How to Wash Polyester

Updated: Jan. 11, 2024

Don't be embarrassed if you have polyester clothes in your closet. You're in good company. Here's how to keep them looking their best.

When you think of polyester clothing, what springs to mind? Nothing good, right? Despite the negative connotations, polyester is still the most widely-used fiber in the world.

Check your closet. I’ll bet you’ll find polyester. Athleisure, parkas, windbreakers, socks and underwear, casual knit shirts and dressy blouses — we all own polyester clothing, and we all need to wash it. But what’s the best way?

I talked to Morgan LaLonde, laundry brand manager at Whirlpool, to learn best practices from an expert.

How to Wash Polyester

Polyester is really tough, and you can usually toss polyester clothes in the washing machine — but not always.

LaLonde’s first words of advice: Check the label. The manufacturer will tell you how to keep your polyester garment in top shape. Second? Stay away from heat.

“Polyester is a synthetic material, and high heat can break down the polyester fibers and damage the clothing,” LaLonde says. “That’s why it’s important to use warm or cold water settings, and opt for a gentle detergent.”

Heat isn’t only bad for your clothes. When the fibers break down, they end up in our waterways as microplastic waste.

Here’s how to machine- and hand-wash your polyester clothing correctly.

Machine wash

“Polyester is a durable material that can easily be washed in a washing machine,” LaLonde says. Some polyester clothes can be washed on the Normal setting, but others may need Delicate or Permanent Press. And, of course, stick with warm or cold water.

  1. Separate your clothes: Fabrics hold up longer if you wash like with like. So don’t wash your jeans with your delicates.
  2. Pre-treat stains: Polyester is naturally stain-resistant, but if any manage to sneak through, pre-treat with vinegar or a commercial product.
  3. Set the cycle and temperature: Again, that’s cold or warm. Avoid excessive heat for the reasons outlined above.
  4. Add detergent: Choose a mild one, and don’t use too much of it. A full load only needs two tablespoons of liquid detergent.
  5. Remove promptly: Polyester is naturally wrinkle resistant, but why risk it?

Pro tip: If your machine offers a hand-wash setting, that’s not the same thing as manually hand washing, according to LaLonde. But it can be a solution for many delicate items. Hand-wash, gentle or delicate cycles “use low agitation or tumbling speeds, along with cold water, for gentle cleaning and reduced wrinkling,” she says. While you’re at it, find out what perm press means on a dryer.

Hand wash

If your polyester shirt or pair of pants says “hand wash only,” or if you simply prefer to hand-wash your silky delicates, here’s LaLonde’s step-by-step guide for hand-washing polyester. Don’t worry, it’s not too labor-intensive. And it will save your hand washables from the harshness of machine washing.

  1. Fill a clean sink or tub with cold water and a small amount of mild detergent.
  2. Stir the water with your hands until you have suds. Pre-treat the garment if needed.
  3. Dip clothing into the soapy water and slowly swirl together.
  4. Empty the sink and refill with cold, clean water.
  5. Plunge garment into fresh water multiple times until all the soap is gone.

How to Dry Polyester

So you’ve got a sopping wet polyester shirt, all clean and rinsed. Now what? “[R]emove excess water before hanging or laying flat to dry,” LaLonde says.

Take a clean towel (bath size or larger), open it up and lay it out flat. Place the wet garment on the dry towel and roll it up in the towel, gently squeezing as you go. “Continue this process until the garment no longer drips water,” LaLonde says. Then hang or lay flat to dry.

It’s usually OK to put polyester in the dryer, too. “Similar to the wash cycle, we recommend a lower heat when drying any polyester clothing to avoid shrinking or distress,” LaLonde says. Keeping the heat on medium or lower can keep the item’s fibers intact.