Polyester vs Acrylic Fabric: Comparison and Differences

Polyester vs Acrylic Fabric: Comparison and Differences

Buying a quality jacket is a multi-step process, as we all know. Styles, cuts, colors and the design are all very important in choosing the right jacket for your daily or outdoor activities.

What exactly makes a jacket high quality? Its design and comfort are obviously the first things that come to mind, but for those who are looking to wear the jacket out in the woods or in challenging conditions, the performance of a jacket is the most important thing.

A high-performance jacket relies on both materials used and its design. We have gone through many different sport-related jackets here on our site and you can find numerous selections for a variety of activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, etc.

Today, our focus is on the fabrics commonly used to make jackets. A few weeks ago we went through the differences between Polyester and Cotton and prior to that we have also looked at Nylon and Elastane, as some of the most commonly used materials in jackets.

It’s time to look at another fabric – Acrylic – and compare it to Polyester, the primarily used fabric in jackets.

Without any further ado, let’s get started.

Contents:

1. Polyester

A man-made fabric, polyester consists of thousands upon thousands of interwoven fibers that exhibit very useful qualities and characteristics.

Created in 1941 by James Dickson and John Whinfield, two British scientists, polyester made its official debut after DuPont patented it in 1945.

As the name might have given it away, polyester is a polymer composed of linked esters. Poly, meaning “many”, and ester, the foundation of the polyester polymer, is where its name comes from.

Esters are a result of the chemical reaction between an acid and an alcohol, which is also the case for polyester.

The fibers are made by melt-spinning, a process during which the plastic (yes, polyester is a plastic) is heated and run through spinnerets. They are then processed in different ways to create a variety of fibers that vary in thickness and length.

You can find out more about Polyester’s chemistry here.

Moving on to its characteristics, we will first mention its hydrophobic nature, which is one of the main reasons this fabric is used for outdoor clothing.

Because of this characteristic, polyester exhibits a very low tendency to absorb water. The fibers tend to let water move through without soaking it in, which is why polyester is also good at wicking moisture away.

The fibers are very durable to chemicals and abrasion, while also being extremely strong and long-lasting.

They manage to retain their shape quite well, thus giving polyester fabric its wrinkle-resistance quality.

Pilling, which is the formation of small balls of fluff on the surface of fabrics, is not too big of an issue for polyester either.

No fabric comes without flaws and polyester’s main flaw is its oleophilic nature. This characteristic makes the fibers hold on to oil-based stains and odors, which is an issue that can be noticed in polyester clothing that are in direct contact with the skin.

Polyester, being plastic, is also prone to melting if it comes into contact with very high temperatures, which is why it’s not advisable to iron it, unless specifically required to do so, such as in the case of water-repellent jackets.

We use polyester everyday and not just in the form of clothes or other fabric-based products. Look at any plastic item and you’ll be looking at polyester.

2. Acrylic

Acrylic is also a synthetic, man-made fabric that is primarily composed of the polymer polyacrylonitrile.

Just like Nylon and Polyester, which were patented and further developed by DuPont, acrylic is also part of DuPont’s synthetic fibers. It was created in 1941 and originally trademarked under the name Orlon.

Acrylic fabric comes in a variety of compositions, because the criteria of a fabric being acrylic is to contain at least 85% acrylonitrile as its main monomer, the comonomers typically used being methyl acrylate or vinyl acetate.

There is also modacrylic, a blend of 35-85% acrylonitrile monomer and a comonomer such as vinyl chloride, vinyl bromide or vinylidene chloride. This type of acrylic is more resistant to flames and is primarily used in protective clothing, faux fur trims on jackets and beauty products like wigs and hair extensions.

Acrylic is created as a filament which is cut into short lengths, mimicking wool or cotton, and then spun into yarn.

If you know someone who crochets or knits, odds are they are using acrylic yarn.

The main quality of acrylic as a fiber is its warmth, which is why you will find this fabric mainly used in sweaters.

It has a soft feel to it and it is quite lightweight, similar to wool, which makes it very versatile as it can also be used as a cashmere alternative.

Similarly to polyester, acrylic is hydrophobic and has a tendency to hold onto oil-based stains and odors.

It is resistant to sunlight and to many harsh chemicals, but it is quite prone to pilling. While there are options that are made to reduce this issue, pilling will eventually happen.

3. Polyester vs. Acrylic: Comparison and Differences

Performance and Composition

Regarding their composition, acrylic and polyester are somewhat similar in that they are both made of plastic, albeit not the same type of plastic.

They are both synthetic materials, which have a tendency to repel water due to their hydrophobic nature, while at the same time are oleophilic, prone to holding onto stains and odors that are oil-based.

When it comes to insulating abilities, acrylic is much better than polyester and that’s why it is used solely for low temperature wear, whereas polyester is far more versatile in this regard.

You can find both lightweight and breathable polyester garments, as well as warm and cozy ones for winter. That’s not the case with acrylic which will cause overheating within minutes if worn in warm weather.

Durability and Longevity

Being synthetic, both fibers are resistant to moth damage as they cannot be ingested. This can be an issue, however, if the fabrics are blended with other natural fibers such as wool or cotton.

Acrylic is very susceptible to flames and burns easily, which is why the modacrylic was created. It is not really resistant to abrasion or chemicals when compared to polyester and its overall lifespan is shorter.

Polyester, on the other hand, has better overall performance and durability as the fibers are very strong, very resistant to abrasion and a number of chemicals.

Acrylic is also prone to pilling, which affects the appearance of the garment in the long run, despite its performance remaining the same.

Sustainability and Maintenance

Because both are synthetic, there are some environmental concerns with their biodegradation and sustainability.

The better choice in this regard would definitely be polyester. Its high durability and longevity make it possible to recycle the fabric, which is a much better choice for the environment.

Acrylic, on the other hand, presents several issues as it lasts for a shorter time in terms of usage, but it takes up to 200 years to decompose completely, all the while releasing its chemicals and toxins into the environment.

Regarding caring and maintenance, they are both easy to care for, but acrylic requires a bit more attention as it is prone to shrinkage in high temperatures, which can leave you with a garment that will no longer fit.

4. Use in Jackets

Polyester can be commonly found in jackets as it is used both in its smooth form, as well as in the form of fleece. The former is used either as a lining or shell, whereas fleece is used primarily as a backer or an inner lining.

There are fleece jackets available as well, which are more suitable for layering and milder temperatures.

woman with fleece jacket

The most typical type of polyester jacket is the softshell, a high performance type of jacket used primarily for demanding sports, such as skiing, and provides good breathability and insulation.

Related:
Softshell vs Hardshell Jackets: What’s the Difference?
Softshell vs Fleece Jacket: The Difference

Acrylic is mainly used in sweaters and tracksuits, so you won’t come across an acrylic jacket easily.

However, as we mentioned earlier, it is used often in jackets in the form of faux fur trims, which are an alternative to real animal fur.

Because acrylic is not the best at providing breathability and it is very warm, it’s not really preferred for use in jackets.

A type of jacket that uses this fabric are the wool blend ones, which are designed for warmth and wool can be mixed with acrylic to give the jacket better performance in regards to weather resistance and moisture wicking.

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Last updated: July 2019

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