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What is Polyester – The Ultimate Guide

Polyester is a synthetic polymer derived from petrochemicals, finding a wide range of application, sespecially in making fabrics. Polyester is valued for its strength, chemical and moisture resistance, and versatility.

In this guide, we discuss why polyester has become a popular choice for everyday items such as clothing and upholstery. This article also captures the different polyester types available, their properties, and areas of application.

Benefits of Polyester Fabric

Polyester Fabric
Polyester Fabric

There are several benefits derived from using polyester fabric. Some of these advantages are captured below:

  • Polyester’s strength and resilience make it resistant to stretching and shrinking. Its durability also allows it to maintain its shape and color even after extended use and wash.
  • Polyester loses moisture easily a feature particularly useful for making clothing used in rigorous activities like sports. Polyester fabric quickly conducts away any moisture from the body, keeping the wearer dry.
  • This fabric material holds its color for longer resisting fading induced by sustained exposure to sunlight and multiple wash cycles. As such, clothing made from polyester fabric will stay vibrant longer than those from other fabric materials.
  • The care and maintenance required for polyester is relatively low. It does not require special handling and can be hand-washed or machine-washed which is convenient for everyday use.
  • Invasive bioorganisms like mildew cannot grow on polyester easily compared to other fabric materials like cotton. Consequently, this material easily maintains its quality and appearance.
  • It is possible to combine or blend polyester with other fibers to enhance overall properties. For instance, when used with cotton, it offers increased breathability.
  • Compared to naturally derived fibers like silk or wool, polyester is more affordable making it an economical choice for applications.

Types of Polyester

There are various types of polyester, each with unique properties and applications. The choice of polyester type depends on the end product requirements like durability and biodegradability.

Some common types are described in the following section:

· PET

Polyethylene terephthalate is the most widely used type of polyester finding use in textile fibers, films, and even plastic bottles. When you pair up the monomers terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, you get polyethylene terephthalate.

PET is a clear, strong, and highly versatile material used in making packaging materials. Plastic bottles, cling film, snack packs, and blister packs are all fashioned from PET. It is used in the production of polyester fibers used in the textile industry for various clothing.

PET Polyester
PET Polyester

· PCDT

Poly-cyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate is a high-performance polyester whose chemical structure is based on terephthalic acid and cyclohexanedimethanol. This polyester type offers excellent heat resistance compared to PET polyester.

PCDT can withstand higher temperatures without degrading, allowing high-heat applications. It also exhibits good chemical resistance, as well as high strength and stiffness. You will find PCDT used in making automotive parts, electrical and industrial components, and special packaging.

PCDT Polyester
PCDT Polyester

· PBT

Polybutylene terephthalate is known for its excellent electrical insulation, mechanical strength, and chemical and heat resistance. PBT is fashioned from terephthalic acid and 1,4-butanediol. When evaluating the mechanical strength of PBT, stiffness and tensile strength are emphasized.

Polybutylene terephthalate does not get soaked easily given the fibers’ water-repellant nature. Additionally, it can tolerate generally high temperatures as opposed to other fabric materials. You will find PBT utilized in the development of insulating materials.

PBT Polyester

Properties of Polyester

The popularity of polyester is down to several unique characteristics. These include:

Durability

The strength exhibited by polyester is sufficient to resist wear and tear to higher levels than other fabric materials. These fabrics are less prone to abrasion also, offering decent tolerance to friction with minimal signs of wear.

Even after washing and drying, polyester fabrics remain smooth and neat with minimal wrinkle formation. Garment care for clothes fashioned from polyester is therefore non-complicated reducing need for aging undertakings like ironing.

Color Retention

Exposure to sunlight or other fade inducing factors barely affects polyester fabrics as they easily retain their color. Additionally, these fabrics are not easily affected by detergents which contain color bleeding agents even after numerous wash cycles.

Once you dye polyester, dye adherence is superior resulting in long-lasting colors. Other properties that enhance color retention include chemical resistance as well as resistance to moisture and humidity.

Thermal Properties

Polyester is generally heat-resistant and capable of maintaining its structural integrity at elevated temperatures. Polyester has a high melting point with the degree of resistance varying with the type and formulation of polyester.

Consequently, polyester can be utilized in making thermal insulation products such as thermal blankets and other cold-weather clothing. They can also be heat sealed allowing use in packaging applications for food substances, creating airtight and watertight seals.

Resistance to Chemical Substances

Most common chemical substances and organic solvents will not affect polyester.  It is why many laboratory clothing and other protective gear are made from this material. Different polyester types will exhibit different chemical resistance levels. Also, the concentration of the chemical and temperature conditions influence the resistance level.

Electrical Insulation

Polyester is a poor conductor of electricity not allowing the transfer of electric signals through it. This property is ideal for insulation applications like cable protection. It is improbable that polyester will deform when subjected to high voltage levels.

How Polyester Fabric is Made

Polyester fabric is derived from polyester fibers that are chemically synthesized in a polymerization process. The polymerization process involves a chemical reaction that results in long chains of repeating units known as polymers.

The polymerization process commences with the creation of polyester polymer by combining the monomer pairing of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. The two chemicals are subjected to an esterification reaction, where they are subjected to heat and catalyst, forming an ester bond.

Polyester Fabric Making
Polyester Fabric Making

When a high molecular weight polymer is formed from the esterification reaction, polycondensation is undertaken to remove water. The resulting ester bonds then link creating long chains of repeating units that constitute the polyester polymer.

