How to Wash Synthetic Fabric Clothes

Synthetic fabric clothing hanging on black hangers with various colors

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Getting a stain on your nice, synthetic clothes can be devastating, ruining what might be a very expensive shirt. Check out the following tips to learn how to care for acetate, acrylic, nylon, olefin, polyester, rayon, vinyl and rubber fabric.

Synthetic Fabric Care

When synthetic or man-made fibers appeared in the marketplace, they changed the face of fashion and, in turn, laundry care. Gone were the days of cotton and linen that could be cleaned with hot water and strong soaps and required ironing. 

Most man-made fibers are strong and durable but each has its own specific laundry care and stain removal requirements.

  • 01 of 07

    Acetate Care and Stain Removal

    Pink acetate blouses hanging on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Acetate and the triacetate fabrics that followed are one of the earliest man-made fibers in the United States. While often used as a substitute for silk in less expensive garments, care must be used when washing and treating acetate for stains.

    Acetate fabric dissolves in acetone or fingernail polish remover and triacetate and modacrylic fabrics can also be damaged by acetone or paint thinner.

  • 02 of 07

    Acrylic Care and Stain Removal

    Yellow and beige acrylic sweaters hanging on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Acrylic fibers are one of the few synthetic fibers that have an uneven surface when manufacturing is complete. The fibers can be cut into short lengths and spun into threads that resemble natural fibers. They produce a fabric that drapes well and has a silky feel.

    Acrylic fabric is everywhere from sweaters to socks to luggage. The fibers are durable and tough but they easily attract oil stains that need a bit of extra care to remove.

  • 03 of 07

    Nylon Care and Stain Removal

    Blue nylon top and maroon and navy jackets hanging on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    The introduction of nylon fibers in the late 1930s changed both the textile and manufacturing world. Not only would women have sheer stockings but fishermen could have strong lines, promising ballerinas could have tutus and cars could have durable mats for the floor. But, nylon fibers are heat sensitive and high temperatures in the dryer or when ironing can cause them to melt, shrink or deform.

  • 04 of 07

    Olefin Care and Stain Removal

    Olefin gray workout top and pants on hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Olefin is a trademarked name for fabrics made with synthetic polypropylene and polyethylene fibers. It was first produced in 1958 as olefin monofilament and then in 1961 as multifilament polypropylene for use in fabrics.

    Olefin is less expensive to produce than other man-made fabrics. And the fibers can be woven into a heavy textile-like carpeting or into a soft, supple lightweight fabric that can be used for socks or athletic wear. It is valued because it wicks away moisture from the body.

    The fibers are easy to care for by following some simple guidelines but can be damaged by perchloroethylene solvent used by some dry-cleaners if the temperature is too high.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Polyester Care and Stain Removal

    Red, blue and green polyester shirts and jackets on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    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. 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.

    Polyester is simple to care for but even the hot-water setting on a washer can create permanent wrinkles in polyester during the spin cycle.

  • 06 of 07

    Rayon Care and Stain Removal

    Green, yellow and red rayon blouses hanging on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Rayon is a fabric made from cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp. While the fibers are nature-based, the fabric is manufactured by treating the wood fibers with chemicals and it is considered a man-made fiber. Rayon is one of the most popular fabrics used today for clothing and home accessories due to its low-cost base materials. You may see it labeled as Rayon, Viscose, Lyocell, or Modal.

  • 07 of 07

    Vinyl and Rubber Care and Stain Removal

    Vinyl and rubber rain coats hanging on black hangers

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Vinyl and rubber products were once relegated to just rain protection gear in our closets. But designers have embraced vinyl, neoprene and other synthetic fabrics for all types of fashion. They are often chosen as an alternative to leather or to make a high-fashion statement. 

    Due to their unique properties, just a toss in the washer won't work and traditional laundry techniques and products may ruin the finish. Vinyl and rubber fabrics are damaged by most petroleum or oil-based solvents. The oil solvents remove the plasticizer in vinyl film fabric and cause stiffening.