So, what’s the big difference between cotton and polyester fabric? There are those who swear by cotton, but that cheaper polyester is pretty tempting, isn’t it? You may think that the lower cost of polyester means a lower quality product, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
Polyester is great for some projects, while cotton is ideal for others. The real trick is to weigh the pros and cons to decided which is the right choice for you. Some people only want to work with 100% cotton because it’s so easy to sew and is predictable; you know exactly what you’re getting. Others prefer polyester because it’s long-lasting and less expensive.
Let’s go over each.
Breathable – as a natural fiber, it lets your skin breath. It also wicks away sweat, keeping your body temperature stable.
Soft, but strong: The fibers are less rough than polyester, so it feels super soft on your skin. It’s also very strong. This being said, cotton is designed to be rough, like heavy duty cotton canvas, don’t fit in with the “soft” characteristic.
Great for Sensitive Skin: Because it is so much softer, those with sensitive skin tolerate 100% cotton better than polyester. With all the organic craze going on, you can get cotton fabric with the bare minimum chemicals; even better for sensitive skin.
Easy to Dye: The fibers hold dye incredibly well. It also tends to dye evenly and produce a truer, deeper color. However, with excessive expose to sunlight and time (decades), the dye will eventually fade.
Biodegradable: breaks down over time: Cotton isn’t as durable as polyester in the long run. It’s a natural fiber, it will eventually break down. However, proper care, like keeping away from excessive sunlight, can prolong the life of cotton.
Long Lasting: Polyester is a man-made fiber; it’s basically plastic. In fact, plastic bottles are actually recycled into polyester fabric. Amazing, right? According to study, polyester is not compostable, meaning it doesn’t break down well in soil. Think about this in a landfill.
Less Fading: Boy, does this stuff hold dye! Quality polyester also holds shape very well and doesn’t shrink.
Dries Quickly: Unlike cotton, polyester isn’t absorbent. It’s definitely not your go-to for towels or mug rugs. However, it dries super fast. So if you want to reduce that electricity bill, you might want to sew polyester clothing.
Less Wrinkling: It’s most resistant to wrinkles than cotton. This is awesome in clothing, but a pain when you are trying to finger press quilt blocks.
Non-Breathing: Polyester doesn’t let your skin breath like cotton. For instance, if you wear a polyester shirt in summer, you might find yourself pretty sweaty.
*That being said, there are many performance-wear polyester products that DO wick sweat away from your body, but it really only works if the fabric is skin tight (not a great look on all of us). And, if you buy a cheap product, there tends to be a weird after smell.
This is literally, the best of both worlds. Developers take the best qualities of both and weave them together to make one heck of a fabric. This stuff is GREAT for apparel and home decor.
Now, quilters will still tell you to stick to 100% cotton, and they have good reasoning too say that. It’s easy to use and will shrink at the same rate across the board.
So, for beginners, stick with the 100%. As you gain confidence, so ahead and dip into the cotton/poly mix. You’ll be glad you did!
What about the environment?
This can make or break it for some people. Many people prefer cotton because it is a plant-based product and is sustainable. Now, take a look at the two photos below.
Pretty similar, right? The top image is a cotton factory and the bottom is a polyester factor. Yup, that’s right. Either way you cut it, both fabrics are created in power-sucking, smoke-stack factory plants. Both go through multiple chemical processes to make the final product, and both products will be shipped around the globe. Even when you consider that polyester can be made from recycled plastic bottles, check out the huge process it goes through:
Consider all those chemicals pumped into the atmosphere and all the energy use to power the plants.
So, before you go hating polyester, just know cotton has a dirty side, too. Cotton farming uses the most pesticides of any crop in the world. Every time it rains or the plant decomposes, chemicals leak into the ground water and surrounding water sources. But wait, there’s more. Cotton takes a ton of land to grow, and that land has to be watered…a lot! Then, it all needs to be harvested by huge farm equipment, and I bet you they don’t run on solar power.
Want to really be eco-friendly? Up-cycle and buy from thrift stores. Or start your own organic cotton fields, hand pick and process, then weave your own fabric. I guess that would be the most idea. Personally, I’m sticking with off the bolt. Hey, I recycle. Don’t judge.