Polyester is the most widely used fiber worldwide according to Textile Exchange. British chemists created this textile in 1941, and Dupont introduced it to Americans afterward.
This durable but relatively cheap material made the creation of the so-called leisure suit of the 1970s possible. It boasts many characteristics, some great and others not so great. But is polyester stretchy? Does polyester stretch?
Well, this resource is lengthy. But that’s because it uncovers pretty much everything you should know about polyethylene terephthalate (PET). If you want to sound smart and scientific, don’t say polyester, say polyethylene terephthalate.
Related article: Does polyester shrink?
Does 100% Polyester Stretch?
A fabric made of 100% polyester may or may not stretch. Whether it stretches or not depends on whether it’s crimped or not, wet or dry, knitted or woven, or whether it’s paired with a stretchable fabric.
Wet polyester is somewhat more stretchable than completely dry polyester. And a polyester/spandex blend might stretch quite a bit, especially when handled improperly.
A knitted polyester fabric stretches more than a woven one. How they put together the knit fabric also matters. Tightly knitted polyester fabrics demonstrate more give compared to loosely knit options.
Polyester under load has been found to stretch between 5% and 15%. But unblended woven polyester garments stretch little if at all under normal conditions. But knitted polyester garments such as close-fitting T-shirts and leggings offer a significant amount of give. If it’s a knitted polyester/spandex blend, say a 95% polyester/5% spandex option, expect some decent give.
Yes, all fabrics stretch to some extent over time with wear, becoming somewhat baggy. But wear-related stretch depends on whether it’s a 100% polyester garment or a blend containing a stretchy fiber such as Lycra/spandex/elastane.
Over time, polyester clothes with a decent amount of spandex lose some of their original shape due to stretching.
Want evidence for this claim? Take a look at your old underwear. Yes, that underwear you no longer wear because it rides speedily to the floor every time you put it on!
It’s almost impossible to find jeans, even high-end ones, that don’t have polyester these days. When there’s polyester in jeans and denim dresses, these garments maintain their shape for long and don’t bag out.
The cotton in jeans stretches out with wear, but when you add in polyester, the fabric holds its shape much better.
So, polyester isn’t stretchy in jeans and denim dresses unless the blend is a knit. Or unless it contains a decent amount of a stretchy fiber such as spandex.
When polyester gets wet, it can stretch a little, just like most fibers. But polyester is hydrophobic, which means that water has a hard time wetting it. This material is much less absorbent compared to natural fibers such as linen, wool, and cotton. That’s why it doesn’t stretch much.
Aside from that, polyester’s recovery rate is great. Since it’s also a fast-drying fiber, polyester quickly regains its shape, completely canceling any stretch that might have happened.
Does Polyester Stretch While In the Dryer
100% polyester doesn’t stretch when put in the dryer. And if it gets too hot in the dryer, you’ll end up with beautiful beady spots on the garment rather than a stretched polyester dress!
While you can machine-dry polyester on a low-heat cycle, it’s best to get the garment out while it’s still damp and air-dry it.
Since this material dries quickly due to its high water repellency, you may also drip-dry it in the shower. But no matter how you dry polyester, it just won’t stretch much.
How well a fabric fits the body has little to do with the fiber content. As long as you sized the garment correctly, polyester clothes should fit without issues.
But if you’re wondering if polyester clothes are stretchy when worn and conform to the shape of the body, yes. This is especially true if the material is a blend containing polyester and spandex. The same goes for crimped polyester or knitted polyester.
No, polyester doesn’t run big or small; it runs true to size. When shopping for a polyester shirt, jacket, or dress, stick to your size.
Don’t try to size up or size down. Since this fabric sees little shrinkage when washed or dried right, there’s no need to buy clothes a size larger.
When buying jeans that contain a high percentage of polyester, don’t expect them to get looser down the road. This material boasts an amazing recovery rate, and the fibers assume their original shape pretty fast. So, don’t size down when purchasing such jeans.
Instead, go with your current size. Just don’t start binge-eating doughnuts and chocolate if you want the clothes to fit you for long!
Polyester isn’t naturally stretchy. Unless it’s knitted polyester or it’s been given a finish such as crimping that promotes its elasticity, this fabric has little give.
But when blended with fibers having a decent stretch factor, polyester can stretch surprisingly well.
Polyester blends such as polyester and spandex can be extremely stretchy while others may not stretch that much. No polyester blend stretches as much as a polyester/spandex option.
Let’s look at a few polyester blends and consider how much stretch you might expect.
