Polyester and cotton are two common fabrics that you’ll see everywhere, from clothing to bedding. Which fabric is better?
Cotton is a natural fiber derived from the seed pod of the cotton plant. Cotton has long been considered a premium material because of its softness and durability.
Polyester is a synthetic fiber that was originally developed in Germany during World War II. Today, polyester is widely used in clothing, home furnishings, and other consumer goods.
Both materials offer their own benefits and drawbacks.
In this article, we’ll compare them side-by-side to show you why each fabric is better suited for certain applications.
Cotton Vs Polyester
Both cotton and polyester are very popular and common fabrics. They are the go-to materials for a lot of clothing and when it comes to home decor.
The reason why both of these materials are so popular, is due to unique characteristics and abilities. You may think that you can use cotton and polyester in exchange for one another.
However, there are some major differences that set these two materials apart.
The first being that cotton is made from natural fibers and polyester is synthetic and made from oil.
As a result, due to polyester being a synthetic fabric, it can give it a cold persona.
Cotton is known for its softness and warmth. Yet, these two materials are really quite contrasting, but they are used to creating similar things.
Cotton: What Is It?
Cotton is an extremely versatile material. It can be used as a fabric or as a yarn. When it comes to fabric, cotton is often used in clothing, bedding, towels, rugs, and more.
This material is also known for its ability to absorb moisture. So if you’re looking for something that will keep your clothes dry, then cotton is what you need.
When it comes to making yarns, cotton is great too. There are many types of cotton that you can choose from.
Some of the most common include Egyptian cotton, Sea Island cotton, and Upland cotton.
Each type of cotton offers its own unique characteristics. For example, sea island cotton is known for having a softer feel than regular cotton.
And upland cotton is known for its strength and durability.
What Are Its Benefits?
When it comes to using cotton, there are several reasons why people love this material.
First off, cotton is a renewable resource. Meaning that it grows back after it’s harvested.
Second, cotton is an eco-friendly product. It doesn’t require any toxic chemicals to grow and make.
Thirdly, cotton is hypoallergenic. This means that it won’t cause allergic reactions like other fabrics do.
Also, cotton is known to be durable. It can last for years without fading or losing color. As well as being comfortable.
People who wear cotton tend to say that it feels nice against their skin.
What Are Its Drawbacks?
While cotton is a wonderful fabric, it does have some downsides.
First, cotton is not naturally water-repellent. If you want to keep your clothes dry, you’ll need to add a waterproofing agent to the fabric.
Secondly, cotton is susceptible to mildew. This means that if you don’t clean your cotton regularly, it could start smelling bad.
Also, since cotton absorbs moisture easily, it can become uncomfortable to wear over time. It is also prone to shrinking and wrinkling over time as well.
Polyester: What Is It?
Polyester is a type of petroleum based synthetic fabric. It was created in the 1930s by DuPont. Since then, polyester has been widely used in clothing, furniture, and home decor.
Polyester is often referred to as a “synthetic” fabric because it is man-made.
In fact, it is actually composed of long chains of carbon atoms. These chains are joined together with oxygen and hydrogen atoms.
This makes polyester a highly flexible material. It can be stretched up to 20 times its original length.
That’s why it’s commonly used in stretchy pants, shirts, and jackets in active wear.
Polyester is also strong and durable. It can withstand high temperatures and even harsh conditions.
What Are Its Advantages?
One of the biggest advantages of polyester is that it’s very easy to care for. You just need to wash it on a gentle cycle and hang it to air dry. Otherwise, you may damage the fabric.
Another advantage of polyester is that its breathability allows it to wick away moisture. This helps to prevent sweat stains.
It’s also lightweight and soft. This makes it ideal for summer activities such as swimming.
Lastly, polyester is stain resistant. This means that it resists getting dirty quickly.
What Are Its Disadvantages?
As mentioned above, one of the disadvantages of polyester is that you need to take extra precautions when cleaning it.
Another disadvantage is that it tends to shrink over time.
Alongside this, it can feel quite cold to the skin when worn on the body and isn’t very sustainable.
The Difference Between Cotton and Polyester
Now you know what both cotton and polyester are. We will now go into detail on what sets these two fabrics apart from one another.
If a fabric or piece of clothing is breathable, then the fabric has the ability to allow moisture and sweat to escape from your body and out to evaporate.
While also, air is allowed to enter through the fabric to circulate you and the fiber s of the material.
