How Polyester is Made

polyester strapsBecause it is so useful in a wide variety of applications, many different kinds of plastics have been developed, and with so many names. Some of these specialty plastics you’ve heard of before. We’ve talked about nylon, which is a surprising plastic product, but did you know that polyester is technically plastic too?

Every kind of plastic was developed differently and each has something unique to offer. This is also true of polyester.

The roots of polyester

Like many of the plastic materials that are regularly used today, polyester has a long history. Beginning in 1926, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., known simply as DuPont today, began researching very large molecules and synthetic fibers. The first discovery was a nylon fiber, but much more was to come out of this initial research. British chemists became interested in the research that was being conducted at DuPont and began conducting their own research. By 1941, this team discovered polyester, and DuPont bought the rights for this plastic product and began producing polyester fibers in 1946. Originally marketed as Dacron, many other companies began showing interest in this unique plastic product, which eventually resulted in many different kinds of polyester.

PET, PCDT, and other kinds of polyester

polyester suit

Your Dad’s Polyester

There are two main kinds of polyester. The first is PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. The second is PCDT, which is also known as poly-1, 4-cyclohexylene-dimethylene.

PET is arguably the most popular type of polyester. It is most often used in the textile industry. Remember the 70’s? Polyester Leisure Suits were all the rage.  Now, you’ll typically see polyester in hundreds of other applications.

PET is also used to manufacture plastic containers like water bottles and peanut butter jars. It is even used to make tennis balls!

PCDT is used in similar ways. It isn’t quite as strong as PET, but it is more elastic and resilient. It is sometimes used in clothing, but it is most often found in curtain draperies, upholstery, and furniture coverings.

The majority of polyester products are thermoplastics, which means they can change their shape with the application of heat. That’s why most polyester clothing cannot be ironed. Unsaturated polyesters, or UPR, are thermoset resins that can be used in much more than just T-shirts and pants. They can be used on the bodies of yachts and automobiles to make them lighter and stronger.

So, exactly how is polyester made?

Although there are different kinds of polyester and they’re used in different ways, the manufacturing process is similar. However, there are some differences, depending on the kind of polyester you’re creating and the finished form that the polyester will take.

Polyester is made of long-chain polymers that are the result of a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air, and water. It is made up of purified terephthalic acid (PTS), or in some cases, dimethyl ester dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and monotheluene glycol (MEG).

Most commonly, a high temperature vacuum is used to elicit the chemical reaction that’s needed to make polyester. Alcohol and carboxyl acid are mixed to form a compound that’s called ester, and this process creates a chemical reaction that’s known as polymerization. This newly created material is then stretched into long fibers that are up to five times their original length in order to increase their strength. Then, these fibers are spun in multiple ways:

  • Filament form: Individual strands of polyester are stretched to a continuous length. They’re perfect for weaving smooth-surfaced fabrics.
  • Staple form: Strands are cut into predetermined lengths. This makes the polyester easier to blend with other fibers.
  • Tow form: Continuous filaments are drawn loosely together to be used in yarn, twine, or stuffing.
  • Fiberfill form: Filaments are used to create fluffy stuffing that’s used in quilts, pillows, and outerwear.

Advantages of polyester over other materials

Polyester sometimes gets a bad rap, especially since its reputation is associated with dated styles from the 70s (see the photo above, of your Dad). In addition, it feels much less natural than cotton, silk, or wool, making it much less comfortable and cozy. However, it does have some advantages over more traditional textiles.

Polyester is more wrinkle-resistant than other materials, and it resists shrinking, stretching, creasing, and mildew. Synthetic polyester also exhibits water and wind resistance which makes it perfect for the manufacture of tents, windbreakers, and umbrellas.

This innovative plastic material is also able to replace other more expensive textile materials. There’s no doubt that silk is a luxurious material, but it can be expensive. Polyester is able to resemble the sheen, drape, and durability of traditional silk, earning it the name “China silk.”

Polyester is used on more than just clothing! It can also be found in the manufacture of:

Get the right plastic material for your project

From polyester to nylon, PVC, and beyond, finding the right plastic material for the job is extremely important. To learn more about all of your options, or to shop fasteners that are made in a wide variety of materials, contact us today and we’ll help you choose the right product for your application.