Polyethylene is a synthetic polymer derived from Ethylene. Although it’s not a fiber, it’s commonly used as a layer of protection for specific-purposes textiles. Read more to learn about this synthetically created polymer, its uses, and its characteristics.


What is Polyethylene?

Polyethylene (PE) is one of the most widely used and versatile thermoplastic polymers in the world. It’s a synthetic polymer made from the gas Ethylene that is popular in various industries due to its excellent physical properties and easy handling. 

Depending on the manufacturing process and molecular structure, it can have different densities, leading to different forms. This polymer is used in a wide range of products and applications, from plastic bags to automotive parts.

Some variations of polyethylene are applied to circular knits for a specific purpose. 

Polyethylene cannot be used in clothing on its own as it lacks flexibility and comfort which is required in clothing. However, it can be blended or layered on other fibers to enhance certain properties.

One common example is adding a coating of this material to the surface of a circular knit to make it water resistant, a use that can be found in rainwear or garments intended for outdoor use.


How is Polyethylene created?

Polyethylene is created through a polymerization process that involves ethylene monomers. Ethylene is a gaseous hydrocarbon that derives from natural gas. 

The discovery of polyethylene goes back to 1933 when two British chemists – Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett – accidentally synthesized this material while conducting experiences with ethylene gas at high pressures.

They further refined the process and started producing it on a larger scale. 

Initially, polyethylene's commercial applications were limited, but its use expanded significantly in the post-World War II era, as industries discovered its various benefits and versatility.

The polymerization process is either high-pressure or low-pressure, creating different types of polyethylene.

Both high-pressure and low-pressure polymerization methods result in the formation of long chains of ethylene monomers, creating this polymer. This means that polyethylene is a synthetic material.

The different conditions used in this process determine the density and structure of polyethylene, leading to multiple distinct properties suitable for several applications.

Characteristics of Polyethylene

Polyethylene holds several characteristics that make it one of the most widely used and versatile polymers.

These characteristics, combined with its cost-effectiveness, contribute to its widespread use in numerous industries.

Circular knits that contain polyethylene often possess specific characteristics suited to particular purposes.

Some common characteristics of clothing and textiles coated with this material include:

  • Water resistance: these garments are suitable for outdoor clothing;
  • Wind resistance: additional protection against stricter weather conditions;
  • Chemical resistance: useful for protective garments in industrial settings, for example; 
  • The durability of the coated or blended material;
  • Lightweight circular knitted fabrics, ensuring comfort and ease of movement; 
  • Easy cleaning since stains and dirt are less likely to penetrate the fibers with this resistant coating.

These characteristics make polyethylene a common material used in raincoats and waterproof jackets and pants. Fishing apparel also contains this material to make the gear waterproof and overall, more resistant.

In the same fashion, skiwear and outdoor sports gear can also contain this polymer. Another common use for this material is in medical gowns to offer protection against liquids and chemicals and industrial workwear for the same reasons. 

It is not common to see polyethylene in regular day-to-day fashion such as jeans or t-shirts, since it’s not a breathable and comfortable material to wear in our daily lives.

Types of Polyethylene 

There are different types of polyethylene, each with distinct properties and characteristics. These variations are a result of differences in the polymerization process, which can be tailored to achieve specific molecular structures and densities.

In clothing, the most used type is Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).

LDPE is often used in the form of coating and is preferred for this purpose due to its flexibility, transparency, and ease of processing.

High-Density (HDPE), on the other hand, is produced using a low-pressure process of polymerization which results in a rigid and strong material. It is commonly used in containers and pipes that require strength.

There is also a Linear Low-Density (LLDPE) which is a hybrid between LDPE and HDPE. Each type of polyethylene has its unique set of properties and uses.

Benefits of Polyethylene

Polyethylene offers several benefits across several applications in different industries due to its unique properties and versatility. 

This material is lightweight which makes it easy to handle and transport. It is also water and chemical resistant making it ideal for materials that require moisture protection or that carry chemicals and hazardous substances.

Although it is a synthetic material, it is recyclable contributing to environmental protection, and it’s also non-toxic.

When applied in clothing, polyethylene offers several benefits, especially for garments used in the industrial or medical industries.


Polyethylene offers electrical insulation and is highly durable.

Materials containing this product are often designed for specific purposes, such as medical garments with protective barriers, industrial clothing for chemical resistance, or rainwear for outdoor activities.

Textiles that include this polymer are resistant to liquids, chemicals, and harsh weather conditions, like extreme wind and heavy rain. They’re also very durable and lightweight. 

Due to the versatility of this material, circular knits that incorporate polyethylene are resistant to abrasion, contributing to the garment’s longevity and performance

Although very useful and versatile, day-to-day circular knits do not use this polymer frequently, giving place to more breathable and natural fibers.

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