If you’re looking for the stretchiest polyester blend, pick polyester/spandex. Go for a blend with a high percentage of spandex, such as a 85% polyester/15% spandex choice.
Polyester brings strength and durability to the mix. Spandex offers tons of elasticity while boosting polyester’s shape retention ability.
The result? You get a tough, long-lasting, fast-drying blended fabric that stretches really well without losing its original shape. We see this super-popular poly blend in form-fitting activewear such as swimsuits and leggings.
Also called polycotton, polyester-cotton blends are one of the most common if not the most common. The most popular combination seems to be 65% polyester paired with 35% cotton.
Another common combo is 50% polyester mixed with 50% cotton. Other blends you are likely to come across include 87% cotton and 13% polyester, 75% cotton, 18% percent polyester, 6% viscose, 1% elastane, and 63% cotton, 35% polyester and 2% spandex. Polycotton is mostly used to make comfortable sweatshirts, t-shirts, leggings, bed sheets, and more.
Polyester provides ease of care, sweat-wicking ability, wrinkle resistance, shrinkage resistance, and shape retention. As for cotton, it offers softness and breathability, a quality that adds up to increased comfort. The resultant fabric is strong, easy to care for, fast-drying, and comfortable.
In terms of stretchability, polycotton does stretch. The amount of give that takes place depends on fiber composition. If there’s more polyester than cotton, as is the case with 65/35 blends, you won’t notice much give.
How much does 50/50 polycotton stretch? Since this fiber combination contains more cotton than the 65/35 blend, expect it to stretch more. But don’t expect it to be as wrinkle-resistant or as fast-drying because it has less polyester. Also, the color might fade slightly sooner compared to 65/35 polycotton for the same reason: less polyester.
There’s one more thing about 50/50 polycotton. This fabric breathes better than the 65/35 blend because it contains more cotton. It shouldn’t be too clammy in hot weather thanks to the greater sweat-wicking ability of polyester.
100% cotton stretches to an extent over time with wear, way more than 100% polyester. Actually, 100% polyester is by design stretch-resistant. When wet, cotton stretches a little (more than polyester). And this quality makes it possible to stretch out cotton garments that have shrunk. Still, cotton lacks the natural stretching ability of spandex/elastane.
Not only is nylon stronger than polyester, but it’s also more stretchable. But why does nylon offer more stretchability than polyester while both are synthetic fibers with similar characteristics? It’s because nylon is more hydrophobic than polyester.
In everyday language, it means that polyester has greater water repellency than nylon; it doesn’t take in as much water.
Since wetting fabrics naturally causes some stretch, nylon stretches more than polyester under normal circumstances. All that said, nylon’s higher absorbency makes dyeing it harder than polyester.
Even though polyester and rayon normally don’t stretch much individually, this poly blend can be quite stretchy if crimped or knitted.
Knitted garments of any material stretch because their structure consists of loops that extend in all directions or flatten, releasing more of the excess material.
And as happens with pretty much all fibers, this blended fabric experiences a little diagonal stretch or distortion (also known as sheer).
It’s become common practice for textile mills to throw a little spandex into the mix. When coupled with rayon and stretchy spandex, polyester can expand quite a bit in two directions (four way stretch). Just in case you didn’t know, a 4-way fabric stretches both lengthwise as well as crosswise, that is, along the selvedge.
I’ve dedicated a chunky portion of this post to discussing stretch in textiles. Because stretch/give matters. But exactly how does being stretchy make a fabric better or worse than others?
Stretchy fabrics have the uncanny ability to stretch to a decent degree and pull back to their original length and shape without the fibers snapping. This quality helps make textile materials drape and fit the body better besides increasing the garment’s overall comfort.
Stretchability is also critical to the success of sewing projects. If the stretch in a given fabric isn’t what the pattern you’re using recommends, the garment won’t fit that well.
If the pattern’s instructions favor less stretch and the fabric stretches more, the fit might turn out looser than you’d like. But, if the give is less than the pattern prefers, the fit might get too snug.
Polyester is often manufactured in a way that enables it to resist stretch and retain its shape. For this reason, stretching polyester can be a real challenge, but it’s not altogether impossible.
If the fabric is a poly blend including a stretchy fiber such as spandex, making the garment slightly looser or roomier shouldn’t be too hard.
The most effective way to stretch polyester clothes is to soak the garment in a water/hair conditioner solution.So, add a couple of squirts of hair conditioner to warm water in a washbasin.
Then, stir the mixture well until the hair conditioner dissolves in the water.
Next, dip the item you want to stretch into the solution. Let it stay there for 30 minutes.
