The Difference Between Polyester and Cotton Which is the superior option? Update 06/2022

For both clothing and home decor, polyester and cotton are popular materials. A common misconception is that they are similar materials since they are utilized in many of the same ways. Is that the case? Which is better, and what’s the difference?

When it comes to manufacturing, polyester and cotton are very different. Synthetic polyester is derived from oil products and synthetic fibers. Textiles made from cottonseeds are an environmentally friendly option. Water-resistant, long-lasting apparel should be made of polyester. In the summer, cotton is the perfect material for breezy, cool clothing.

Is cotton or polyester better for your needs? There are both positive and negative aspects to this topic. Helping you choose the right sewing machine for your next project.

Polyester Vs Cotton

Polyester vs Cotton: Key Points

For both clothes and home decor, cotton and polyester are two of the most popular materials. People like them because of their practical features and distinct advantages. Even though they appear to be interchangeable in terms of their applications, there are some key variances.

  • In contrast to cotton, polyester is derived from petroleum.
  • When polyester is viewed as a cold, artificial material, this can be attributed to its synthetic origin.
  • Cotton is known for its softness and warmth.

With this analogy in mind, it is easy to imagine chalk and cheese. So, why are they both employed for the same purposes, and what makes one better than the other, exactly?

What Is Cotton?

Votton vs polyester

Hypoallergenic, airy, and cuddly, cotton is a popular natural fiber for clothing. For thousands of years, it has been employed in the manufacture of textiles all across the world.

Its popularity is based on the fact that it may be used in a variety of ways. Carpets, clothing, beds, and upholstery can all be made from cotton. Home sewers and clothing manufacturers love it because it’s versatile, malleable, and easy to work with.

For a variety of applications, it is available in three different fiber lengths. Long-staple fibers are used to make high-quality fabrics; medium-staple is used for everyday use; and short-staple is used for carpets and low-quality products like carpets and upholstery.

Pros

  • Breathable
  • Moisture-absorbing
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Versatile
  • Comfortable against the skin

Cons

  • Drying time is slow
  • Incurable wrinkles.
  • Shrinks
  • Over time, it wears out.

What Is Polyester?

Synthetic polyester is derived from petroleum. Many of the same products can be made with a lighter and more durable alternative to cotton: polyester. Polyester, a synthetic fiber created throughout the twentieth century, was first used as a clothing fabric in the 1970s, when it replaced cotton as a more affordable option.

Polyester’s synthetic makeup ensures that it will survive for a long time. Because of its moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties, it is a popular fabric for outdoor and activity clothing.

Pros

  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Simple to take care of
  • Crease-resistant
  • Quickly dries
  • Moisture-wicking

Cons

  • When worn, it resembles plastic in terms of its texture.
  • The skin can feel cold to the touch.
  • Breathes not
  • Too much heat causes it to melt.
  • It’s not possible to continue in this manner.

What’s the Difference Between Polyester and Cotton?

Difference between cotton and polyester

Breathability

Cotton has a high capacity for perspiration evaporation. When a garment is described as “breathable,” it means that it is capable of wicking away moisture from the body and allowing air to flow freely through the fabric. Fabrics like this have been used in clothing for millennia because of their unique properties. As a result of its capacity to breathe, cotton is an excellent choice for underwear.

Cotton has its drawbacks. Although it is a breathable material, it does not remove moisture from the body. When cotton is wet, it likes to stay that way. Depending on the fabric’s thickness, it may take a long time for it to dry completely. When it comes to frigid climates, this might be disastrous. Hypothermia can set in if you’re wearing a wet or slow-drying cloth.

In contrast to natural fibers, polyester is petroleum-based and does not allow for ventilation. In warmer climes particularly throughout the summer, this can make clothing unpleasant. As a result of this, there is a buildup of sweat on the surface of the skin. Wearers may experience discomfort as a result of the fabric becoming moist and sticky.

Polyester dries rapidly since it is a synthetic material. Due to the fact that it does not take in liquids. They float to the top of the water, where evaporation takes care of the rest. Having water-resistant clothing or rainwear is a definite advantage.

Durability

Cotton and polyester are both long-lasting materials, although they do so in different ways. The fabric’s strength comes from the varied weaves. Cotton twill, for example, has a longer lifespan than other cotton fabrics.

Fiber count per inch has a direct correlation to weave density. The fabric’s strength increases with the weight of the cotton weave. The fact that cotton is stronger when wet helps it to tolerate multiple hot-water washing.

