I recently had to buy new sets of socks and it was an interesting experience because I was shopping off the top of my head. I got a pair of soft 100% cotton socks, 2 pairs of wool socks, and some synthetic socks blends. I spent about $30 on all 5 pairs of socks and decided to compare the two most common materials that you can find in most stores – cotton and polyester.
Cotton socks are soft and lightweight and so are very breathable. When you put on cotton socks, you get this feeling on your feet as though the air can still get in and that’s why most people stick to cotton most of the time. Another important advantage of cotton socks vs polyester or other sock materials is that it is very hypoallergenic. This means that if you suffer from any allergies at all, they are unlikely to be worsened by your cotton socks when compared to materials like wool and polyester.
One downside that you can instantly expect with cotton socks is that they are not very good at wicking away moisture. Cotton socks will instantly get soaked and soggy when you sweat on your feet either from exercising or hyperhidrosis (a condition that causes excessive sweating, especially on palms, feet, and face). So if you’ve got any fungal toe infection or you’re feet smell really bad when you take off your shoes, cotton socks might make these conditions harder to deal with.
Benefits of cotton socks
- They are really soft and comfortable.
- Breathable socks that are great for work shoes and home use.
- Cotton is a natural and biodegradable material (great for the environment).
- Natural cotton socks are hypoallergenic.
- Readily available in many stores
Disadvantages of cotton socks
- Poor moisture-wicking properties
- Cotton socks have a short life-cycle.
Polyester is a very strong synthetic fiber that is used widely in making clothes because of their strength, ability to resist wrinkles, brighter colors, and forming a nice blend with cotton. It is a bit uncommon to find 100% polyester socks because they are used extensively together with other materials. Polyester socks hold colors better and last longer than cotton socks. They are also lightweight and soft, but not as soft as cotton or wool socks.
One very important reason to choose polyester socks over cotton socks is that they can dry very fast. This is one key reason why they are an important blend in many moisture-wicking socks. They also last longer than cotton socks or wool socks and are cheaper to buy.
READ ALSO: The best socks for sweaty feet
Benefits of polyester socks
- Polyester socks are very durable and rarely lose their form.
- Polyester socks dry faster compared to cotton socks.
- It is easily made into different colors and designs without the use of toxic dyes.
- Breathable and lightweight socks
- Used in blends with many other materials
Disadvantages of polyester socks
- It’s hard to find 100% polyester socks
- Can be uncomfortable in hot weather
- Synthetic polyester socks are not biodegradable.
How would you know a good pair of socks?
When you find that you need new pairs of socks, you should avoid the high-price trap. Unlike most other clothing, more expensive socks do not mean better socks. In fact, many socks you can get for $5 or less are very good pairs for you. Here are some factors you should consider.
Most socks in stores today are blended materials. When I mention blends, this means that there are at least two different materials that have been combined in the sock so that each material contributes its unique properties to the sock. That being said, you should look out for the dominant material in every blend. For instance, a blend of 70% cotton, 20% polyester, and 10% spandex will be more similar to other cotton socks than polyester.
So consider the materials used in the socks and buy which material suits you best. Remember that cotton blends are not the best for sports and that polyester blends are more colorful, durable, and dry faster.
A note on Moisture-wicking socks
Moisture-wicking socks are those socks that can absorb the sweat on your feet and distribute it throughout the sock material to keep your feet dry and prevent the sock from getting soggy and soaked. There are so many benefits to wearing moisture-wicking socks including preventing blisters and sores from forming on your feet, preventing stinky feet, and preventing growth of fungi on your feet.
When it comes to moisture-wicking socks, the researched and proven best material is merino wool. So if this is your main concern, you can search specifically for merino wool socks or blends primarily made with this material. Cotton is bad at moisture-wicking and polyester is just ok.
Many manufacturers have crafted their own moisture-wicking socks blends that you can also buy. Check out my list of the best moisture-wicking socks to buy.
A sock mostly protects your feet and keeps them dry. Regardless, you could be buying socks to use on different occasions such as staying at home, going to an office or desk job, running, yoga, taking a walk or other sports activity. Different socks are better suited to different uses.
I would advise that you get a few pairs of different types and wear for different activities. Get a pair of cotton socks for your casual and work use, wool socks for your exercise or staying warm in the winter, polyester also for work use and some minor sports, silk and cashmere socks for sleeping or wearing around the house, etc.
Cotton vs Polyester socks – Use cases
|Cotton Socks||Polyester Socks|
|Degradable||Biodegradable.||Do not naturally breakdown.|
Both cotton and polyester socks are not ideal for sports as I have already mentioned. However, polyester socks can at least dry out quickly and help to keep your feet dry during your sports activities. You can also find polyester or cotton socks blends with wool and spandex that work well for sports.
Socks for hot weather
Both cotton and polyester socks are breathable and allow for air to get to your feet while you’re wearing them and also disperse heat coming out of your skin. But polyester socks tend to become tighter with heat and so can become a bit more uncomfortable in hot weather. So cotton socks and blends are your better option for hot weather.
Socks for cold seasons
If you constantly have cold feet due to poor circulation or just cold weather, both cotton socks and polyester can keep your feet warm indoors but are not the best options. They are lightweight and breathable, which although are good qualities, are not helpful when you’re trying to warm up your feet. What you should be looking for instead, are heavy socks with good insulation. If you must choose between cotton and polyester, then cotton blends will be more suitable for cold seasons.
If you’re rather looking for colorful socks then simply go for polyester socks. Polyester is able to retain colors and is highly stain and dye resistant. They do not fade easily unlike cotton socks. This means that your colorful polyester socks will still pop after lots of use and washing. And the material is more durable than cotton, so it’s an easy choice to go with polyester if bright sock colors interest you a lot.
Comparing cotton vs polyester socks can often come down to the finer details as they are two very similar materials. Cotton socks and blends are better for casual and indoor use, while polyester socks and blends are stronger, more colorful, and can work for a variety of uses. What you should do, like myself, is to buy different pairs of cotton, polyester, and wool blends and use them differently, depending on the activity.