When someone says “polyester” it often brings to mind outdated fashions from the 1970’s. Leisure suits with oversized lapels and loud colors are stereotypically the domain of polyester fabric. However, the versatility and economy of this amazing material is quite surprising. Polyester is manufactured in a wide variety of states and is used as a medium for an even more diverse array of products. Furthermore, the manufacturing process is well-honed and, therefore, fairly inexpensive, making it a popular choice for a product medium.
While polyester is mostly known as a type of fabric it is actually a kind of polymer (hence the name). More specifically, the most widely used form of polyester is called “polyethylene terepthalate.” It is composed from a combination of organic and inorganic chemicals. The organic parts of most polyester is taken from the pulp of certain plants while the inorganic components are synthetic chemicals such as polybutyrate and polycarbonate.
Although your basic polyester is actually a kind of thermoplastic, it is more often thought of as a fabric. This is because one of the most common applications of polyester is the production of fabrics. This is accomplished by creating thread from the base polymer and weaving it together for the manufacture of textiles. Because of this weaving process polyester fabric is very durable and versatile.
One of the most well-known uses for polyester fabric is the manufacture of apparel. While it is true that 100 percent polyester fabric is quite stiff, it is possible to create polyester clothing that is very natural to the touch. This is through the process of blending. Polyester can be combined with a variety of other materials allowing for an array of textures. The most common polyester blend is with cotton. This is accomplished during the weaving process. When polyester yarn or thread is woven to create fabric it is combined with threads of cotton (or other materials) to create a mixed fabric. So, it is possible to produce polyester blends with many combinations and ratios with other fabrics. On most polyester apparel, one can read the specifics of the blend on the tag (e.g. 50 percent cotton/50 percent polyester).
Another way to create fabric with polyester is with the process of spinning. Spun polyester fabric is manufactured in much the same way as cotton. Thin filaments are spun out of the base polymer and then woven together. The thinness of the polyester thread is such that spun polyester fabric is quite soft and very durable. Spun polyester fabric is used in higher-end apparel but is also a very popular medium for table linens. Tablecloths made from spun polyester have an organic cotton-like feel. However, because polyester is quite a bit thicker than pure cotton, table coverings made from spun polyester are much sturdier than many other mediums. This is beneficial in the case of table linen manufacturing as it makes for a product that can stand up to spills and potential tearing. Polyester tablecloths can be machine washed and dried allowing for easy cleanup. Furthermore, washing and drying spun polyester fabric doesn’t easily fade the material. This makes it a perfect fabric for restaurant linens that must be laundered daily or at the end of each shift. They will generally maintain a great deal of reusability which is great for linens that must stand up to a lot of abuse while still looking and feeling lovely.
Spun polyester fabric is also used well in table napkins. They have all the benefits previously described for spun polyester tablecloths plus one more: The stiffness of the fabric makes it a perfect medium for creative napkin folding, which is a popular practice in many high-end restaurants. Spun polyester fabric holds creases well. This allows for a wide variety of artistic napkin folds. Matching polyester tablecloths and napkins can be employed to create dining setups that are both pleasing to the eye and touch, and also sound in their utility.
Polyester is also used in many other unexpected ways. The plastic properties of the base polymer are very resistant to heat. Therefore, there are many industrial applications for polyester that may seem surprising. It is used as a component for many basic plastics such as water and soda bottles to wire insulation. Also, the transportation industry uses a crystalized form of polyester for many components such as automobile and jet engines, filters, and capacitors. Moreover, polyester spray is used as a finish on many wooden surfaces. Spraying polyester onto wood fills in the gaps of the grain. This makes the wood finish much more durable and glossy. Spray polyester is used to treat the wood on musical instruments such as pianos, violins, and guitars. It is also used quite often on the wooden components of automobiles, boats, and jets.
With the many different states and applications of polyester it is no wonder that there is such a large variety of final and intermediate products created from it. Polyester is fairly easy to synthesize and the raw materials needed to produce it are very accessible. Also, there is very little toxicity involved in the processing of polyester and its raw materials. Since it is also highly recyclable, polyester is environmentally friendly. So, it should come as no surprise that these benefits combined with its durability and massive range of applications make polyester a high-demand product. In fact, last year alone there was a total world production of over 50 million tons. That is a lot of leisure suits!