When purchasing an item, many people don’t know if it’s better to purchase cotton or polyester. Cotton has for years been touted as the best, most comfortable fabric in the world, while polyester, despite many redeeming qualities still battles a bad reputation. Upon close examination, you will find that cotton and polyester posses good and bad qualities.
Cotton and polyester fabrics are used for clothing and household linens. Cotton may be used to manufacture products such as compresses, gauze and bandages. A 2009 report from the Cotton Council reveals that cotton’s total economic activity is estimated at $120 billion. (see reference 1) Polyester presents more versatility. The product is used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, food packaging, x-ray films, videotapes, floppy disks, balloons and ropes. (see reference 2, 3) People who work with wood use polyester lacquers as a finish to seal their products.
Cotton is a natural material that is harvested from the cotton plant. You may prefer cotton because of its absorbency and the ability to allow the skin to breathe. Because of its strength, cotton maintains it structure when washed at high temperatures. Cotton can vary in quality depending on where the plant was grown and the thread count of the product. Polyester is a polymer that originates from chemicals and is produced using coal, air, water and petroleum products. (see reference 4) Polyester resists shrinkage, mildew and dries quickly.
In general polyester and other synthetic fabric blends are considered to be less expensive than cotton. However both cotton and polyester articles of clothing can range all over the price scale, depending on where they were made and what label they carry. Some 100 percent cotton items that are mass produced overseas before being brought over to the States and sold at chain stores at prices often less expensive than similar polyester items. (see reference 5)
Many people feel that using 100 percent cotton items is better for the environment than using man-made synthetic materials such as polyester. But no matter whether a material is made using cotton or polyester, the production of such materials requires a large amounts of water and energy and their manufacture produces pollution. The product of cotton may contribute to the deterioration of the environment since cotton plants are along the most pesticide-dependent plants in the world. (see reference 5)
Instead of focusing on cotton vs. polyester, considering fabrics that combine the best features of the two fabrics to form a durable, breathable, cost-effective blend. Poly/cotton blended products tend to hold their shape and keep their color longer than 100 percent cotton products. They also are more comfortable than products made solely of polyester. Items that blend cotton are mostly machine washable and don’t generally need to be ironed.