Knowing Your Fibers: The Difference Between Cotton and Polyester

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Cotton polyester poly-cotton diagramTwo of the most used fabrics nowadays are cotton and polyester, particularly when it comes to products like promotional t-shirts.  But what is the difference between cotton and polyester? Does it even matter? Let's check out what sets these two materials apart.

What is Cotton Made Of?

Cotton is made from a single large piece of cotton fibre. This makes it less durable than polyester but it’s also much softer and more absorbent. This means that it’s ideal for things like sheets, pillowcases and blankets. It also doesn’t tend to wear as well as polyester so you may need to replace items more often with cotton.

The Processing of Cotton

Cotton is a soft, lightweight fibre that is grown in warm climates around the world. The cotton plant is a herbaceous perennial and requires a long growing season with plenty of sunlight to produce high-quality yarn. After being harvested, the cotton crop must be processed before it can be used in products like clothing, sheets and fabric.

The first step in processing cotton is to remove the seed heads and other debris from the crop. This process is called "ginning." Ginning removes about 30% of the total cotton crop, which helps to improve yield and quality. Next, the cotton lint must be separated from the cotton fibres. This process is called "carding." Carding breaks down the fibres into small pieces so that they can be further processed.

The next step in processing cotton is spinning wool into thread. Cotton doesn't naturally form filaments as wool does, so it needs to be spun into the thread before it can be used in products like clothes or fabric. Spinning converts the individual cellulose molecules into short, twisted strands of fibre known as "fibres." The length and thickness of these fibres affect how strong fabric will be and how it will feel when you wear it.

The Properties of Cotton

Cotton is a soft, delicate fibre that can be used for a wide variety of products. It is breathable and comfortable. It is also soft, natural and hypoallergenic. Cotton is a popular choice for clothing, sheets, towels and even hygiene products, feminine pads and baby care items.

What is Polyester Made of?

Polyester is made from a different type of molecule than cotton. Polyester is made from "polymers" which are long-chain molecules. These polymers are twisted together into very strong strands. Because of this, polyester is much better at resisting wrinkles and bagging than cotton. This makes polyester a popular choice for products like clothing, bed sheets and upholstery.

Polyester is made from many tiny pieces of polyester which are then knitted together to create a fabric. This makes it very strong and durable, making it ideal for things like clothing and insulation. However, it’s also more heat-resistant than cotton so it can be used in hotter climates.

The Properties of Polyester

Since polyester is hydrophobic, the fabrics don’t really absorb perspiration and other fluids. The wearer will be left with a clammy, moist feel. More so, polyester fibres have low levels of wicking. Environmentalists, they raise eyebrows about the purchase and use of polyesters. These fibres are man-made and come from petroleum-based products, therefore, polyester is not sustainable nor biodegradable.

Cotton vs. Polyester

Cotton and polyester are very different. Cotton is natural, absorbent and breathable. On the other hand, polyester is synthetic, isn’t sustainable and repels water. Both of these promotional apparel have their pros and cons, make sure to select the best one that suits your needs.

Author Profile: Jasmine

Jasmine is the head of Cubic Promote's accounts department and has 14 years of experience in the promotional product industry. Because Jasmine's expertise is with the financial end of things she is an expert on budget-friendly campaigns and large scale promotions requiring additional logistics. Visit her on LinkedIn.

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