How do you choose your socks?
Are you the type that chooses them based on how they look?
Or, perhaps you choose them based on a colour criteria?
Or how they match your outfit for the day?
All extremely valid reasons!
What about choosing them based on its material?
There are many different types of yarns available to make socks.
But today, we will be discussing the most common 2 types - polyester and cotton, as they make up 70% of the socks manufactured around the world.
1. Polyester or Cotton Socks
Polyester or Cotton Socks
Each material has its own benefits depending on what you’re using the sock for.
Are you using them for everyday wear? Or perhaps for sports?
Do your feet get sweaty easily? Or do they get cold in the winter?
These are some of the questions you should ask yourself before you decide what socks to purchase.
What Is Cotton?
Without a doubt, cotton is widely used in the apparel industry.
Just take a look at your closet, a good portion of the apparel inside should be made of either cotton or a cotton blend.
Cotton is a natural fibre that is obtained from cotton plants. You can find cotton attached onto the plant around the seeds.
As a natural fibre, it is strong and durable, and provides a good texture.
Because of this property, it is often used to make intimate garments like underwear and socks.
Organic cotton is a type of cotton that is grown in fields that are free from pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers.
In addition, organic cotton is manufactured without the use of chemical agents during the manufacturing process.
Thus, this eco-friendly fibre option is not only great for humans, it is also great for the Earth.
The name “recycled cotton” can be misleading.
Many incorrectly think that recycled cotton is the fibre that is reused after disassembling clothes.
However, the correct definition of recycled cotton is cotton made from unused fibres that did not meet the product specifications during the manufacturing process.
Mercerization is the process of dipping cotton fibre into a special solution while pulling at it.
This process produces a silky luster in the cotton.
Besides a silky shine, the fibre is less likely to wrinkle and also has a higher absorption rate.
This allows colours on the mercerized cotton to appear more vivid and bright.
When making yarn, a process called “carding” is performed to remove unnecessary fibres on the surface of the yarn.
This process creates “card yarn” and it removes approximately 5% of the unnecessary portion.
Combed yarn is yarn that has undergone a “combing” process that removes unnecessary fibres remaining on the surface of the card yarn by up to 20% to improve the uniformity of the fibres.
Minimal amount of lint will appear on the fabric surface even after washing.
Compared to card yarn, combed yarn requires more processing to create.
Also, more unnecessary fibres are removed so only approximately 70% of the amount of cotton is made, which makes combed cotton a luxury.
What is Polyester?
Polyester is a synthetic material that is warm and soft. It is arguably more durable than natural fibres and can last a lot longer than cotton, when cared for properly.
Polyester holds onto colours much longer and better than cotton.
Grab your brightest-patterned socks from your sock drawer.
There’s a high chance they’re probably made of polyester or part polyester.
Pro and Cons of Cotton
Pros of Cotton
Cotton, by nature, is very soft and fluffy.
To make it soft, cotton fibre is spun into yarn or thread.
Because of its softness and stretchiness, cotton is extremely comfortable and thus a popular option for undergarments.
Cotton is a breathable fabric that allows air to circulate to help with drying out moisture and sweat.
#4 Good for Sensitive Skin
For people with sensitive skin, organic cotton is a great option.
Since it is not treated with any types of chemicals in the production process, it is a natural and safe alternative for people with delicate skin.
#5 Holds Colour Well
Treated cotton holds more water content than regular cotton.
With that being said, cotton that has gone through the mercerization process can hold up to 25% more of dyes, allowing the fabric to appear more colourful and vivid.
#6 Not Harmful for the Environment
Cotton is a natural fibre that grows from cotton plants.
Certain types of cotton are manufactured without the use of any chemical agents.
Hence, this eco-friendly fibre option is not only great for humans, it is also great for the Earth.
Cons of Cotton
#1 Slightly Higher Price
As a natural agricultural byproduct, the price of yarn is based on the crop cycle.
There are so many factors that cause the increased price of cotton compared to other materials like manual labour, dependency on natural elements such the weather,
#2 Does Not Dry Properly
Compared to synthetic materials, cotton absorbs water much more easily.
Water molecules attach themselves longer to cotton, making it harder to dry.
