Buying a new t-shirt may seem like a simple task, but it can be overwhelming. More than the design, an important consideration is the material. Among others, one of the most popular is polyester.
Affordable and durable, polyester is a synthetic fabric. Before buying a polyester t-shirt, take the time to learn about its properties, including if it’s stretchy or not. Keep on reading to learn more.
A Quick Primer on Polyester
Technically, polyester is a type of plastic from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a synthetic polymer. Most people would associate PET with plastic bottles. However, only about 1/3 of the millions of tons of polyester produced annually are used for plastic bottles (source). The rest is for polyester textiles.
Polyester is created through polymerization. It’s a process that combines alcohol and acid to form plastic, which becomes pellets. These pellets go through a melting process, which solidifies the pellets into threads.
Pros of Polyester
Looking for more reasons to choose polyester fabric? Below are some notable benefits:
- Affordable: The manufacturing cost of polyester is typically lower than cotton and wool.
- Durable: Polyester has long and stable polymers, which make it resilient. It retains its shape even through time and has superior wrinkle resistance.
- Elastic: 100% polyester returns to its original shape after stretching.
- Versatile: As a versatile fabric, polyester combines well with different materials, including cotton and spandex.
- Moisture-Resistant: This benefit makes polyester a popular option for outdoor clothing. The fabric wicks moisture away instead of soaking it.
- Easy to Maintain: Aside from being machine-washable, polyester looks good even if you don’t iron the fabric.
Cons of Polyester
Despite the advantages, polyester also has its fair share of drawbacks, including the following:
- Not Sustainable: Polyester contains polymers from petroleum, which makes it bad for the environment. It’s also non-biodegradable.
- Lacks Breathability: Because it uses plastics, polyester t-shirts are not as breathable as their natural fabric counterparts.
- Coarse: The texture of the polyester fabric makes it feel cheap. It can also impact the comfort of the wearer.
Is Polyester Stretchy?
The stretch of polyester depends on the specific material. 100% polyester is not-stretchy. The fabric can retain its shape and is ideal for rough wear because of its durability.
However, the manufacturing technique can add some stretch or movement to polyester. For instance, knitting makes the fabric stretchy, especially along its width. Meanwhile, crimping makes it more elastic, which also adds stretch.
Aside from its construction, the stretch of polyester also depends on its thickness. Thicker fabrics are less prone to stretching because of the higher density of polyester.
While 100% polyester does not stretch by default, it’s a different story for a polyester blend or poly blend. And with that, the next section will talk about the different types of polyester blends and their potential to stretch.
Polyester and cotton are two of the most popular fabrics. Naturally, poly-cotton is also among the most famous poly-blends, which is known for being breathable and durable Most of these fabrics have 65% polyester and 35% cotton. It’s a common material of choice for polo shirts.
The stretch of poly-cotton depends on its construction. Woven poly-cotton does not stretch, making it a popular material for bedsheets and curtains. On the other hand, knitted poly-cotton, made by interlocking each thread to form big loops, can stretch.
Polyester and Spandex
A popular option for activewear, Spandex is a lightweight and synthetic fabric with exceptional elasticity. It’s soft to the touch, which also makes it comfortable as it moves along with the wearer. Combining spandex with polyester contributes to the fabric’s durability.
Because spandex is stretchy, a poly-spandex blend is also stretchy. Even adding only 10% spandex to polyester will make the fabric stretch.
Polyester and Rayon
A semi-synthetic fabric, rayon is from the cellulose of wood pulp. It requires maintenance as the fabric becomes weaker when it’s wet The softness and comfort of rayon blend well with the durability of polyester.
Poly-rayon blends have a moderate stretch factor. You’ll often find this material in dresses and blouses.
As the name implies, this fabric combines three different materials — polyester, cotton, and rayon. This mix creates a stretchable fabric, the degree of which highly depends on the specific percentage of each material.
How to Stretch Polyester Clothes
You might have bought polyester clothes that don’t fit well. Perhaps, their smaller than what you need or too snug. Good thing, there are different solutions to stretch polyester and help you achieve the perfect fit.