The polymer, in liquid form, is then exited through a spinneret which releases it in fine filaments. Solidification occurs upon interaction with air. These filaments are converted into yarn which is then woven to make polyester fabric.

Quality Certifications for Polyester Fabrics

Application of quality certifications ensure that when polyester fabrics arrive in the market, they are of an acceptable standard and not harmful. Consequently, users can comfortably and without worry use these fabrics for various purposes.

There are several quality certifications available and some are captured below:

UL Certification

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) offers certification for various textile products, including polyester fabrics. UL certification is a mark of safety and compliance that covers electrical and fire safety, performance, and quality standards.

For polyester fabrics, UL certification may cover aspects like flame resistance, chemical safety, and electrical safety if applicable. For instance polyester fabrics with flame-resistant properties may require UL 94 certification.

OEKO-TEX

This is a general textile standard that ensures the particular textile under test does not contain any elements harmful to humans. When use for polyester certification, it covers both the raw products used in making the material and the finished products too.

Substances this standard looks out for are heavy metals in the raw materials, colorants and chemicals like phthalates and formaldehyde. Emphasis of this standard is to protect babies and kids from issues resulting from touching or ingesting materials with such substances.

ISO 14001

This standard requires organizations dealing with substances with potential environmental impact like polyester to have an elaborate environmental policy. The policy should be in line with the stipulated requirements to which they have to comply.

ISO 14001emphasizes on ensuring the raw materials used in polyester are safe with efficient use of energy. According to this standard, organizations dealing with polyester have to provide mitigation efforts considering the negative environment impact.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) Compliance

This regulation is European Union guided with a mandate to safely regulate chemical usage in production of materials. In the case of polyester, this policy requires the raw materials used to be provided upon which their safety will be determined.

Substances are classified depending on the established safety levels with some allowed only to a certain limit. Other substances are banned and their presence in any products will result in impounding and/or severe penalties.

Cost of Polyester Material

There are many factors, internal and external, that determine the prices or cost of polyester. Some internal factors include: the polyester type and quality. External factors include market conditions, location and certification.

For instance, virgin polyester fiber can cost about two dollars per kilogram. However, recycled polyester fiber will cost much less even less than a dollar for the same amount. When value is added like conversion into fabric, cost increases depending on weave, finish, and intended use.

Lower-quality polyester fabrics can go for as low as a dollar per yard. On the contrary, specialized fabrics can attract even more than ten dollars per yard. The market also dictates the price of polyester with high demand resulting in higher prices and the opposite is true.

Limitations of Polyester

While polyester bellows several advantages, it does have a few limitations. Some of these are discussed below:

  • Polyester restricts air passage which can lead to moisture and heat buildup hampering breathability. This is especially true for clothing in hot and humid conditions.
  • While it is quick drying, moisture such as sweat can accumulate over time. This can result in odors such as in in garments used for athletic activities.
  • When you expose polyester to high temperature for a considerable amount of time, it can deform. For instance, when you use too much heat during ironing or leave the iron box on the clothing.
  • Most polyester are synthetic materials derived from petroleum-based chemicals who production has environmental impacts. These materials contribute to plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Some individuals may have skin sensitive to polyester or the chemicals used in its production. This sensitivity may result in irritation or even contact dermatitis.

Impact of Polyester Fabric on Environment

Production of polyester is resource-intensive relying on petrochemical feedstocks like crude oil. The extraction and processing of these resources has significant environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and destruction of natural habitats.

The production process of polyester generates greenhouse gas emissions which is a major cause for climate change. Pollutants such as carbon II oxide are produced which contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

The polymerization process used in making polyester and other subsequent manufacturing processes utilizes high energy consumption. This can have a significant environmental impact especially when non-renewable sources of energy are used.

Various chemicals are used in the manufacture of polyester including additives, solvents, and catalysts. Some of these chemicals are hazardous to the environment requiring special disposal to prevent damage to soil and water.

Microfibers shed from polyester fabrics can enter waterways and find their way into oceans and other water bodies. This way, they contribute to micro-plastic pollution and harm aquatic life. Additionally, polyester is not readily biodegradable posing a waste and pollution challenge.

Uses of Polyester Fabric

Polyester fabric is a versatile synthetic textile material that finds wide usage across a broad range of industrial applications. Some of the properties that make polyester popular are its durability, quick drying, wrinkle-free nature, and colorfastness.

Some of the uses of polyester fabric are:

  • Clothing: Many clothing items such as sportswear, T-shirts, pants, blouses, jackets, and dresses are made from polyester.
  • Home Textiles: Linen such as sheets, pillowcases duvet covers, curtains, and upholstery can be fashioned from polyester.
  • Bags: Polyester is used to make durable and lightweight bags and backpacks. These bags can be used for school, travel, and sports.
  • Safety Gear: Safety vests, reflectors, overalls, and other protective clothing can be made from polyester due to its durability.
  • Automotive Industry: Seat covers, carpeting, and headliners used in vehicles can be fashioned from polyester fabrics.

Conclusion

Despite its numerous advantages, the impact of polyester on the environment is undeniable given its petrochemical origins and non-biodegradability. Nonetheless, efforts to mitigate this are being made through recycling and developing bio-based polyesters.

More Resources;

Polyester – Source: Wikipedia

What is Satin – Source: Sinosilk

What is Silk – Source: Sinosilk

Natural Fabric vs. Synthetic Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

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