How to Clean and Care for Polyester Clothes

A brown polyester top next to detergent

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

At one time or another, the majority of us have owned a piece of polyester clothing. Typically inexpensive, this synthetic fabric is insect resistant and can be woven or knit into many weights and textures. Polyester fibers are used frequently in the fashion world, and microfiber and high-performance athletic wear often contain the material. Plus, the addition of polyester to cotton fabrics revolutionized easy-care clothes by eliminating the need to iron.

How Often to Clean Polyester Clothes

Polyester fibers are resilient, and they can withstand many launderings. Some garments, like tops and dresses, need washings after every wear. Other loose-fitting items can go longer between cleanings. Polyester is heat sensitive: High temperatures can cause it to melt, shrink, or deform. Never select hot water or high-heat settings when using the washer, dryer, or iron.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer
  • Drying rack (optional)

Materials

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen bleach (optional)
  • Stain remover (optional)

Instructions

A variety of laundry products

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

How to Wash Polyester Clothes
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Regular
Drying Cycle Type Permanent press
Special Treatments None
Iron Settings Low to medium
  1. Pretreat Stains

    When oil comes in contact with polyester fabric, the attraction is solid and challenging to break. However, oily stains can be removed if treated with a stain remover or a dab of heavy-duty detergent as soon as possible.

    Work the stain remover into the fibers with your fingers, and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes before washing. Always check that stains are gone before placing polyester clothes in the dryer—otherwise, the heat will cause any remaining spots to set and make them almost impossible to remove. 

    Someone pretreating a stain

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  2. Select the Washer Setting and Water Temperature

    Set your washing machine to permanent press, and select cold or warm water.

    Someone selecting a washer temperature

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  3. Add Detergent

    Select a heavy-duty detergent, like Tide or Persil, that contains enzymes to break apart stains and heavy soil. Add the recommended amount per load size to the washing machine. Load in the clothing, and begin the cycle.

    Someone adding detergent to a washer
    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
  4. Dry the Clothing

    Remove clothing from the washer and place in the dryer. Select the permanent press setting, and start the dryer. You can also opt to air-dry polyester garments on a clothing rack.

    A polyester top in the dryer
    ​The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

What Is 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. Carothers found that alcohols and carboxyl acids could be successfully mixed to create fibers.

The name comes from the words "poly" (meaning "many") and "ester" (a basic organic chemical compound). Ethylene, a derivative of petroleum, is the main ingredient in the manufacturing of polyester. It 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 50 percent of the world's clothing is made from polyester. You'll find polyester fibers in nearly every category of fabric, from sheer tulle to heavy upholstery and carpets.

Polyester can be manufactured into four different forms:

  • Filaments are continuous strands 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 be combined with other fibers to create blends like poly-cotton.
  • Tow polyester is made from continuous filaments that are drawn loosely together. Tow produces a dense 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. 
Someone checking the care tag on a polyester top
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Ironing

One of the most significant selling points of polyester clothing is its non-wrinkling qualities. However, if it does become heavily wrinkled or creased, the material can be tough to smooth. The best way to release creases is by ironing with steam on a medium heat setting. If that doesn't work, try using a clothing steamer.

Storing Polyester Clothes

Polyester clothes can be hung or stacked flat. If you fold polyester clothes, they tend to wrinkle. Polyester garments can be safely stored in a plastic tub or hung in a garment bag to protect them from dust for long-term storage. Freshly laundered items should be stored when thoroughly dry. Fold loosely knitted polyester pieces, and place them in drawers. Woven items and tightly knit items, such as shirts, dresses, or pants, can be hung.

Repairs

Rips in the seams of polyester clothing are simple to repair by hand or with a sewing machine and matching thread. However, holes in the body of the fabric cannot be repaired without leaving an obvious repair. Polyester will not unravel, and holes will usually not grow larger if left alone. For expensive items, consult a professional tailor.

Polyester knits may snag. Fix a snag by bringing the errant thread from the front of the fabric to the wrong (opposite) side of the fabric by coaxing it with a needle, or a needle and thread, so it becomes invisible.

Treating Stains on Polyester Clothes

Polyester is tough but not impervious to stains. Follow stain removal guidelines for most stains on polyester clothing. As with most fabrics, white polyester clothes in particular can become dingy and even yellowed. Even bright polyester colors can become dull due to dye transfer from other materials or detergent or fabric softener residue left in the fibers.

The key to brightening and whitening polyester is avoiding chlorine beach as it strips away the fiber's outer coating to reveal the yellow inner core. Instead, opt for oxygen bleach and warm water. Mix enough water and oxygen bleach solution, following package directions, to submerge the fabric completely. Allow the dingy clothes to soak in the solution for several hours, and then wash as usual.

Tips for Washing Polyester Clothes

  • Do not overload the washer—clothes should move around it freely.
  • Remove clothing immediately at the end of the cycle, and do not over-dry.
  • Hang garments on hangers after drying to allow wrinkles to relax and fall out over a few hours.
  • Polyester clothing may be stiff, so add fabric softener to relax the fibers if you prefer.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sterlacci, Francesca, and Joanne Arbuckle. Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017