Updated on July 29, 2022 by Sarina

This post addresses concerns about the use of polyester fabric for making clothes.

When it comes to our family, especially our babies, we are hyper-sensitive about everything. We are very vigilant and have a million questions on anything and everything that we buy. And one persistent question is about the use of polyester on a lot of things around us- beddings, clothes, wraps…

As one of the most widely used fibers on earth, polyester sure has us in its sway. Everywhere we look, we see something made of polyester, PET, PL, whatever we call it. Plastic bottles, decorative ballons, computers, ropes, recording tapes, that fiberfill inside stuffed toys and several industrial uses we have never heard of.

And polyester fabric made fully or partially of polyester is everywhere. Fleece is a very popularly used material in many homes – very insulating and soft. But it can be made of polyester. Most clothes which are a blend of many fibers in your wardrobe have a quantity of polyester in them.

Polyester is a petroleum-derived synthetic textile manufactured from a mixture of acids and alcohols. Polyester is a combination of words -poly(meaning many) and ester (an organic chemical compound).  Generally speaking, polyester is a form of plastic that has been modified. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the polyester most used in textile production.

Polyester is a popular material for making clothes and accessories because it is soft, machine washable, wrinkle-resistant, and mostly stain resistant. On top of everything, it is low-cost and long-lasting.

At one time it was considered too cheap a material and not worthy to be made into clothes. But that has changed with the advent of many specialized polyester materials with a lot of superior qualities.

Polyester is sometimes combined with different fibers to create richer textiles with the qualities and characteristics of these combinations. Polyester is generally combined with natural fibers to make fabrics with better longevity, wrinkle resistance, and light weight.  A Poly-blend material is a mixture of two or more poly components resulting in new material.

Polyester’s ‘wash and wear’ property is the major draw of polyester fabrics. It does not form or retain wrinkles are does other materials. The microfiber variety of polyester fabrics is very soft and absorbent. No need to elaborate. It is almost as if there is a polyester dominance in the world fashion scene, and it is not coming down anytime soon

There are many concerns about polyester?

Is polyester toxic?

This is the number one concern of young mothers and other health-conscious adults. Is polyester safe for babies to wear? Is it toxic for everyday wear?

Basically, polyester fabric is a form of plastic.

Other than that, these fabrics are treated with various chemicals on the surface as add-ons.

If there is any coating given on your polyester, this can be done with coating chemicals which are carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and immune system disruptors.  So if you see labels like water-resistant, stain-resistant, and fire-resistant, they may come at a cost, especially to our health.
‘Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are highly fluorinated, inert organic compounds that can dissolve large volumes of respiratory gases’ says an article on scientdirect.com. And this compound is used in treated/coated polyester fabrics.
So use these coated materials sparingly, especially around kids.

Other than that, polyester is generally as safe or toxic as any other material because dyes and chemicals used in the textile manufacturing processes are all problematic. Most fabrics, including natural fabrics, undergo these harmful manufacturing processes that can endanger the health of generations.

These processes produce toxic emissions and chemical waste that are very harmful. Polyester fabrics are a little ahead among the fabrics that pollute because of the toxic disperse dyes with which they are dyed.

If you are looking for low impact fabrics (on environment) go for organic fabrics or Silk, hemp, linen, and wool.

One thing that you should definitely avoid is baby toys made of plastic/PVC  – they should also be avoided as much as possible, especially if they have a tendency to keep things in their mouths; of course, they do. You don’t want children to eat any plastic particles or toxins.

Is polyester breathable?

Polyester fabrics are not generally breathable. But then, this can be variable according to the yarn type and loose or tight weave construction of the fabric. New generation of polyester fabrics is designed so that they have better breathability.

But generally, polyesters, though they have the advantage of being lightweight, are not considered breathable. So young mothers should think twice before swaddling small kids in polyester cloth covers like fleece swaddling blankets. Your baby might be feeling suffocated and not able to tell this to you.

Polyester fabrics do not enable the skin to breathe, trapping heat and moisture and creating skin irritations. It also causes one to sweat more.

Is polyester absorbent?

No, polyester is one of the least absorbent of all fabrics. (unless you count microfibers) ; it is considered very uncomfortable to wear in hot and humid climates.

But this can be looked at in a good light – when you are performing some vigorous exercise or doing some sports, you sweat a lot. This sweat evaporates fast when you are wearing polyester clothes, so the body stays dry better in polyester than in other natural fabrics, which can remain soggy when sweat is absorbed by it. Polyester, being lightweight, dries fast; when polyester is blended with natural fabrics, the absorbency of fabrics increases.

Is polyester moisture wicking?

Yes. Polyester is generally moisture-wicking. High-quality Moisture-wicking polyester fabrics are used to make sleepwear or pajamas. These fabrics will be labeled “moisture-wicking polyester” or “performance polyester.”

Polyester textiles are perfect for athletic, outdoor, and professional apparel because of their moisture-wicking quality. If you get night sweats or simply want to stay cool, the proper moisture-wicking fabric can help you sleep comfortably and dry. Add to this the longevity of the fabric, do you wonder why it is so widely used.

Does polyester cause skin irritations?

Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, etc., can have a lot of reasons – I do not think that anyone in the world has been able to pinpoint a single reason why these diseases and many other autoimmune diseases exist; I mean the root cause.

We can only guess at the causes and try to reduce inflammation of our lymphatic system, which controls our immunity, and take some precautions – if you have irritated skin, any small thing can exacerbate them. Like being in touch with polyester may – I do not know. But just like people take any remedy they can find for these problems, including staying life long away from bread (gluten), I would guess it is a small sacrifice to forgo polyester fabric in lieu of more natural and organic fabrics like organic cotton.

GOTS-certified (organic) does not have the hazardous chemicals commonly used in cotton processing. Read more about different options in eco-friendly organic materials here.

Why is polyester fabric considered bad for the environment?

Polyester is not exceptionally environmentally friendly due to the chemicals used in its production. You can argue that it is so for a lot of textiles. But furthermore, when polyester garments are laundered, microscopic plastic beads are released. This results in these microplastics poisoning our waters.

Are polyester good for making pajamas and other sleepwear?

In the US of A, sleepwear that is sold should pass the flammability test of The Federal Trade Commission (FTC); Death from burns due to clothes catching fire is a major threat to the safety of kids everywhere. So fire retardant clothes are preferred as sleepwear for small kids. Here polyester wins because polyester is considered slow-burning; Linen, cotton rayon and silk are considered fast burning. 

There is another caveat according to law- kids’ clothes should be tight-fitting. Clothing that is too tight is less prone to catch fire. There is very little oxygen between your baby’s skin and the garment when it is tight. And because fire requires air to keep burning, without a layer of oxygen, the clothes are less likely to catch fire. Even if pajamas are made of natural fibers, if they are tight-fitting, they can be considered fire-resistant.

Polyester fabrics have a tendency to static cling. This may also deter some. And it pills badly.

Conclusion
Other than the safety of wearing polyester clothes (it is almost as if there is no escape from them, especially if you are on a budget), it is the ethicality of using a material that pollutes the earth so extensively that bothers me. Then I think about textile manufacturing generally, and I am back to where I was.

Let us not forget the good qualities of polyester. It is easy to wash and easy to dry, abrasion resistant, mildew resistant, wrinkle-free, do not shrink or stretch and can I outlive me and you. Also, I guess sales drive the market. 

Related posts: Polyester fabric – features; How is polyester made?.

 

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