Cotton, on the other hand, is extremely pliable and vulnerable to wear and tear. This is again due to the way the fabric is woven. Denim is far more durable than cotton lawn, for example.

They will decompose since cotton is biodegradable. Eventually, even cotton of a higher thread count will succumb to the test of time. Cotton is a victim of both time and sunlight. Cotton will disintegrate if these elements are present in excess.

Polyester is a very long-lasting material. The fibers are resistant to water, stains, and creases because they’re made of plastic, which is impermeable to water. The fact that they don’t degrade means that it’s durable and can tolerate a great deal of abuse.

When it comes time to dispose of polyester, problems with long-term durability may arise. Unlike other plastics, it cannot be decomposed and will persist for centuries in a landfill.

Warmth

Polyester versus cotton

Cotton is available in a variety of weights to accommodate the shifting temperatures of the seasons. As a bonus, it’s ideal for layering. The lightest summer top can be used as a layer under a heavier winter coat in the winter.

It’s perfect for cooler weather because it can be layered. Because of the fabric’s breathability, air is able to move between the layers, providing small pockets of insulation. You’ll be nice and warm if you wear underwear, a tee-shirt, shirt, and maybe a sweater.

Depending on the type of cotton, the weave might be heavier or lighter. Think of flannel or twill when you think of this. In terms of warmth, they’re both cotton.

A little too much heat can be a bad thing. Cotton wicks away sweat from the body and dries quickly. In spite of this, the fabric continues to be saturated with water. To put it another way, you’ll be exposed to the cold and uncomfortable feeling of having damp garments next to your skin.

Because polyester is not a breathable material, it cannot provide thermal insulation by allowing air to pass through. It can also make you perspire if applied directly to the skin. It is detrimental to your health to have moisture adjacent to your skin in chilly regions. It will lower your body temperature, causing you to freeze to death..

Up to a point, the material can keep you warm. Polo shirts and hoodies often feature fleece, a polyester fabric that is well-known in the outerwear industry. In spite of the fact that fleece traps heat close to the body, it is not the best insulation.

Also, it’s one of the few polyesters that isn’t water-resistant. Fleece will feel cold and wet if it is exposed to cold air or rain during the winter months. Fleece needs to be layered with cotton or wool items to be effective in cold temperatures.

In colder areas, polyester is best used as an outer layer. Warmth can be trapped inside a polyester shell worn over winter gear or even a fleece jacket.

Softness

Cotton is naturally soft since it is created from the fluffy fibers of the cotton plant. Because of this, cotton clothing, especially that made from 100 percent cotton, is incredibly smooth to the touch and luxurious to wear.

However, not all cotton is made in such a way that it is fluffy and soft. There are several different varieties of cotton cloth that fall under the umbrella name “cotton”. The level of softness you get depends on the weave you choose, which can range from a delicate cotton voile to a hefty cotton twill.

Denim and cotton canvas, both of which are made from cotton, are rough and harsh to the touch. Designed for severe use or industrial operations, they can resist a lot of abuse. This is reflected in the weaving.

When it comes to softness and coziness, though, nothing beats a good flannel shirt. This fabric is woven to preserve the cotton fibers’ natural suppleness. To keep you warm, this fabric has a tight weave.

Polyester is a synthetic fiber-based fabric. It has a plastic-like feel to it because it’s made from petroleum. In comparison to a natural fiber, it lacks the same level of cushiness.

However, the fabric has evolved over time. To make polyester more enjoyable to wear, modern technology has made huge leaps and bounds.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), like cotton, can be processed in a variety of ways. Using a double-brushed polyester fiber, for example, is one option. Comfortable to wear, it’s just as soft as its natural cousins.

As a synthetic fiber, polyester is highly malleable and can be shaped into any type of fabric. The coolness of plastic is retained by some fibers. The softness of cotton-like materials is replicated in other products. As a result, it might be difficult to discern whether a piece of clothing is made of cotton or polyester.

Thickness

Depending on the weave and the intended use of the fabric, both polyester and cotton are available in a variety of various thicknesses. Both materials can be utilized to construct products ranging from the lightest to the heaviest, despite their differences in properties.

The denier is a unit of measurement for measuring the thickness of a material. Thickness is measured in deniers, which is the number of threads per inch. A thin weave, such as cotton voile, would have a low denier. Corduroy, for example, has a higher denier, which indicates a thicker weave.

The thread count of the two fabrics is the same, yet the weights are vastly different. The lighter the heavier the cotton, the heavier the fabric will feel.

