece that feels similar to genuine sherpa, to poly-cotton and tri-blend t-shirts that are super soft and a wardrobe staple for men, women, and kids. 

Is Polyester Stretchy?

Polyester itself isn’t a stretchy material. However, it can be blended with other textiles – such as spandex, Lycra, or elastane – that can make it stretchier. Different weaving techniques can make polyester an ideal fabric for apparel that moves with the body and offers a form-fitting silhouette. Check the care label of your favorite pair of yoga pants or moisture-wicking polo and you’ll likely see polyester as one of the key materials included alongside spandex or other stretchy textiles. 

Polyester Stretch Weave Techniques

Stretch Weave

Although polyester isn’t inherently stretchy, different weaving techniques can help make the fabric stretchier – even without blending it with other, more pliable fabrics. Some of these weaving techniques include:

Knit polyester weave: Knit-weave fabrics tend to have a lot more stretch than woven fabrics. This technique involves knitting polyester yarns in two opposing directions – vertical and horizontal – on a continuous loop. If you take a look at a piece of polyester clothing and stretch it in either direction, you’ll likely see little “loops” that comprise the fabric. This is a prime indicator that your item of clothing uses a polyester knit weaving technique. 

Stretch-weave: The stretch-weave process makes use of a weaving technique that gives structure to a garment, but also weaves a primary yarn like polyester with other, stretchier fabrics (like spandex, for example). Compared to knitted fabrics that use loops, woven fabrics weave fibers over and under each other – like a basket. The weaving process typically offers less stretch than a knitting technique, but adding in spandex, elastane, or Lycra fibers give a piece of fabric much more pliability. 

Warp-knit: Warp knit differs from more traditional knit in that yarns and fibers form a vertical loop for one cycle, then switch to a diagonal loop on the adjoining cycle before switching back to a vertical loop. As a result, yarns form a zigzag pattern that blocks wind and moisture due to the density this technique creates. You’ll often find warp knitting on active wear, such as yoga pants. 

Types of Polyester Blends

Unisex Triblend T-Shirt
Next Level 6010

In addition to weaving techniques, polyester can be blended with other fabrics to give it more stretch – and also make it more breathable. Some of the most common polyester blends you’ll find today include: 

  • Poly-cotton blends: Poly-cotton blends can range in terms of the ratio of polyester to cotton. Common ratios include 80% polyester/20% cotton, 65% polyester/35% cotton, and 50% polyester/50% cotton. This blend offers the absorbency of cotton alongside the fast-drying capabilities of polyester, making it fantastic for activewear that wicks moisture away from the body during a workout. For instance, the Next Level 5013 Women’s Festival Muscle Tank or the Russell Athletic 5896HBM DriPower® Open-Bottom Pocket Sweatpants are made from a poly-cotton blend that performs to keep you dry when you’re working up a sweat.

  • Polyester/Spandex blends: Combining polyester with spandex (or comparable fabrics like Lycra) produces a hybrid fabric that offers exceptional stretch and durability. This makes it a great fit for active wear that hugs the body, like Boxercraft’s BW6301 Women’s Luna Leggings.

    With polyester/spandex blends, polyester typically makes up the majority of the fabric ratio. Common ratios include 90% polyester/10% spandex, 85% polyester/15% spandex, and 80% polyester/20% spandex. The more spandex in the blend, the stretchier the fabric will be. Conversely, the less spandex included, the less stretchy a garment will be.

  • Tri-Blend: Tri-blend fabrics combine polyester with cotton and rayon for a super soft material that has the lightweight breathability of natural cotton and semi-synthetic rayon, with the wrinkle-resistance and durability of polyester. It’s become a popular fabric for t-shirts in recent years, as this blend has some stretch to it and is less prone to shrinkage like some all-cotton tees. Tri-blend fabrics often have a slightly weathered, lived-in look to them – giving them the vintage tee of a favorite shirt you’ve worn for years, even though it’s brand new. For instance, the Next Level 6010 Unisex Triblend T-Shirt comes in a variety of colors that have a slightly heathered look to them, and are made with a 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon blend.

Benefits of Polyester Stretch

Polyester stretch fabrics that make use of different weaving techniques and that blend polyester with other fibers can be an excellent choice for so many reasons. A polyester garment is strong and durable, and can last for years. Just pop into any vintage shop and you’ll see polyester apparel from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that looks almost new. As a synthetic fabric, polyester holds color during the dye process really well and won’t fade to the degree that natural fibers (such as cotton) might after multiple washings through the years. 

Beyond durability, polyester is also quite versatile. It plays well with other fabrics to produce innovative blends that combine the best properties of polyester and any other fabric it’s merged with. You can find polyester or blended polyester garments that span the gamut from formal cocktail dresses to active wear like leggings, yoga pants, or moisture-wicking polos, like the Gildan 8800. Blending polyester with other fibers like cotton and rayon also greater breathability, offering stretch, longevity, and comfort!

