How to Wash Polyester Clothes

Polyester fabric
Frank Leung/Getty Images

Polyester clothes sometimes get a bad rap but polyester fibers are an important part of the fashion world. Microfiber and high-performance athletic wear often contain polyester fibers. And, the addition of polyester to cotton fabrics revolutionized easy care clothes - no more ironing!

How To Wash Polyester Clothes

Polyester fibers are insect resistant, durable, resilient and can be woven or knit into many weights and textures.

Polyester is an easy care fabric if you remember to wash in warm water (never hot), use a good detergent with enzymes that will break up stains and avoid high temperatures when drying or ironing.

All synthetic fibers are heat sensitive and high temperatures in the dryer or when ironing can cause them to melt, shrink or deform. 

Just using the hot-water setting on a washer can create seemingly permanent wrinkles in polyester during the spin cycle. Steam pressing can sometimes remove these wrinkles but the high heat required can also cause melting, shrinkage and create holes. Learn the correct temperature for ironing polyester.

When a oily stain comes in contact with polyester fabric the attraction is solid and difficult to break. However, oil stains are easily removed if treated immediately. Use a pretreater like Resolve or Shout and wash with a heavy duty detergent like TideWisk or Persil in warm water.

Always check for stains before washing and double check that they have been removed before placing polyester clothes in the dryer. Heat from a dryer or iron will set oil stains and make them almost impossible to remove. 

Chlorine Bleach and Polyester Clothes

As with most fabrics, white polyester clothes can become dingy and even yellowed.

And, bright polyester colors can become dull due to dye transfer from other fabrics or detergent/fabric softener residue left in the fibers.

The key to brightening and whitening polyester is to DO NOT USE chlorine beach. Chlorine bleach damages polyester by stripping away the outer coating and revealing the yellow inner core. White garments will actually turn yellow.

Instead, opt for oxygen bleach (brand names are: OxiCleanTide OxiNellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and warm water. Mix enough solution of the oxygen bleach and water following package directions to completely submerge the clothes. Allow the dingy clothes to soak in the oxygen bleach/water solution for several hours and then was as usual.

How to Prevent Wrinkling of Polyester Fabrics

One of the biggest selling points of polyester is its non-wrinkling qualities. However, if polyester does become heavily wrinkled or creased, it can be very difficult to remove the creases without damaging the fabric.

So, an important care factor is to prevent severe wrinkling of polyester. Follow these tips to ensure the fabric continues to look good.

  • Do not overload washer, clothes should move freely
  • Use cold or warm water for washing and rinsing

The Story of Polyester 

You can thank British scientists, John Whinfield and James Dickson for the development of the first polyester fiber – Terylene – in 1941. Their work was inspired by the discovery of DuPont scientist, W.H. Carothers, the inventor of nylon, who found that alcohols and carboxyl acids could be successfully mixed to create man-made fibers. 

The name comes from poly (meaning many) and ester (a basic organic chemical compound). Ethylene, which is derived from petroleum, is the main ingredient in the manufacture of polyester. This can be distilled from oil or recycled from previously manufactured plastics.

Following the end of World War II, DuPont bought the rights to manufacture polyester and the rest is history. Today, more than fifty percent of the world's clothing is made from polyester and you'll find polyester fibers in nearly every category of fabric from sheer tulle to heavy upholstery and carpets.

The manufacturing method determines the form the finished polyester fibers will take - filament, staple, tow or fiberfill.

  • Filament is a continuous strand that can be woven or knit into a smooth-surfaced fabric of varying weights.
  • Staple fibers are created by cutting the filament into predetermined short lengths. These fibers can then by combined with other fibers to create blends like poly-cotton that incorporate the good qualities of both fibers.
  • Tow polyester is made from continuous filaments that are drawn loosely together. Tow produces a heavy, rope-like fiber that can be left long or cut into shorter lengths for carpet.
  • Fiberfill is very thin, short lengths of fibers that create the fluffy, voluminous material used to fill pillows or provide insulation layers in bed linens and outerwear.