Cotton is considered to be more breathable than polyester. This is because it allows moisture to pass through it.
As a result, this is why cotton has become the go-to fabric for breathable clothing, such as underwear.
However, cotton may be quite breathable and yet it absorbs water and tends to stay wet, instead of drying itself.
Penning the thickness of the cotton itself, this can vary how long the material will take to dry. However, you don’t want this if you are in a colder season or climate.
On the other hand, polyester traps moisture within itself. Thus, it doesn’t breathe one bit.
As a result, in hot weather, a piece of polyester clothing can be uncomfortable to wear, as the sweat and moisture from your body is trapped next to your skin.
Hence, the fabric then becomes wet and will cling to your body, which in turn makes it annoying and uncomfortable to wear.
However, as polyester is a synthetic material, it does dry very quickly. This is due to polyester not absorbing any moisture or sweat from your body.
It just stays on the surface of the fabric and will evaporate over time.
Thus, polyester may not be breathable, but it is water-resistant, which is a massive plus for someone out in wet weather or someone who enjoys intense exercises.
Polyester is known to be more durable than cotton. This is because it is made out of synthetic fibers.
Synthetics are usually stronger than natural fibers. They are also less likely to break down over time.
However, cotton is still durable in its own way, that is why it has been used for hundreds of years for clothing.
There are certain cotton fabrics that are much more durable than others, and this is due to the different weaves in the material.
The heavier the weave of the cotton, the stronger the material will be.
Cotton is actually stronger when it is wet, this is how it can withstand multiple hot washes.
Although, cotton can also be soft and damaged really easily. With cotton, it is all about how it is woven.
However, polyester is far more durable. As it is made from plastic, the fibers are actually resistant to creases, water and stains.
These fibers won’t break down, making polyester a very durable and longstanding fabric to use and wear.
The only issue with its durability, is that due to being made from plastic, it will last years on a landfill.
Cotton can be purchased in a range of different weights. This then makes it suitable to be worn all year round. It is a great material to layer either underneath or on top of another fabric.
Cotton can be worn in colder weather as long as it is worn with other layers.
This is because cotton is so breathable, it will allow airflow between all the layers, which will then create some insulated pockets. This will then keep you nice and warm.
However, cotton is known to absorb moisture and sweat from the body and remove it. Yet the material will still stay wet afterwards.
This then results in your clothing becoming cold as it is wet and will start to make you feel cold as well.
As we have established, polyester isn’t breathable, so there isn’t any air to flow around the material. Yet, this then makes it a very warming piece of material to wear.
Although, it doesn’t absorb moisture or sweat, so you will feel that against your body constantly, which could then make you feel cold as well.
As a result, polyester is best used as an outer layer in colder climates. A fleece jacket or a polyester shell will help to keep you warm by trapping heat inside.
Yet, as it is an outer layer it won’t touch the skin, so you won’t have to worry about the moisture from your body making you cold from the polyester.
Both fabrics are soft, but cotton feels softer than polyester. This is due to cotton being made with fluffy fibers of the cotton plant.
As a result, this is why cotton is such a good choice for clothing, especially when it’s made with 100% cotton.
Not all cotton that is produced is soft. The weave of your cotton will affect the softness of your cotton as well.
Whilst, polyester is a synthetic and artificial material which is produced from man-made fibers.
Therefore, it can feel a bit like plastic, as it does not have the same natural softness that natural fibers have.
This material has changed a lot over the years due to modern technology. Thus, it has become much softer and enjoyable to wear.
Polyester can be produced in different ways, and a double brushed polyester is an incredibly soft material.
Thus, as polyester is a synthetic material, its fibers can be molded and manipulated in any way the manufacturers like.
So polyester could be manipulated to have the same feel as cotton.
The thickness of cotton and polyester can vary depending on the weave and purpose of the fabric.
Both fabrics can be used to make from lightweight items to much more heavy-duty garments and items.
The thickness of any yarn or fabric is called the denier. Therefore, the denier is then referring to the number of threads per inch of material.
A fabric with a low denier will have a very thin weave. While a high denier will have a much higher weave. Both cotton and polyester have a similar thread count.
Yet a thicker polyester fabric will actually feel much lighter than a heavy cotton material. The reason for this is due to bulk.
Increasing the fiber count per inch in a cotton will then create a tighter weave.
