Cotton is the most common material used by companies to make socks.
The reason is simple:
Cotton is breathable, comfortable, and reasonably durable, but most of all, it’s cheap.
We deep dive into the benefits of cotton socks and how they compare to other materials.
One of the biggest advantages that cotton has over all other sock materials is breathability. Cotton keeps your feet cool, dry, and comfortable when worn during the summer. Some folks have equated cotton socks as a “built-in air conditioner” for your feet. As a result, foot odor is less of an issue with cotton socks.
However, this does come at a disadvantage. Cotton socks are not as warm as other materials, so they are not ideal for cold weather. Instead, you may want to wear merino wool, alpaca, or even synthetic materials like polyester.
However, sweat absorption for cotton socks is a bit more complicated. While cotton cannot wick away moisture like nylon or polyester, commonly used in athletic socks, it is much more absorbent.
This means that cotton will soak up sweat and keep your feet dry. For mild to moderate sweating, cotton is better suited than other materials.
Common types of cotton found in socks
When comparing cotton to other materials, comfort is highly subjective. To further make things more complicated, cotton comes in many different grades and qualities, including Supima, Pima, and regular cotton. Here’s what you should know when it comes to comfort:
- Supima cotton: This is a long staple cotton that is durable and soft. It is the highest quality cotton and is used in many high-end brands. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive.
- Pima cotton: Pima cotton is the halfway point between Supima and regular cotton. It is important to know that this term is loosely defined, resulting in varying degrees of softness and quality. It should be softer than regular cotton but not as soft as Supima.
- Regular cotton: This is where you’ll find mass-produced cotton socks as it is the lowest quality and most affordable cotton available. It should be soft and comfortable, but it may feel rough or scratchy on the skin after washing several times.
Cotton is a natural fiber grown from a plant rather than being synthetically made in a factory. Depending on the production method and fertilizer used, cotton can be a sustainable crop with very little environmental impact. While the regulations aren’t as clearly defined as some industry leaders may like, organic cotton should be a good choice for those who are concerned about the environmental impact of their clothing.
Organic cotton should be made from non-genetically modified seeds and not be treated with pesticides or other chemicals (source).
As an added benefit to the natural origin of this fiber, it is compostable and biodegradable – assuming the sock does not contain synthetic materials like polyester or rayon.
With regular wear, cotton socks will develop holes more quickly when compared to many other materials found in socks.
Common points of wear include the ball of the foot, toes, and heel. This occurs much more quickly when wearing thin cotton socks.
Cotton socks we recommend
Here are a few cotton socks that range from 100% pure cotton to those with a negligible amount of other materials:
- Cottonique Cotton Socks (100% cotton)
- Maggie’s Organics – Organic Cotton Classic Crew Socks (98% organic cotton, 1% nylon, 1% Spandex)
- GoWith Unisex Natural Cotton Socks (97% cotton, 3% elastane)
Cotton vs. other materials
Curious how cotton compares to other materials? Here are a few comparisons:
- Wool socks: These socks have a higher price point and provide better insulation. Cheaply-made wool socks can be itchy and uncomfortable, but high-quality wool socks are soft and comfortable.
- Bamboo socks (Rayon): While the name may suggest eco-friendly, bamboo socks can have quite an impact on the environment. The cellulose of the wood pulp is treated with harsh solvents. Despite this, rayon socks are often softer than cotton socks but not nearly as absorbent.
- Polyester and Nylon socks: Spun from thermoplastic polymers, these socks are very durable and moisture-wicking.
- Alpaca socks: These socks are made from the fur of the Alpaca, a South American animal. Like wool, it carries anti-microbial properties and is very warm. It is also very soft and comfortable. Alpaca socks are also very expensive.