Water and Conditioner
- Fill a sink with hot water. Make sure to lower the stopper. The water should be warm and not hot. Otherwise, extreme temperatures may cause polyester to lose its shape.
- Add conditioner to the warm water in the sink. A good practice is to add a tablespoon of conditioner for every quart of water
- Put your shirt in the water with conditioner and let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Take the shirt out of the water and wring.
- Use your hand to stretch the shirt to reach the size that you desire.
- Put the shirt on a flat surface and use heavy items like books along the edges.
- Air dry before wearing.
- Hang your shirt in the bathroom.
- Turn the shower on up to its highest possible temperature. The steam will reach the fabric, which will allow the fibers to loosen.
- You can also use a handheld steamer if you have one. Position the steamer a few inches away from the fabric to prevent damage.
- Pull the fabric to reach the desired size. Avoid excessive force as doing so can ruin the shape.
- Put the polyester cloth on an ironing board.
- Preheat the iron.
- Spray warm water on the top side of the polyester and a large towel.
- Put the towel on top of the polyester cloth and iron. While ironing, pull the edge of the polyester cloth to stretch it.
- Flip and repeat ironing on the other side. Keep stretching until you reach the desired size.
Mold on Your Body
- Wash your polyester shirt in water with soap or conditioner.
- Wring excess water and wear the polyester shirt while it’s still damp.
- Raise your arms and move around to let the fabric stretch. Stretching exercises and yoga can also help.
- Wear your shirt until it dries. Go under the sun or near a fan to make it dry quicker.
How to Prevent Polyester from Stretching
Your polyester cloth can stretch over time, especially if it’s a poly-blend. This can affect the size and look. There are different ways to prevent such from happening and to keep your shirt in its best shape, including those mentioned below:
- Wash polyester clothes using cold water, which is gentler on the fabric. Hot water makes the fabric weaker, which makes it more prone to stretching.
- Choose the gentle cycle in your washing machine. This will prevent unnecessary stress on the fabric.
- When choosing soap or fabric conditioner, look for one specially formulated for synthetic fabrics.
- Fold your polyester clothes instead of hanging them. Especially when the cloth is heavy, it’s likely to stretch when hung.
- If possible, air dry your clothes. Otherwise, if you’re using a dryer, choose the lowest possible heat setting.
- While you can iron polyester, you should avoid high heat to prevent it from overly stretching.
- Use your clothes for appropriate activities. For instance, if it’s not designed for working out, then don’t use it in the gym.
- Choose high-quality products. They are less likely to stretch over time, even with repeated wear.
The Most Common Alternatives to Polyester
As earlier mentioned, one of the drawbacks of polyester is that it isn’t eco-friendly. Not to mention, while it can stretch to some extent depending on the specific blend, it’s not as stretchy as other materials. With that, below are some alternatives worth considering:
- Spandex: Also called Lycra or elastane, spandex is a common material for sportswear. It’s elastic and returns to its original shape after stretching. In many cases, it’s combined with other materials, such as cotton, or even polyester.
- Nylon: Compared to polyester, nylon has a higher degree of stretch while maintaining its durability. You can often find it in clothes that need to be flexible, such as swimwear.
- Organic Cotton: If your main concern is sustainability, organic cotton is a great alternative to polyester. Unlike natural cotton and polyester, organic cotton is free of hazardous chemicals. It’s also a recycled material, making it eco-friendly.
- Natural Hemp: Another sustainable alternative to polyester, natural hemp requires minimal water to harvest. Manufacturing this fabric does not also require chemicals, so it’s good for the environment.
Polyester is one of the most popular fabrics, prized for its durability, affordability, and versatility. 100% polyester will not stretch. However, when combined with different materials, such as spandex and rayon, polyester will stretch to some degree.
If you have a polyester cloth with a fit that’s too snug, you can stretch it with soap and water, iron, steam, or molding on your body. Meanwhile, prevent the stretching of polyester by using cold water, air drying, and folding your clothes instead of hanging them.
Zach Aries is an entrepreneur committed to providing personalized service and satisfaction across America. From businesses to charities, Zach ensures every client receives top-notch treatment. His dedication to excellence shines through in his work, whether it’s crafting quality custom apparel or sharing insights in printing and T-shirt reviews.