Polyester vs. Cotton: Comparison and Differences
Performance and Composition As we said, these two fabrics are very different regarding their composition.
Polyester is entirely synthetic and requires chemical reactions to be produced, whereas Cotton is natural and organic as a material, which then requires processing to be ready for textile use.
Cotton is far superior in its comfort and softness, even when wet, as opposed to polyester which might be very uncomfortable in certain instances, especially when it comes to shirts and underwear.
Cotton is also better at wicking moisture away from the body, and it is also far more breathable than polyester, which tends to stick to wet skin.
While polyester is also good at moisture wicking, which is why it is widely used for athletic clothing, cotton performs and wears better.
Polyester, however, is better at maintaining its shape as is not prone to wrinkling or shrinking, which cotton is notorious for.
Weather Resistance, Durability and Sustainability
Regarding weather resistance, polyester has the upper hand. The fibers are oleophilic, which in turn makes them hydrophobic, meaning that they do not absorb much water, but rather let it pass through. For this reason, polyester exhibits better weather resistance than cotton.
Cotton fibers are very absorbent and will hold on to water considerably and for a long time, leading to slow drying time, as opposed to polyester, which dries quickly.
As for durability, polyester, once again, fares better. The fibers are extremely strong and durable, while their flexibility also helps them maintain their shape for much longer.
Cotton does, however, make for a more sustainable choice due to being plant-based. But it is pricier overall than polyester, which is very affordable cost-wise.
Care and Maintenance
This is another category in which the two fabrics differ quite a bit. They are not difficult to care for and maintain, but there are certain things that bear mentioning.
Polyester washes better overall because it does not shrink, and it also holds onto colors much better.
Cotton will shrink with the first wash and requires a bit more care when washing and drying. It does, however, tolerate higher temperatures better than polyester and it can also tolerate high ironing temperatures.
Polyester will melt if it is ironed in high temperatures. Luckily it is not prone to creasing, which makes ironing unnecessary.
When it comes to stains, polyester is only susceptible to oil-based stains and odors, whereas cotton will be stained by pretty much anything that can stain it.
It can be cleaned, but in some cases the stain will require numerous washes and stain-removal treatments to be completely gone.
Does Polyester Shrink?
As we mentioned previously, Polyester is not a fabric that is prone to shrinkage when washed in a washing machine. Its synthetic fibers make it durable to heat, which is in contrast to cotton and other similar natural fibers.
If it is washed in the recommended settings, in accordance to the care label on the garment, then there will be no issues with polyester after its first or hundredth wash.
It is different when the drying machine comes into the picture. Many polyester garments will have the “Do not machine dry” warning on the label, and that is for one reason: heat.
Drying machine heat can and will shrink polyester, which can be either disastrous or useful when you are looking to shrink a large-fitting garment.