Then, remove the garment and try stretching it using your hands to the degree you want. Here’s a resource that describes the process in more detail.
What Is Polyester Fabric?
Polyester is a long-chain polymer made by bringing together purified terephthalic acid (PTA, an organic compound) and ethylene glycol, a kind of toxic alcohol. Various complex chemical reactions take place to produce this fabric.
The original version of polyester was rather stiff and almost didn’t stretch. Fortunately, modern technology has changed all that. Today’s high-grade polyester isn’t that stiff.
In fact, high-quality polyester can be surprisingly soft. It can be silk or satin smooth, devoid of the unpleasant coarseness of traditional polyester.
But how is this uber-popular and versatile material produced? The following section answers this question.
The term polyester breaks down into two words: poly and ester. Since poly means many, polyester means many esters.
To make polyester, textile engineers use multiple processes including polymerization, spinning, stretching/drawing out fibers, twisting, blending with other fibers (optional), weaving/knitting, and finishing.
Let’s now look at each of these processes to learn how polyester is manufactured.
The polyester manufacturing process kicks off with polymerization of ethylene glycol and purified terephthalic acid. This process takes place in a vacuum-like polymerization reactor at extremely high temperatures.
Note that this alcohol and acid are petroleum-derived, which leaves polyester’s eco-friendliness status in tatters.
This stage terminates when the polymerized materials get extruded and hardened into a ribbon-like form. Next, the factory cuts these ribbons into chips.
The first thing that happens here is drying of the chips from the polymerization process. Once dried, the company then feeds these chips into containers called hopper reservoirs where melting happens.
These chips melt down into PET, a kind of super-thick liquid. PET is an acronym for Polyethylene Terephthalate. This molten raw material is then extruded through a thimble-like piece of equipment known as a spinnerette.
Mostly made of stainless steel, a spinnerette features a metal nozzle with numerous tiny holes of a predetermined size and shape. Textile engineers vary the size and shape of these holes to create fibers of different strength and texture.
The molten material comes out of the spinnerette and cools off, forming longfibers known as filaments. The final step in the spinning process involves winding the filaments around cylinders.
This process focuses on stretching the filaments out to make them thinner. To do this, polyester manufacturers draw out the fibers (under hot conditions) up to 5 times their initial length.
Then, the filaments are twisted to strengthen them and make them somewhat thicker. This is now filament yarn. Next, the filaments are wound around special cones.
Textile technologists may opt to crimp these filaments before cutting them into shorter fibers known as staples. Crimping helps improve the fiber’s insulation ability, elasticity, and texture. The staples are finally combined to make spun yarn.
Factories sometimes make 100% polyester fabrics, but it’s more common to mix polyester with other fibers to make it an even better material.
Polyester/rayon, polyester/nylon, polyester/linen, and polyester/cotton blends are common with polyester/cotton blends being the most popular.
When polyester pairs with cotton, the result is a strong blended fabric with great shape retention. The fabric also boasts much better wrinkle and stain resistance thanks to polyester’s qualities.
The cotton side of the combination makes the blend more absorbent, more comfortable, and softer. And the polyester adds moisture-wicking ability while making the resultant fiber lighter.
Jeans these days have become lighter and nicer than they’ve ever been. And who doesn’t love today’s comfier, lightweight jeans? No one, and we have polyester to thank for these modern marvels of textile technology.
Textile mills convert polyester yarns into fabric through weaving or knitting. Speaking of knitted polyester, college kids and teens in the late 1960s wore double-knits and hated them.
The debacle all but decimated polyester sales during this period. Polyester would probably have vanished hadn’t Calvin Klein started using the fabric and its blends to create garments people actually wanted to wear in the 1980s.
After weaving or knitting, what remains is passing polyester through different kinds of finishes to improve it. Some of these finishes include:
Singeing and calendering: To minimize piling and improve smoothness
Resin finish: Makes the fabric easier to care for
Anti-static finish: Improves comfort by reducing static electricity
Water repellency finish: Keeps the rain out of tents
Stain resistance finish: Makes garment care easier
Heat setting: Helps polyester retain its shape
Embossing: To improve luster and embellish the fabric through textured patterns
According to a 2020 report by Textile Exchange, fully 52 percent of the fiber volume the textile industry cranks out is polyester.
And if you think about it, when was the last time you saw a clothing item that didn’t contain a certain proportion of polyester?
Look at the care label of those jeans you’re wearing right now. The odds are one of the fibers in the blend is polyester.