Depending on the size of the yarn, the extra threads will then add additional weight. This is why a heavy cotton is so much heavier than a polyester of the same thickness.
Polyester is much easier to wash and look after when compared to cotton. This is because polyester does not form any wrinkles or creases and will dry quite quickly.
It also doesn’t stain and will repel water, which also helps it to dry so quickly. Also, you don’t need to iron polyester, so you can air dry and put it away in no time.
Yet due to the synthetic, plastic fiber, polyester is known to trap the odors from the last time it was worn.
So while dirt is easy to wash off, you need to add a bit more effort to get rid of any odors.
The key thing with polyester is to wash it as soon as possible to stop any odors from forming, and wash it often.
When it comes to washing polyester, you need to make sure you wash it at a low temperature.
As already mentioned above, as polyester is made from plastic, if you give it too much heat then it can actually melt.
Also, if you spin your polyester too much, it is known to pucker and pill.
Hence, polyester is the easier of the two to care for. Cotton is known to shrink, crease and wrinkle.
As a result, you will need to iron your cotton after every wash if you don’t like creases.
Alongside this, cotton absorbs water and moisture, so it takes a lot longer to dry than polyester.
Cotton is also known to stain quite easily, which means you may have to soak the cotton for a long period of time or use a stain remover to get the stains out.
However, cotton is much easier to wash than polyester. As cotton can be washed at higher temperatures, odor can be removed from the fabric much quicker.
Also, cotton is incredibly strong when it is wet, so when it is put through a spin cycle it will be able to handle the force with little to no problems.
You can expect to pay more for polyester than cotton. This is mainly due to the fact that it costs more to produce. Also, there are fewer factories producing polyester than cotton.
There are various different types of cottons out there, all that have a different quality and weight. This will impact the price that you will pay for the cotton.
The better the weave and quality of the cotton, the higher the price tag is going to be.
Long-staple cotton fibers are known to be the most expensive cotton to purchase. These fibers are the highest quality and the perfect for expensive clothing and bedding.
Long fibers will be used to make Pima and Egyptian cotton, both of which are seen as luxury items.
Compared with short-staple cotton that is used to make lower quality products like carpets. The quality isn’t as good, so the fabric is a lot more affordable.
While when it comes to polyester, it tends to be a lot cheaper than the majority of cottons. However, the price of the polyester will be affected by the popularity of the fabric.
Polyester is very easy to maintain, and a popular choice of fabric compared to cotton. It is also a much more affordable option when compared to a good quality piece of cotton fabric.
Natural fibers are often the best material for wicking and moisture. However, both cotton and polyester are the exception to this rule.
It is actually the synthetic polyester which is better at wicking away moisture than cotton.
However, it doesn’t wick away order. So polyester can wick moisture away and evaporate it. Yet it will hold onto the odor from your last workout. Thus, you must wash polyester quite frequently.
Compared with cotton, that just does not wick moisture away at all. Instead, it absorbs any moisture or sweat from your body.
However, this could be considered that wicking moisture away, as the cotton is absorbent and removing the moisture from your body quicker.
However, your clothing will hold onto that moisture.
Cotton and polyester can both be dyed. However, as cotton is made of natural fibers, it can produce much richer and deep colors than polyester.
Although, cotton can receive sun damage, where the colors will quickly fade.
However, while polyester may not produce as rich colors, they will last a lot longer. Also, you don’t need to worry about your colors fading either when it comes to polyester clothing.
Polyester has synthetic fibers and is resistant to shrinking. However, it doesn’t like to be washed on high temperature, as heat and plastic don’t go well together.
So if you wash your polyester on too high of a heat, it could melt.
Furthermore, cotton is known for shrinking. The first time you wash anything that is cotton, you can expect it to shrink in some way.
In the modern day, cotton doesn’t shrink as much as it used to, but it is always something to watch out for.
What sets cotton and polyester apart the most is what they are made from.
As we have established, cotton is made from natural fibers, while polyester is a synthetic material and petroleum based.
Due to polyester being a product of oil, it isn’t seen as a very sustainable product.
Polyester is very dependent on fossil fuels, and the manufacturing process doesn’t use much water.
As a result, polyester is made from a mixture of chemical based plastic fibers.
It is also created from polyethylene terephthalate, which is the same product that is used to create plastic water bottles.
However, today, plastic water bottles can be recycled. They are recycled into polyester thread, and the polyester fiber can be recycled as well.
