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What is polyester fabric made from?

Updated January 24, 2019

Polyester is a durable, easy-care synthetic fabric made from petroleum byproducts. It can be manufactured in a variety of weights and textures. Polyester is used for a wide range of applications, including clothing, home furnishings and industrial fabrics.

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Chemical Reaction

Polyester consists of "long-chain polymers" that are derived from a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air and water. Specifically, a reaction between the petroleum byproducts alcohol and carboxyl acid forms a compound that is known as a monomer or "ester." This reaction, which takes place at high temperatures in a vacuum, is referred to as polymerisation.

Molecular Structure

According to Princeton University's WordNet website, a polymer is a synthetic compound that consists of large molecules composed from a linked series of repeated simple compounds called monomers. The term "polyester" refers to a linked change of ester monomers. This chain is formed as part of the polymerisation process.

Creation of Polyester Fiber

The polymer material that is formed during polymerisation is extruded to create long, thin fibres. These fibres are stretched when hot until they are about five times their original length, resulting in an arrangement of molecules that forms a strong fibre.

Spinning of Polyester Yarn

Polyester yarns are created from polyester fibres. They may be either a filament type, which is twisted from several long fibres, or a spun type, which is created from combining short pieces of fibre called staple. During the spinning process, natural fibres such as cotton or wool may be blended with the polyester fibres.

Creation of Polyester Fabric

Polyester fabric may be knitted or woven from polyester yarns. After the fabric is created, a variety of finishes may be applied. These finishes include water repellents, flame retardants, antistatic finishes and design embossing.

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About the Author

Catie Watson is a writer and software engineer who covers culture, technology and education. Her work has been featured on numerous websites and in national magazines.

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