One way we can gain insights into the popularity of polyester is to look at its characteristics. Below is a list of these properties:
- Strong and durable
- Highly water resistant
- Wrinkle resistant
- Shrinking, pilling, mold & mildew, and abrasion resistant
- Able to retain its shape thanks to its great recovery rate
- Not the smoothest synthetic fiber (cheap polyester fabric)
- Great at wicking sweat away from the skin
- Stretchable IF crimped or knitted
- Not biodegradable and harms the environment
Let me expound on these qualities of polyester just a little further.
Polyester is one of the toughest and most durable fibers ever created. It’s even stronger than nylon. And because polyester is tough and less prone to abrasion, it tolerates the motions in the washer really well.
It’s definitely not a delicate fiber. You can toss it in the washing machine without a worry. Be sure to keep the water temperature low though.
The strength and longevity polyester provides makes it a great material for making all kinds of durable activewear.
Polyester absorbs little water, even less than nylon when soaked. While cotton absorbs as much as 7% of its weight, polyester pulls in just 0.4% of its weight.
Also, it doesn’t shrink during normal care, such as when washing it in cool or warm water. And while this fabric stretches quite a bit when crimped, blended, or knitted, plain polyester resists pull impressively.
What’s more, this synthetic textile sees much less pilling and abrasion compared to natural fibers such as linen, cotton, and wool. Those fluffy balls of little fibers often seen on wool garments aren’t much of a problem on polyester clothes.
One of the best qualities of polyester is it doesn’t wrinkle easily. When coupled with a fabric, polyester makes the blend easy to care for because there’s much less ironing needed. If you’re always traveling, the best clothes for you would be those having lots of wrinkle-resistant polyester.
As mentioned in the previous section, this fabric takes abuse well. All the mechanical agitation and rotational movements in the washer won’t harm polyester. It’s easy to wash, and it dries quickly to boot.
Polyester has become a staple of the sporting world. And since sportswear needs to be stretchy, manufacturers often blend stretch-resistant polyester with stretchy fibers, notably spandex. Spandex-rich polyester is stretchy.
Some fabrics stretch out of shape so to speak, but not polyester. While soaking it in water may lead to a little stretching, everything goes back to normal once the fabric dries.
If you toss a polyester-rich shirt, t-shirt, or dress into your travel bag for a trip without ironing it, it’ll bounce back to a wrinkle-free look in no time.
When mixed with rubber-band stretchy fibers such as spandex, polyester’s shape and drape-retention powers get a serious boost.
Finally, this fabric is mildew-resistant. But not if you store it in plastic or any other place with poor air circulation.
Standard polyester that’s not received any kind of special treatment to soften it up can be uncomfortably coarse. But that’s not saying that all polyester fabrics are coarse and don’t soothe sensitive skin.
Matter of fact, certain kinds of high-grade polyester rivals silk and satin in the smoothness department. But you have to be willing to pay the difference between basic polyester and excellent polyester.
Wicking vs breathability in fabrics: what’s the difference? A moisture-wicking fabric takes sweat away from the skin to its surface so that the sweat can escape into the air. However, moisture-wicking fabrics such as polyester and nylon don’t breathe well.
A fabric that wicks away sweat, such as those Under Armuor garments every outdoor sports enthusiast loves, may feel wet but the sweat dries up fast. And you’re comfortable again in no time.
As for breathability, it’s the ability of a fabric to let water vapor (read sweat) escape through tiny pores while preventing water and wind from penetrating the material.A highly breathable fabric such as cotton, linen, or wool allows warm sweat to evaporate while blocking snowflakes and raindrops.
But because a breathable fabric absorbs all of the sweat, it takes a long time for the garment to dry. Even though some of the sweat escapes, lots of it remains in the fabric. That’s why cotton tee-shirts feel wet and clammy on a sunny day.
Do you now understand why no tennis player ever wears cotton? It’s also why Under Armour makes polyester-based hiking clothes instead of cotton ones.
Polyester is one of the best fabrics as far as wicking sweat away from the body. That’s why 100% polyester is a great fabric for performance base layers in activewear.
But there’s a downside, too. It’s that polyester garments trap in smell.
Profit vs Planet, which is more important? The players in the vast textile industry need to stay competitive and turn a profit. Otherwise, they’ll go belly up, worsening the employment situation for thousands of people across the world.
But there’s our little blue planet to worry about, too. Mother Earth needs us more than ever before. Because she’s getting hotter. And streams are drying up in many places. Plus, the seasons everywhere are becoming unpredictable.
All of this is happening because humans need to manufacture affordable, practical clothes made of sweat-wicking fabrics such as polyester. They also need many other synthetic products whose manufacturing processes release tons of toxic waste into the atmosphere.