Pro and Cons of Polyester
Pros of Polyester
If you looked at a piece of polyester fabric under the microscope, you will see plastic fibres tightly and finely woven into each other.
The molecules are hard to pull apart, making it extremely durable and resistant to breakage.
#2 Colour Does Not Fade
Polyester holds onto colours much longer and better than cotton and other natural fibres.
The result is less dye transfer and fading in the wash.
#3 Dries Quickly
As a material, polyester is not absorbent which means it does not hold onto moisture.
Hence, water and any moisture content, like sweat, will dry quickly.
#4 Keeps Our Feet Dry
The non-absorbent nature of polyester means it is moisture-wicking.
It pulls moisture away from the fabric and does not retain water content.
#5 More Affordable
As a petroleum-based man-made synthetic material, polyester is mass-produced and therefore a much more affordable and economic alternative to natural fibres.
#6 Stain Resistant
Synthetic fibres are generally better at resisting stains as they are not as absorbent as their natural counterparts.
Cons of Polyester
#1 Not as Comfortable as Cotton
Polyester fibres are more abrasive and are not soft like cotton.
Their durability makes them a great choice for outwear garments, but not an ideal option for intimates like undergarments.
#2 Not as Breathable as Cotton
Polyester is not breathable like cotton. The material can be suffocating for everyday and prolonged usage.
#3 Not Absorbent
If you’re looking for a pair of socks that will absorb sweat and moisture from your feet, polyester may not be your best option as they are not absorbent.
However, its non-absorbent nature can actually be an advantage.
Its non-absorbent nature means it can dry quickly, keep our feet dry and also stain resistant.
Depending on Activity, Is Cotton or Polyester Better?
If you ask me which one is better, it is actually quite difficult to give a definitive answer without some background information as to the usage of the socks.
Like how you wouldn’t wear a pair of wool socks on a warm spring day with your flats or a pair of polyester ped socks in the winter with your rain boots, the material of your socks really depends on what you’re using them for.
Let’s take a look at a few activities and see what type of material is ideal in each situation.
Socks for Everyday Wear
For everyday wear, cotton is much more comfortable over polyester.
Unlike polyester, cotton is soft and stretchy.
If your lifestyle consists of a lot of walking, cotton proves to be a much better and protective barrier to friction between your feet and shoes than other materials.
Socks for Hiking
Cotton and polyester are both good choices for hikers.
It depends on what you’re looking for.
The absorbent nature of cotton means they will draw out moisture from your feet.
On the other hand, polyester’s non-absorbent nature makes it moisture-wicking and does not allow moisture content to be retained.
Socks for Running
Synthetic materials, like polyester, wick moisture away from the surface of the skin.
They work great for feet that tend to sweat a lot.
Socks for Skiing or Snowboarding
The best type of socks for snow-related activities is merino wool.
A thick sock will collect sweat and hold it close to your feet. Their bulky size tends to bunch up during the day of constant and active movement.
Merino wool, while keeping you warm, will help keep the moisture away from the foot.
Other Popular Sock Materials
Merino wool, is one of the finest wool materials that can absorb moisture quickly.
It has a high heat retention rate, which makes it a great choice for cold climates.
The thin and lightweight nature of silk socks, make it a perfect sock liner.
They have fantastic moisture-wicking absorbency and are extremely comfortable to wear.
Nylon is a versatile material.
While alone, nylon socks are water-resistant and not breathable, it is usually added to other fibres in blends.
By adding in nylon fibres, the new blend will become stretchy and more durable.
Bamboo socks are breathable socks that can keep your feet dry.
Bamboo socks are made from extracting and steaming the softer components of the bamboo tree, such as bamboo leaves and the inner pith.
Angora wool comes from the fur of angora rabbits. The result is a very warm, luxurious and plush yarn.
Angora wool is more than 5 times warmer than sheep’s wool, making this option perfect for extremely cold climates.
Cashmere wool comes from the cashmere goats or other breeds of goats. The resulting fibre is much warmer than sheep’s wool, while not as warm as angora wool.
It is very insulating, and is quite commonly seen in the apparel industry as luxurious and high-end apparel.
Each material has its own benefits and downfalls.
While there is no “better” material, we urge you to look at the usage of your sock before selecting the material.