How to Wash Polyester: 12 Handy Tips and Tricks

How to Wash Polyester: 12 Handy Tips and Tricks

Polyester has been around for decades and is used for everything from clothing to blankets. Yet, it's still a relatively recent invention as far as fibers are concerned, considering the history of other fabrics (many have been with us for thousands of years). With new fabrics come new challenges, and washing and drying them might not be as straightforward as we would like. Incorrectly washing polyester can lead to some horrifying results, and we want your clothes to last as long as possible. After all, you don’t want to ruin your favorite polyester clothes and household linens simply by washing them the wrong way.

Therefore, to help you, here are 12 tips that will help you keep your polyester clean and in great shape:

holding basket of laundry


1. Remember It's a Synthetic Fabric

Polyester was designed for regular use and regular washing, and if it were too difficult to take care of, none of us would use it. However, that doesn't mean we don't have to pay special attention. It feels different to the touch than other fabrics in most cases and washes differently. 

You can try to learn more about polyester, both in terms of cleaning and general properties, to help you better understand how you should treat it. If you are unsure about washing and drying clothing made from polyester fabric, the washing instructions on the care label are always an excellent place to start. We will discuss the care label more a little bit later in this article. 

2. Use Cool or Cold Water

Polyester doesn't take to extreme heat all that well, including the temperature of the water you use. Too much heat can ruin the fabric or even melt it to some degree so you have to be careful and avoid hot water. Polyester is nothing like cotton or other common fabrics that withstand high temperatures in that regard, though it has its advantages.

When washing your polyester, use cool or cold water in the washing machine. It should still clean nicely, and you'll minimize the risk of any damage. Depending on your washer, you also may wish to use a gentler cycle than you are used to. When in doubt, err on the side of being too cautious to avoid damaging the polyester fibers in your favorite clothing and household linens.

3. Polyester Can Melt. Dry with This in Mind

As mentioned, polyester melts when exposed to too much heat. This can be bad news and lead to serious damage when you tumble dry your laundry if you aren't careful. High heat is best avoided, and that means using caution when drying it. If you are using a dryer, use the lowest heat settings possible, even if it means it takes a while to dry (it's far better than the alternative). 

Note that this fact also has applications to ironing. If polyester can't take the heat from a dryer, then don't think it will do a lot better with a hot iron applied directly to it. We recommend that you skip the ironing, if possible. When you absolutely must iron polyester, use low heat and work as quickly as possible. 

4. Turn Articles Inside Out (If Applicable)

A good tip for washing most of your clothing but particularly handy with polyester is to turn your polyester garments inside out. The inside has the most contact with your skin, specifically the oils and sweat that come out of it. That's usually your main removal goal when washing anything, so getting the inside in direct contact with the wash and detergent should be your aim. It also helps protect the seams from too much abuse and may help protect the colors as well. If the inside of the garments color-fade a little, who on earth is going to see anyway? And since washing inside out exposes the outside of the fabric to less friction, decals and designs last longer this way, too. 

5. Avoid Bleach

Bleach is not recommended for polyester. It is generally seen as too harsh for the fabric and can cause damage to the material and color alike. Even if the polyester item in question is white, there are better options for white polyester than bleach for cleaning. If there is a stain, we recommend treating it via a different method. If it is a standard white that you just want to brighten to keep it looking its best, we instead recommend an additional wash or other products instead of bleach. It will be counterproductive, we promise you. There are plenty of other stain removers and pre-treatment products that are much safer and just as effective as chlorine bleach.

6. The Detergent Matters

On the topic of what you should and should not wash your polyester clothing with, you should pay attention to the laundry detergent and cleaning items you use. Anything too harsh should be avoided, as should detergents with additions such as fabric softener. As a rule, they will not react well with the polyester and could damage or even outright ruin the item. Instead, we recommend a simple yet effective mild detergent for your polyester, ideally one that is eco-friendly and good for most clothes. It's less about what is in the detergent and more about making sure what is not in there.

