DIY Cleaning & Organizing

How To: Wash Polyester

Keep your polyester garments and household fabrics looking new by following these 5 simple steps.
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Fabric composition and washing instructions label on white shirt

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Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is popular for both bedsheets and clothing as well as home goods like outdoor cushions and blankets because of its durability, wrinkle resistance, and ability to hold its shape when washed. As one of the easiest fabrics to wash, it holds up to frequent laundering, and doesn’t have finicky care instructions.

More than half of the clothing in the world is made using polyester. An affordable and insect-resistant material, it’s often blended with less resilient natural fibers like cotton in order to make it easier to maintain. Read on to learn how to wash polyester in five simple steps.

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STEP 1: Read the polyester item’s laundry instructions carefully.

Before washing any garment, read the laundering instructions found on the garment’s tag. While polyester is known for its resilience when it comes to machine washing and drying, it’s often combined with other fabrics that aren’t quite as forgiving. When polyester is blended with natural fibers like linen or silk, care instructions will differ. Any garment labeled as “dry clean only” should be cleaned professionally, regardless of the fabric makeup. Similarly, always respect labels that indicate an item should be washed by hand.

Related: How To: Hand-Wash Clothes

Removing stain from white shirt measuring determent by hand

STEP 2: Pretreat stains.

One of polyester’s weak points is its stain resistance. While it can hold up to some types of spills, it does a particularly good job of absorbing oil stains. Use your favorite stain remover to pretreat any stains by rubbing the product into the affected area and allowing it to sit for 15 minutes. Then, machine wash for the best results. Make sure the stain is no longer visible before putting the garment in the dryer to avoid inadvertently setting it into the fabric.

One trick for keeping white polyester fabrics looking fresh is to presoak them before washing. Avoid chlorine bleach because its harsh chemical makeup can eat away at the outer layer of the fibers. Instead, combine warm water with oxygen bleach and soak fabrics for at least 2 hours before machine washing.

You may opt to hand-wash delicate polyester items by soaking them in a tub filled with warm water and a mild detergent, then rinsing with cold water.

Related: How To: Remove Sweat Stains

Wide shot of a mixed race girl sitting on the floor in the kitchen and helping her father put the washing into the washing machine.

STEP 3: Set the appropriate water temperature and cycle on your washing machine.

One downside of polyester is that it is sensitive to high temperatures. If washed with hot water, the fibers may break down and eventually cause damage to the garment. For that reason, it’s always best to wash polyester clothing using cold or warm water. While polyester is colorfast, it’s always best to separate laundry by color to avoid deep-colored dyes from bleeding onto white or light-colored fabrics. The fabric is durable enough to handle any washing machine spin cycle, so choose a setting based on the type of garment you’re laundering.

STEP 4: Use detergent suitable for polyester fabric.

Due to polyester’s strength, it doesn’t require specialty laundry detergents. Any regular commercial detergent will suffice. One thing to avoid, however, is any detergent intended for deep stain removal. These products may contain harsh chemicals that could fade or degrade the fabric over time. Exercise restraint when using detergent—most manufacturers recommend that you use more than you actually need.

It’s also prudent to turn polyester items inside out before washing so that the fibers don’t snag on zippers or buttons and create pulls while in the washing machine.

Related: Which Cleans Better? Liquid vs. Powder Detergent

In an unusual view from inside the washing machine drum, a smiling and pretty blonde loads - or unloads - laundry.

STEP 5: Tumble dry on low.

Polyester fibers can shrink or even melt if over-dried, so it’s important to always use your dryer’s lowest setting. Alternatively, polyester can be hung to dry on a drying rack or a clothesline, which reduces the chance of the material shrinking. While some fabrics wrinkle when drying, polyester is known for its wrinkle-resistance whether it’s air or tumble dried. Polyester has a tendency to become staticky, but using a fabric-softener dryer sheet can prevent static from occurring.

While it isn’t prone to wrinkling, if it does wrinkle it may be tricky to iron. To smooth out the fabric, use a clothing steamer or the steam setting on an iron.

While polyester may have a somewhat negative reputation because it’s a synthetic fabric, it’s likely present in nearly every wardrobe and has a number of advantages, including being easy to maintain and launder. Now that you know how to wash your polyester garments, you’ll be able to avoid static, shrinking, and color bleeding, so they look new even after frequent washing.