The higher the thread count of a polyester fabric, the thicker and more durable the weave will be. However, a heavy-weight polyester will feel lighter than the densest denim.

This is because of the weight. Tighter thread weaves are achieved by increasing the cotton fabric’s fiber count per inch. Extra threads can add weight depending on the yarn used in the textile. Heavy-duty cotton is made heavier than the same thickness of polyester by using a special process.

Moisture-wicking

Natural fibers are among the best materials for wicking away moisture. The only exceptions to this rule are cotton and polyester.

Because polyester is a synthetic material, it is better at wicking away moisture than cotton. For activewear, it’s a great choice because it allows sweat to dissipate.

It’s a disadvantage of polyester that it doesn’t remove odors. Drying swiftly, but retaining the smell of your last workout. The result is that it becomes a cloth that must be washed on a regular basis.

As a result, cotton does not function as a moisture wick. It takes it in and uses it as fuel. In some ways, this is preferable to having moisture removed from the skin. Staying cool is made possible by the body’s ability to absorb moisture and expedite its exit from the body. Soggy clothes is caused by the clothing’s ability to retain moisture. Despite how it may feel, wearing a sweat-soaked shirt while exercising in a hot environment can actually be beneficial.

Colors

Cotton and polyester

Cotton and polyester are both dyeable and color-retardant fabrics. Cotton has a deeper, richer color than polyester since it is a natural fiber.

Cotton, on the other hand, is easily damaged by the sun and its colors quickly fade. It shrinks as well. Because dyeing takes washing and drying, you may wind up with a garment that is too small because of this process.

When it comes to dyeing, polyester may begin with a less brilliant reaction, but it can hold onto the color for a longer period of time. The color of your favorite pink shirt will never fade or shrink because it is impervious to both fading and shrinking.

Polyester is not as easy to color as cotton. Dyeing synthetic fibers requires a unique dye that does not harm cotton. For a polycotton combination, this could produce some noticeable blotches. Similarly, dyeing cotton with polyester thread will not alter the color of the polyester thread at all.

Shrinking

Polyester resists shrinkage because to its synthetic makeup. The fact that it can be washed frequently makes it a popular choice for everyday use. However, it isn’t a fan of being washed in hot water. Polyester and heat don’t mix. Because it’s made of plastic, it’s prone to melting.

Cotton is well-known for shrinking. The most shrinkage occurs in the first wash and dry. This is especially true of denim, which is why people used to buy one size larger jeans in the past to account for shrinkage.

In the modern world, cotton fabric shrinkage is no longer a problem. Shrinkage in cotton garments has been lessened because to modern methods and the addition of stretch fibers or polyester.

Cost

The weight and quality of cotton can vary greatly. Depending on the weave and type of cotton used, you can expect to pay more or less. The more expensive the fabric, the greater the quality, weaving, and durability of the fibers employed.

The most expensive cotton fibers are those made from long-staple cotton. Long fibers result in a fine, long-lasting fabric that is perfect for high-end bedding and clothing. Egyptian and Pima cotton are two examples of long-fibred cotton that is considered a luxury material.

Carpets and low-quality items are made from short-staple cotton. Because the material is of lower quality, the final fabric is less expensive.

Polyester is generally less expensive than most cotton, although its exact price is influenced by the fabric’s current popularity and the popularity of cotton at the time of purchase. In general, it is less expensive than its natural fiber counterpart, despite some drawbacks.

With its stain- and wrinkle-resistant qualities, polyester is a popular fabric choice. Polyester is a cost-effective alternative to high-quality cotton.

Care and Maintenance

Polyester is more convenient to maintain than cotton in some respects. When it comes to drying, polyester is one of the fastest-drying fabrics. It’s water-repellent and stain-resistant all in one. Polyester has the added virtue of not requiring any ironing prior to use and drying quickly by air. Reducing the amount of time your clothes spend in a dryer and ironing will save you money.

It does have certain drawbacks, though. It can retain scents due to its synthetic fiber structure. Dirt and stains are easy to remove in a washing machine, but scents are more difficult to remove. A few days of neglect at the bottom of the washing basket may do a lot of damage. To keep polyester smelling fresh and clean, wash it frequently and as soon as feasible.

When washing polyester, there are a few things you should keep in mind. If you boil or wash it at high temperatures, it’s not going to like it. It also has a limited tolerance for rotation. If the fabric is roughed up, it will pill and pucker.