Caring for Polyester Fabrics 

Durable and wrinkle-resistant, polyester is pretty easy to care for and known for its wash-and-wearability. That said, it’s still important to read the care labels on your polyester and poly-blend garments to be sure they continue to look and feel great. 

Polyester Washing Tips

Because polyester is extremely durable, it can hold up well under multiple washings – even in warm water. That said, because polyester is essentially a type of plastic, do not use hot water, as it can damage an item. 

Also, only use laundry detergent and avoid bleach when washing polyester. In addition to potentially damaging the fabric, bleach can actually turn white polyester fabrics a dingy yellow instead of keeping it bright. 

Polyester Drying and Ironing

Avoid using high heat when drying or ironing polyester fabrics. Thankfully, polyester dries pretty quickly and only requires a short tumble in the dryer on a low or medium setting. A polyester garment can air dry completely within one to four hours, compared to cotton apparel that may take a minimum of three hours to air dry. 

When ironing polyester, only use low settings or a specific polyester setting on your iron. Because polyester is essentially a plastic, do not allow the iron to linger too long in one spot. If you do, polyester fibers can melt and leave you with an unattractive black or brown “char mark” on the surface of your garment. Fortunately, because polyester is mostly wrinkle-resistant anyway, you likely won’t have to do a great deal of ironing on your favorite polyester and poly-blend clothing items. 

Printing Methods for Polyester and Polyester Blends

If you plan to decorate any apparel that is either 100% polyester or a polyester blend, there are specific printing techniques that work well with these fabrics. 

  • Screen printing with plastic- or PVC-based ink: Screen printing is a popular process that deposits stenciled designs onto apparel by pushing special inks through a mesh screen and onto the fabric.

    When screen printing on polyester or polyester blended fabrics, be sure to only used plastic-based or PVC-based inks. These inks sit on top of the fabric and stick to them, creating a vibrant, long-lasting design.

    Do not attempt to use water-based inks on polyester fabrics, as it will wash right off as opposed to sinking into the fibers. Polyester’s petroleum-based composition will repel water-based inks. So, for a design that adheres well to the fabric, be sure to choose only plastic-based inks for your polyester screen printing projects.

  • Sublimated printing: Sublimated printing is a digital printing process that involves printing a design onto a special sheet of transfer paper that can hold sublimated inks. The paper is then applied directly to a garment with a heat press. During the heat transfer process, the material absorbs these inks, leaving you with a vivid design. Unlike screen printing with PVC-based inks that rest on top of the fabric and have an almost decal-like look, sublimated designs become part of the fabric itself.

    Sublimated printing has become popular in recent years, especially given the trend towards polyester and polyester blended apparel. In fact, the higher the percentage of polyester in your fabric, the more vibrant your design will look. While sublimation printing delivers ultra-vivid designs on 100% polyester and poly-cotton blends, it does offer a more weathered and vintage look on tri-blend fabrics.

Frequently Asked Questions about Polyester

  • Is 100% polyester stretchy
    While 100% polyester itself isn’t stretchy, certain weaving techniques can give it more stretch, as can blending it with other more pliable fabrics like spandex, Lycra, and elastane. 

  • Is polyester breathable?
    As a synthetic fabric, polyester is not very breathable on its own. While it has a silky feel, it lacks the breathability of natural fibers like cotton, linen, or silk. However, blending polyester natural fibers like cotton and semi-synthetics like rayon can produce a more breathable fabric that still offers the durability and wrinkle-resistance of pure polyester.

  • Is polyester good for summer wear?
    Overall, 100% polyester garments might not be suitable for summer wear, as polyester itself might not be breathable, depending on its weave and other factors. However, polyester blends (such as tri-blend and poly-cotton blends) can be comfortably worn in warm weather. In fact, many of these poly-blends have excellent moisture-wicking properties and are great for activities such as yoga, golf, and more.

  • How long does polyester last?
    An article of polyester clothing can last for decades, holding its shape and color in a way that can make a vintage item look almost new. Polyester can take between 20 and 200 years to decompose if left in a landfill.

  • Is polyester eco-friendly?
    While polyester is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, the fabric’s longevity makes it more sustainable than you might initially think. Because polyester garments can last for decades and require less water and energy to clean in a washer/dryer, it can be considered an eco-friendly fabric to some degree. However, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has mentioned that several studies show that polyester sheds microplastics with every wash, and that there is still not yet a clear understanding around the full impact of these microplastics on the environment.
  • Is polyester flammable?
    Overall, polyester is considered one of the most flame-retardant fabrics available today. Polyester does not burn easily when exposed to fire. Rather, because it’s petroleum-based, it melts slowly. For instance, if you accidentally use a high-heat setting while ironing a piece of polyester clothing, you may see char marks or that the fabric melts under high temperatures. 

Stay in the know

Get the latest insights and fashion trends.

Related Posts