Polyester isn’t a very environmentally friendly material as it does not decompose or break down, but parts can be recycled.
However, even though polyester doesn’t break down, that means they create very long-lasting items of clothing which will last longer than the majority of cotton made products.
Speaking of cotton, that is a very sustainable material. It is made from the cotton plant, and the items it is used to make are completely biodegradable.
100% of the cotton fibers are known to break down and can be turned into compost. The fibers can also be recycled into new products and garments.
Although, it isn’t all good news with cotton. It takes a lot of water to be able to process cotton.
From growing the cotton plants to making the clothing can take around 20,000 gallons of water. This figure can vary depending on the type of clothing that is being made.
Also, as cotton is made from a plant, the plant itself is prone to attacks from pests.
Then to be able to combat these pests, large amounts of pesticides are used throughout the whole growing process.
The chemicals used are known to contaminate water sources and the soil that the plants grow in.
Cotton and polyester can be used for similar things. They both are known to be made into items of clothing. However, certain garments are suited to a particular fabric than others.
Polyester is a material known to be used in artificial stuffing in products like comforters, sofas, and pillows. Alongside that, polyester fibers are used to make the following products:
- Plastic Bottles,
- High Strength Ropes,
If you are a musician, you will be aware of the coating on your guitar or piano. This coating is made from polyester.
Cotton is a very versatile material, where every part of it is used. Cotton is mainly used for various pieces of clothing.
However, cotton does have other uses that you may not realize. The processing of cotton seeds actually produces animal feed that is used for livestock.
Parts of the seeds that aren’t used for feed, are then turned into fertilizer instead. This then adds extra nutrients back into the soil.
The outer coating on the cottonseed is called linter. This contains very high levels of cellulose. Then this cellulose has been used to make plastics.
For example, a use of cotton based plastic is used to make TV screens.
PolyCotton: What Is It?
As the name suggests, polycotton is a mixture of both cotton and polyester. However, the percentage of the fibers from each fabric can vary.
Sometimes there could be a higher cotton content, yet for the majority of the time there is a higher polyester content.
Therefore, poly cottons are around 65% polyester and 35% cotton.
A benefit to polycotton is that it has the positive attributes of both cotton and polyester. It also counteracts all the disadvantages that either fabric may have.
Cotton and polyester were first blended together in 1960, by a joint effect by the American textile manufacturers, Bill Klopman and DuPont.
They realized that the 35/65 blend will produce a great formula for a very promising fabric.
Originally, polycotton was invented with the idea of workwear in mind. This is so they could withstand industrial washing.
After the 1970s, polycotton became an everyday fabric.
Now it is one of the most popular fabrics that you can buy today. This is because it doesn’t crease and is moisture wicking thanks to the polyester.
Yet it is also really soft and breathable due to the cotton. No wonder so many garments are made with this material today.
Cotton Or Polyester: Which Is Better?
It may be difficult to know which out of cotton and polyester materials you should be using. They both have their own pros and cons, but they are still both really popular fabric choices.
Polyester is a much cheaper option and is durable, water-resistant and crease proof. While on the other hand, cotton is much softer, comfortable, and cool to wear.
Cotton is a much better option for garments that are to be worn close to your skin.
However, it does come down to personal preference whether one is better than another. It also depends on the characteristics that you need of the fabric for your project.
This will affect which fabric you should choose.
There isn’t too much difference between cotton and polyester, excel one is made naturally, and the other is made from plastic.
We hope you have found this guide useful and that you can now tell the difference between cotton and polyester.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know which one to decide, and in these cases maybe you need to use a blend of the two.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Cotton Better For Summer Than Polyester?
Cotton is a more breathable fabric than polyester.
As a result, a cotton fabric is more likely to help regulate and keep your body temperature down during those hot summer days.
Although polyester has a moisture wicking quality that will keep you dry while sweating, it isn’t breathable at all and will retain all your body heat.
Is Cotton More Comfortable to Wear Than Polyester?
It is known that cotton can be a lot softer than polyester, which means it is a lot less likely to irritate your skin.
Also, the breathability of cotton makes it a more enjoyable wearing experience. For people with sensitive skin or babies, cotton is the better choice.
Are Children Allowed to Wear Polyester?
Polyester is not safe for babies, due to being made with toxic chemicals.
If the polyester gets too hot, it can release those toxic chemicals that could be really harmful for your child or baby to breathe in.