Polyester is an umbrella term that describes a manufactured fibre whose substance is any long-chain synthetic polymer where at least 85 per cent (by weight) of the polymer is an ester and terephthalic acid. Most polyester is made of polythene terephtalate. The properties of polyester fabrics vary depending on their composition, web structure and processing, but some general features are found with nearly all polyester fabrics.
Polyester is the number one manmade fibre used in fabrics, worldwide. It tends to be an inexpensive fibre to produce and its general characteristics and non crop-based availability have allowed for the creation of inexpensive clothing and fabrics, which transformed the textile industry in 1941. The largest innovation in polyester was the recent discovery of microfibers. This discovery allowed polyester manufacturers to transform the texture and feel of polyester into a super-soft, durable, lightweight fabric.
Polyester was introduced to the American public in 1951 as the fabric that doesn't need to be ironed. It quickly became known as wash-and-wear fabric. However, it also earned other, less flattering attributions, such as causing skin irritations with some people or being texturally unpleasant to the touch.
Wearing polyester became associated with being cheap and this connection has continued to affect how consumers perceive the product. This drove more innovation in the industry as manufacturers began to hide or relabel polyester in new blended fabrics.
The properties of polyester fabrics include: inexpensive cost; superior strength and resilience; lightweight; hydrophobic (it feels dry or moves moisture effects away from touch); it has an unusually high melting point; is resistant to dyes, solvents and most chemicals; stain resistant; resists stretching and shrinking; quick drying; wrinkle, mildew and abrasion resistant; retains heat-set pleats and creases and is easy to launder.
The fabric can also develop small fuzz balls or pills, which may be related to friction, abrasion resistance, stiffness and breaking strength, according to a University of Tennessee, Knoxville paper. Polyester is sensitive to alkalines and resistant to most conventional textile bleaches. It is oleophilic, which means that it is difficult to remove oil stains from the fabric. It exhibits static cling tendencies and it is frequently used in fabrics that give the appearance of being bright and shiny. Newer microfibers offer softer appearance potentials and are texturally more similar to the lustre and feel of silk. It has good fade resistance, particularly when protected from UV radiation and it is noted to retain its shape. Not all polyesters have the same properties and characteristics but they will share most of them.
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