And the worst part? Synthetic textiles such as 100% polyester are non-biodegradable. They’re plastic, after all.
Did you know thatONLY 14 percent of PET, the chemical compound used to make polyester, comes from recycled materials such as plastic bottles? Fortunately, there are concerted efforts to push the percentage of recycled polyester from 14% to 90% by the year 2030.
- Making home furnishings such as draperies and curtains
- Making upholstery fabrics for sofas
- Manufacturing low-cost bed sheets and tablecloths
- Producing microfiber cloths
- Making water-resistant bags and backpacks
- Making weatherproof items such as winter coats, winter trekking jackets, and raincoats
- Used to make cold-weather activewear such as winter workout clothes and leggings
- Upper material for women’s cold-weather boots
Polyester is one of the easiest fabrics to wash. But what’s the correct way of washing polyester clothes? Follow the steps below when washing polyester clothes:
1.Pre-treat stains: If there’s stains on polyester clothes, pre-treat them. The most affected areas are usually the cuffs, underarms, and necklines.
Can you bleach polyester to remove stains? Yes, you can use diluted bleach on polyester. However, it’s not a good idea because bleaching degrades the fabric in some way each time you use it.
Instead, use a safe stain remover such as the Unscented Liquid Stain Remover from the Laundress.
This stain solution removes coffee, ink, blood, red wine, and urine stains among others. Simply rub the stain remover into the stained spot before washing them.
But how do you get greasy, oily stains off polyester clothes? Use the right product. Again, Laundress’ Wash & Stain Bar comes highly recommended.
And to remove really tough old stains from polyester clothes, consider using one more product from NY-based Laundress, the All Purpose Bleach Alternative. It’s a fragrance-free, biodegradable, chlorine-free product.
For the best results while tackling old stains, pre-treat the set-in stains by soaking the clothes in hot water mixed with a capful of All Purpose Bleach Alternative.
If you think I’m beginning to sound like a shameless salesman of Laundress’ polyester-washing supplies, please forgive me.
To be clear though, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just happen to love this company’s laundry-focused products…because they work.
You really want to try out their products. You’ll love them!
2. If the clothes are smelly, tackle the odor problem at this point. Mix scented vinegar with a quarter cup of clean water/distilled water in a container such as a washbasin. Next, leave the clothes soaked for 30 minutes.
3. Toss like colors and fabrics in the washing machine and run the normal cycle. You can use either warm or cool water.
Regular laundry detergent should work just fine. If you’re unsure about what to use, I recommend Signature Detergent from Laundress.
To make white polyester clothes even whiter, just add a capful of All Purpose Bleach Alternative.
4. To get rid of wrinkles, reduce static electricity, soften clothes, and make ironing easier, add a decent fabric conditioner to every wash. By the way, there’s a difference between a fabric conditioner and a detergent.
5. Finally, air-dry your polyester clothes. Can you machine-dry polyester? Yes, you can, but take care. Run the dryer on a medium-heat setting. And make sure to remove the clothes from the dryer while they’re still damp.
6. Iron the clothes if you need to: Polyester clothes resist wrinkles well and don’t normally need ironing. But if you’re a perfection-pursuing Virgo, iron them. Be sure to select the synthetic or polyester setting. Most irons today have this setting.
According to Sciencedirect, polyester starts melting anywhere between 250˚C and 265˚C (482˚F-509˚F). The synthetic setting ensures that the iron doesn’t heat up past polyester’s melting point.
7. Finally, store your spotless polyester clothes. How do you store polyester clothes? The best way to store polyester clothes is to fold knits and put them in a breathable cotton storage bag. Folding knits prevents stretching. But you can certainly hang woven polyester clothes.
Polyester stands up well to the yellowing caused by mildew infestation. However, this dreaded yellowing can still happen if you store your clothes in plastic bags.
Polyester stretches a little when wet, but its poor absorbency promotes quick drying, which restores the fabric back to its pre-stretch position.
Also, certain textile processes such as knitting, blending it with a stretchable fabric, and crimping increase polyester’s stretchability.
If polyester shrinks, which it does if exposed to high temperatures frequently, there’s a way to stretch it out a bit.
To make your polyester clothes look good and last longer, give them proper care and store them correctly. Use regular detergent and warm/cool water to wash them on the normal cycle. Air-dry them, but you can machine-dry polyester on a low-heat setting.
When ironing, select the synthetic/polyester setting to curb potential melting. Store the clothes in breathable bags folded if they’re knits, but woven polyester garments can be hung.