Difference between Cotton and Polyester

Updated on April 25, 2017

Cotton and polyester are two of the most common types of fabric. In fact, the shirt you are wearing now is probably made of either of them. But would you be able to tell the difference between a cotton shirt and a polyester shirt (without labels)? If you’re clueless, this article is for you. This article will discuss the difference between cotton and polyester.

Descriptions

Cotton

Cotton is made from the soft, fluffy fiber collected from the cotton plant, particularly the genus Gossypium. The fiber, which is mostly composed of cellulose, is spun into thin threads for weaving.

The first use of cotton dates back to the prehistoric times. Nowadays, cotton is widely used to make a range of items such as bed sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths, thread, casual dresses and shirts, and baby apparel.

Cotton is a great material for clothing because it holds shape well, does not pill, dyes evenly, and produces a deep color. Because it is made from natural materials, it is hypoallergenic and is less likely to irritate sensitive skin. In fact, most baby items are made from cotton fiber. It is also soft and breathable enough to keep you cool when the weather is warm.

However, cotton is not usually used for winter garments as it does not insulate well. It also does not dry quickly, making it prone to mildew. Aside from this, cotton ignites easily and is prone to tearing, wrinkling, shrinking, and fading. Additionally, can be expensive in some countries.

Although cotton is considered environment-friendly because it is biodegradable and renewable, many groups contest this as there are also environmental issues involved in growing cotton plants. The plant is susceptible to cotton leafworm, boll weevil, cotton flea hopper, pink bollworm, conchuela, and spider mites, which is why it is highly dependent on pesticides.

On the other hand, polyester, which is a shortcut forpolyethylene terephthalate,” is a petroleum-based man-made material. Some types of polyester contain both natural and synthetic raw materials like polybutyrate and polycarbonate. Polyester is very similar to plastic.

Polyester was invented in the 1940s by British and American scientists. Nowadays, it is extensively used in a wide array of products such as clothing, home furnishings, yarn, ropes, conveyor belts, computer mouse mats, electrical insulation, and even recording tapes. It is readily available and cheap.

Polyester is resistant to mold, cold, ignition, water, and wind. It dries fast, is very durable, and can withstand frequent washing and exposure to strong detergents. It holds shape well and does not stain, wrinkle, shrink, or fade easily. It also has a sheen which is perfect for gowns and other formal wear.

However, polyester is not breathable and not absorbent, which means if you wear a polyester shirt on a hot day, you will easily sweat and may feel sticky, itchy, or rough. It is also not environment-friendly as it does not break down, even after several years.

Cotton vs Polyester

What, then, is the difference between cotton and polyester?

One of the many differences between the two is that cotton is made from the fiber collected from the cotton plant, whereas polyester is a petroleum-based synthetic material.

Both can be used to make a wide array of products, but polyester is more versatile than cotton. Cotton is mostly used for clothing, home furnishings, towels, yarns, and threads, but polyester can also be used for industrial items such as conveyor belts, electrical insulations, ropes, and even recording tapes.

Cotton and polyester are extensively used to make clothing. Cotton gives you a relaxed, casual look while polyester has a distinct sheen which makes it ideal for formal wear. However, cotton is preferred by many for its smoothness (it does not pill), softness, and breathability. Polyester, on the other hand, is preferred for its resistance to shrinking, wrinkling, fading, cold, ignition, water, and wind. This is why most winter clothing is made from polyester and not cotton. In general, polyester is also more budget-friendly that cotton.

Additionally, cotton is the more environment-friendly option, since it is grown naturally. It is sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable, although some types of cotton are grown using tons of pesticides. Polyester is like plastic which means it does not break down, even over time.

Comparison Chart

CottonPolyester
Made from the soft, fluffy fiber collected from the cotton plant, particularly the genus GossypiumA petroleum-based man-made material; may be composed of both natural and synthetic raw materials like polybutyrate and polycarbonate
Was used as early as the prehistoric timesWas developed in the 1940s
Widely used to make items such as bed sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths, casual dresses and shirts, baby apparel, yarn, and threadUsed in making clothing, home furnishings, yarn, ropes, conveyor belts, computer mouse mats, electrical insulation, and even recording tapes
Holds shape well, does not pill, dyes evenly, and produces a deeper color; hypoallergenic and is less likely to irritate sensitive skin; soft and breathable; highly absorbentResistant to mold, cold, ignition, water, and wind; dries fast, is very durable, and can withstand frequent washing and exposure to strong detergents; holds shape well and does not stain, wrinkle, shrink or fade easily; affordable
Does not insulate well and does not dry quickly; prone to mildew; ignites easily; prone to tearing, wrinkling, shrinking, and fading; can be expensive in some countriesNot breathable or absorbent; may feel sticky, itchy, or rough
Biodegradable, sustainable, and renewable; also has environmental issues because pesticides are used to grow the cotton plantDoes not break down; not renewable
Has a casual, relaxed look which is why cotton fabric is mostly used for casual apparelHas a distinct sheen which makes it ideal for formal wear
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