Polyester is a synthetic fabric that’s usually derived from petroleum. This fabric is one of the world’s most popular textiles, and it is used in thousands of different consumer and industrial applications.
Chemically, polyester is a polymer primarily composed of compounds within the ester functional group. Most synthetic and some plant-based polyester fibers are made from ethylene, which is a constituent of petroleum that can also be derived from other sources. While some forms of polyester are biodegradable, most of them are not, and polyester production and use contribute to pollution around the world.
In some applications, polyester may be the sole constituent of apparel products, but it’s more common for polyester to be blended with cotton or another natural fiber. Use of polyester in apparel reduces production costs, but it also decreases the comfortability of apparel.
When blended with cotton, polyester improves the shrinkage, durability, and wrinkling profile of this widely-produced natural fiber. Polyester fabric is highly resistant to environmental conditions, which makes it ideal for long-term use in outdoor applications.
The fabric we now know as polyester began its climb toward its current critical role in the contemporary economy in 1926 as Terylene, which was first synthesized by W.H. Carothers in the UK. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, British scientists continued to develop better forms of ethylene fabric, and these efforts eventually garnered the interest of American investors and innovators.
Polyester fiber was originally developed for mass consumption by the DuPont Corporation, which also developed other popular synthetic fibers like nylon. During World War II, the Allied powers found themselves in increased need of fibers for parachutes and other war materiel, and after the war, DuPont and other American corporations found a new consumer market for their synthetic materials in the context of the postwar economic boom.
Initially, consumers were enthusiastic about the improved durability profile of polyester compared to natural fibers, and these benefits are still valid today. In recent decades, however, the harmful environmental impact of this synthetic fiber has come to light in great detail, and the consumer stance on polyester has changed significantly.
Nonetheless, polyester remains one of the most widely-produced fabrics in the world, and it’s hard to find consumer apparel that doesn’t contain at least some percentage of polyester fiber. Apparel that contains polyester, however, will melt in extreme heat, while most natural fibers char. Molten fibers can cause irreversible bodily damage.
Ethylene polyester (PET) is the most commonly-produced form of polyester fiber. The primary component of PET is petroleum-derived ethylene, and in the process of creating polyester fiber, ethylene serves as the polymer that interacts with other chemicals to create a stable fibrous compound.
There are four ways to make PET fiber, and the polyester production process varies slightly depending on which method is used:
1.Filament: Polyester filaments are continuous fibers, and these fibers produce smooth and soft fabrics.
2.Staple: Polyester staples resemble the staples used to make cotton yarn, and like cotton staples, polyester staples are usually spun into a yarn-like material.
3.Tow: Polyester tow is like polyester filament, but in polyester tow, the filaments are loosely arranged together.
4.Fiberfill: Fiberfill consists of continuous polyester filaments, but these filaments are produced specifically to have the most possible volume to make bulky products like pillows, outerwear, and stuffing for stuffed animals.
The process of creating polyester fiber begins with reacting ethylene glycol with dimethyl terephthalate at high heat. This reaction results in a monomer, which is then reacted with dimethyl terephthalate again to create a polymer.
This molten polyester polymer is extruded from the reaction chamber in long strips, and these strips are allowed to cool and dry, and then they are broken apart in to small pieces. The resulting chips are then melted again to create a honey-like substance, which is extruded through a spinneret to create fibers.
Depending on whether filaments, staple, tow, or fiberfill fibers are desired, the resulting polyester filaments may be cut or reacted with various chemicals to achieve the correct end result. In most applications, polyester fibers are spun into yarn before they are dyed or subjected to other post-production processes.
The process of creating PCDT polyester is similar to the process of creating PET polyester, but this polyester variant has a different chemical structure. While PCDT also consists of ethylene glycol reacted with dimethyl terephthalate, different production processes are used to make these two common polyester variations.
Most types of plant-based polyester are also made from ethylene glycol reacted with dimethyl terephthalate. While the source of the ethylene used in PET and PCDT polyester is petroleum, however, producers of plant-based polyester use ethylene sources like cane sugar instead.
Chiffon fabric was first made in France, but the production of this substance expanded worldwide as the Industrial Age picked up steam. By the first few decades of the 1900s, silk chiffon was in relatively wide production in the United States, and producers of this fabric in America were starting to show interest in replacing silk with another material for chiffon production.
Crepe fabric has no clear origin point in the history of human civilization. Since the concept behind crepe is so simple, many cultures have adopted forms of this fabric at one stage of development or another. For instance, Crepe is still used by Orthodox Greek women for mourning, and various cultures of the Indian subcontinent incorporate crepe into their traditional garments.
Satin Fabric refers to the weave of the fabric rather than the material. Satin is one of the three major textile weaves, along with plain weave and twill. The satin weave creates a fabric that is shiny, soft, and elastic with a beautiful drape. Satin fabric is characterized by a soft, lustrous surface on one side, with a duller surface on the other side. This is a result of the satin weaving technique, and there are many variations on what defines a satin weave.
Polyester is not biodegradable
The majority of polyesters are not biodegradable, meaning that the polyester fabric shirt you bought last season will not decompose for 20 years at best and 200 years at worst.
What’s more, polyester is partially derived from petroleum, and the oil manufacturing industry is the world’s largest pollutant.
Polyester dyes are not sustainable
Ever notice how polyester fabrics are stain-resistant? That’s because it takes a special kind of dye to colour polyester successfully. These dyes, known as disperse dyes, are insoluble in water. Like polyester, they are made up of a complex molecular structure that does not readily decompose.
Wastewater from textile factories containing leftover dye is difficult to treat. When it enters the environment, its toxicity causes serious problems to local plant and animal life.
In addition to causing environmental problems, polyester dyes are toxic to humans. Dye workers worldwide report higher incidences of cancers and lung disease than the general population.
Polyester manufacturing is water-thirsty
Acetate imitation fabric is created through an energy-intensive heating process and requires large quantities of water for cooling. If not managed properly, this can result in groundwater levels dropping and reduced access to clean drinking water, particularly in vulnerable communities where polyester is often manufactured.
More on those microfibres
Multiple studies have shown that synthetic fibres make up a good share of microplastics found in waters and are widely implicated as the source of pollution. It’s been suggested that more than 4,500 fibres can be released per gram of clothing per wash, according to the Plastic Soup Foundation.
Microfibres are so tiny they can easily move through sewage treatment plants. They do not biodegrade and bind with molecules from harmful chemicals found in wastewater. They are then eaten by small fishes and plankton, concentrating toxins and going up the food chain until they reach us. The consequences of microfibres on the human body have yet to be researched and revealed. Until then, here are our top tips on dealing with microfibres in clothing.
What Is Polyester Used For
Georgette printed fabric, as we all know, is often used for clothing, nowadays its more common to find blended cotton and polyester than full polyester. The main reason for this is the lack of breathability in pure polyester, and frankly few people like the look now. Blended fabrics also retain many of the benefits of polyester; being more resistant to wrinkling, having more stretch, and sometimes more resistant to wear.
Outside of fashion, polyester is used for a great variety of products; the most common being plastic bottles and containers. Some others include sailcloth, canoes, tarpaulin, LCDs, insulating tapes, various items for film, ropes, cord, and more. Polyester is also commonly used as a finish to high-quality wood products like pianos, guitars, and vehicle interiors (which is then polished to a glossy, durable finish).
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