When it comes to washing and ironing, cotton is prone to wrinkling. That implies either a long time in the dryer or a day of drying on the line is required. The cloth is readily stained, necessitating the use of stain removers or even a lengthy soak.

Polyester is more difficult to clean than cotton. To get rid of the smells more quickly, the cloth can withstand higher water temperatures. Clothing with zips can be cleaned with cotton because it is less likely to snag. A powerful spin cycle won’t hurt it because it’s stronger while wet.

Sustainability

Cotton and polyester are created in vastly different ways. Cotton is a fiber made from the seeds of plants. Polyester is derived from petroleum.

Unfortunately, polyester’s beginnings as an oil-based product mean that it isn’t considered especially environmentally friendly. It may not take much water to make a product, but the process relies significantly on a different, rapidly diminishing natural resource. Fossil fuels are required to produce polyester.

Chemical-based plastic fibers are used to make the cloth. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the raw material for polyester. Plastic water bottles are made of the same material.

Using recycled plastic water bottles instead of virgin materials reduces the material’s carbon footprint. The polyester fiber that is produced from this process can be reused. Even yet, polyester isn’t a very environmentally friendly material because it doesn’t degrade or break down.

However, this can be both a detriment and a benefit. Polyester is a long-lasting substance since it does not degrade or rot. Outlasting cotton garments is a benefit of wearing synthetic clothing.

Polyester, on the other hand, is more environmentally friendly than cotton. Cotton is a natural fiber that is obtained from the plant. 100% cotton fibers are completely biodegradable and can be used as compost. Paper bags, for example, can be made from the fibers and then recycled into new products like clothing.

Cotton’s “sustainability” does have one negative, however. Cotton processing requires a lot of water. Depending on the type of clothing, each stage of the process can require up to 20,000 gallons of water.

Pests like the Boll Weevil can attack it because it’s made from plants. As a result, enormous quantities of insecticides are utilized during the growth process. Soil and water can be harmed by the release of these substances into the environment.

Although they are made in different ways, the sustainability of both is comparable.

Uses

Fabrics made of cotton or polyester can serve the same purposes. Each has a role to play in the creation of garments, and fabric is the most common. Even so, some situations require one or the other.

Artificial filling for pillows and comforters is made from polyester. Sofas, too, are padded with polyester. There’s more to come. Plastic bottles, high-strength ropes, hoses, and even balloons are all made from the fibers. As a musician, you may want to consider coating your guitar or piano’s wood with polyester.

One of the few materials where every part is put to use, cotton is one of those. Cotton’s primary usage is as a fabric for clothes, but it also has a variety of other applications.

Animal feed is made from cottonseed processing. This can be done by making fertilizer out of anything that isn’t eaten by animals.

Liners, the outer layer of fuzz that covers the cottonseed, contain cellulose. Plastics can be made from this cellulose. In the production of television screens, cotton-based plastic is used.

What Is Polycotton?

Polycotton is a polyester-cotton combination. The ratio of one fiber to the other varies from batch to batch. Cotton content can be higher on occasion. When it comes to polyester content, it’s usually the most prevalent. Around 35 to 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton are the typical percentages in today’s polycotton.

Polycotton is a fabric that combines the advantages of both cotton and polyester. The advantages of one cloth are balanced out by the flaws of the other when they are mixed.

In the 1960s, an American textile maker, Bill Klopman, and a corporation called DuPont collaborated to create the first combination of the two textiles. Successful fabric was created by combining 65/35 with the right amount of polyester.

The fabric was originally designed to endure industrial cleaning. Since the 1970s, it has become an essential piece of clothing for most people. This combination of polyester’s crease-resistant characteristics and cotton’s cool, breathable feel makes polycotton one of the most popular garment fabrics on the market.

Which Is Better: Cotton vs Polyester?

When comparing polyester with cotton, determining which is the superior fabric is a difficult task. They are all flawed in some way. When it comes to fabric, this means that they’re both popular options.

For everyday use, polyester’s water-repellent toughness and crease-resistance make it a better choice than cotton. Cotton is superior to polyester as a fabric for clothing worn adjacent to the skin because it is softer, cooler, and more comfortable.

It’s entirely up to the individual whether or not they prefer one over the other. It all depends on what you’re working on and what kind of cloth you require.

Conclusion

Cotton and polyester have very little in common. This complicates the decision-making process. Their strengths and weaknesses are unique to everyone of them. The truth is that the best option isn’t either/or. In between the two extremes.

I hope this guide helps you choose the right fabric for your project. Let me know in the comments whatever type of material you prefer to work with.

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