When shopping for socks, you’ll find that they are often made from a few different fabrics, with the most common being either polyester or cotton.
But, which is truly better?
Well, it depends on what you are looking for in a sock. Generally speaking, both fabrics offer their fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
We’ll go over some fundamental differences in this guide, but first, a summary:
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Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate) is an artificial fabric that is derived from petroleum. Many sock companies may rely on virgin or recycled polyester when making their socks.
Socks that contain polyester have several advantages over cotton and are as follows:
- Quick Drying: With no absorption properties, polyester naturally resists water – making this an ideal candidate for socks worn outdoors for athletic activities.
- Durable: Compared to cotton, polyester is much more durable and less likely to develop holes in the toe box or along the sole – leading to better long-term value.
- Moisture Wicking: Polyester will pull moisture away from the body. This helps reduce blisters and discomfort while walking or running.
- Holds Color Longer: Polyester relies on disperse dyes, small polar dye molecules that can dye thermoplastic fibers (source). Polyester is less likely to fade or discolor with time by relying on a disperse dye.
- Wrinkle Resistance: This is particularly important for dress socks as polyester is more rigid, making the sock look nicer.
Here are some notable disadvantages of socks that contain polyester:
- Severe Pilling: All fabrics are susceptible to some level of pilling. However, the pilling of polyester fabric can become tightly woven and challenging to remove. Shaving the material is often the best course of action.
- Heat Damage: While polyester is durable, it is susceptible to melting in the dryer. Excessive heat can warp the fabric or cause individual strands to break, resulting in damage or pilling of the sock.
- Odor Issues: While polyester socks wick moisture away from the skins’ surface, the fabric doesn’t ventilate well. Poor ventilation creates ideal conditions for odor-causing bacteria to grow, resulting in smelly feet.
Cotton is a natural fabric that is affordable and is available in several different grades. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of cotton socks:
Cotton socks offer some unique advantages over other fabrics, including polyester. The most notable benefits are as follows:
- Breathable: Loosely knitted cotton found in most socks allows for adequate ventilation within the fabric. This allows the feet to feel noticeably cooler and more comfortable, especially during warmer weather. Additionally, those with sensitive skin or allergies often find that cotton is less likely to irritate.
- Natural Fabric: When compared to polyester, cotton is environmentally friendly. Organic cotton, in particular, is grown without harmful chemicals that would otherwise cause damage to the soil, air, and water where it was grown.
- Brighter Colors: While not as long-lasting as polyester, cotton socks offer more vibrant colors, perfect if you prefer patterns or stripes in your socks.
- Padding: Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, etc., have more cushioning in the fabric. This can lead to a more supportive sock that is comfortable to wear.
When used as a fabric in socks, cotton does have some notable drawbacks:
- Blisters: Being a natural fabric, cotton will absorb moisture. When walking or running excessively, this added moisture to the material combined with friction can lead to blisters on the bottom of your feet.
- Durability Issues: Individual cotton fibers are much weaker than polyester resulting in socks that have a much shorter lifespan.
Ultimately Most Socks are Blends of Materials
Very rarely will you find 100% polyester or 100% cotton socks. Most companies will rely on a blend of natural and synthetic materials, including polyester, nylon, cotton, merino wool, spandex, and more.
These blends allow socks to enjoy several advantages over a 100% pure fabric sock, including increased durability, breathability, and ultimately comfort.