7. Be Careful About Washing with Other Fabrics

Most people wash a bunch of their laundry all in one load, perhaps taking care to separate darks from whites, but not much else. Whether it's in their best interests or not, many people can't be bothered to do much more than that — and we understand if you're one of them. 

That is not to say you should always wash polyester with other polyester items. It just means that when washing polyester, you have to consider its needs first and use cooler water and a gentler cycle. Of course, you should always consider the other items in the wash. For example, don't wash polyester with delicate lingerie or silks for fear of damaging the delicates. You should also avoid washing things like polyester t-shirts with heavier fabrics, like denim, that could damage the fabric. Never wash garments with buttons, zippers, etc. with lightweight polyester garments as they can snag and cause serious damage. Give every item and fabric its place in your laundry schedule.

8. Hand Washing and Air Drying Is Safe

If the idea of your polyester melting or getting damaged via machine washing scares you, then you should know that hand washing is always an option. To hand wash your polyester clothing, prepare a bucket or container of cool to warm water and add a detergent appropriate for polyester items. Don't add too much detergent and give yourself enough room and time to work. Take care when dealing with tough stains. You shouldn’t scrub too hard or use products that could damage the material. Polyester is pretty tough, but if you are too rough with it, you might cause a tear. 

Similarly, air drying is a safe option as opposed to a dryer. To air dry your polyester, treat it much like anything else, ideally in a well-ventilated place out of the path of direct sunlight (it causes color fading in many clothes). Don’t wring it out before hanging, as this could damage the fibers. Give it the time it needs, and do be careful in extremely hot weather, especially if you decide to hang it outside on your clothesline

clothes hanging on line

Shutterstock/Africa Studio

9. Pay Attention to the Labels

Polyester clothing can vary in terms of what is recommended or required for washing, although some things won't change, such as not applying too much heat and using more gentle wash cycles. Some items might say not to machine dry it at all or to wash at a specific cold temperature. Therefore, before you wash any polyester item (or any clothing item, really), you should check the label for any cleaning instructions. The manufacturer knows how the item is supposed to be washed. Follow their wisdom.

10. Fabric Blends Are Common

Polyester is often blended with other fabrics, and this means that how you clean it might differ a bit. A pure polyester item may have different cleaning needs than a blend. With a blend, you might have some additional considerations to worry about on top of just what polyester brings to the table.

In truth, we cannot go over every combination here, though you should keep all fabric types in mind when you are cleaning clothes. If something is even 10 percent polyester and you do something that will ruin polyester, your garment will still be 10 percent ruined. That's likely 10 percent too ruined to wear or use at all. It doesn't always work this way, but we hope the point is clear.

11. Check for Stains Before Washing

Polyester doesn't stain as easily as some fabrics, but stains are certainly something to watch out for. Some stain types, such as grease stains, can especially be a plague on polyester. And if you fail to notice them before washing and drying the item, the stain may set in and become impossible to remove no matter how hard you try. 

If you do notice a stain, then pre-treating it is your best bet. Letting a stain set in as it gets washed or dried will make it harder to get out later. Instead, see if you can find a product or substance that you can use to help with the stain. Vinegar or baking soda are common options, as is chalk for some stains. Different stains will be best treated with different things, so keep in mind what you're working with, how long the stain has been there and what tools you have available to you. 

12. Know When to Visit a Dry Cleaner

Some polyester garments can only be dry cleaned. If you have something with a care label that says “Dry Clean Only,” take it seriously! In addition, we recommend visiting a dry cleaner if you have a garment with a stain you are unsure how to remove. This is especially important for expensive clothing items and those that have sentimental value. Taking clothes in for dry cleaning costs money, but generally it’s a small price to pay to ensure that your treasured and most valuable items don’t get ruined in the wash!


Polyester is versatile and has many uses, but cleaning it is sometimes a chore. We hope that you can utilize the above information to make life easier for yourself. Just make sure things don't get too hot, use the right products and follow the instructions given. When in doubt, contact a dry cleaner or professional laundry service for additional guidance. And, of course, always check the care label for every garment you own prior to laundering!