Cotton has been around since the beginning of time and it has proven its worth time and again. Nylon has not been around as long but many people prefer to have that fabric on when doing certain activities. It is still proving its worth.
The biggest difference is so obvious that even a child can see it. Cotton is a natural fiber whose source plant is grown around the world. Nylon is purely synthetic and is probably manufactured around the world. Most countries do not need to import oil to make this fiber.
To learn more about the differences between these two fabrics, just continue to read our article. It is filled with facts about both and shows you why these two fabrics are not the same nor fulfill the same roles in fashion.
These two fabrics come from different fashion families. It is not hard to see where they are different. But if you do not have time right now to read our full article, use this quick comparison chart to get the main differences that make these two fabrics individuals.
|origin||the cotton plant||harsh chemicals|
|years of use||thousands||since WW2|
|absorbency rate||approx. 25 times its weight||very low|
|wrinkles when washed||yes||no|
|shrinks in the wash||yes but usually only once||resists shrinking|
|strength||gains strength when wet||stronger than cotton|
|allergic reactions||very hypoallergenic||may cause skin irritation and rashes|
|durability||wear and tear shortens its life||very durable and lasts a long time|
|biodegradable||yes, and can be very quick||no, but eventually breaks down after many decades|
|breathable||very much so||not so much|
|application||a wide variety of uses throughout the fashion and other industries||has some fashion use, used in other areas like parachutes, rope, tires and more|
|stretch||has a little but not a lot||has a lot of stretch to it|
|bacteria resistant||only when cleaned||yes and it resists mold and mildew as well|
The fashion saying goes, the tighter to the body the less breathable the material. That saying holds true for nylon and cotton. While some cotton may be woven to be tight to the body, it is still more breathable than nylon. That is one of the drawbacks of synthetic materials.
They just don't breathe that well and cannot match up with cotton or other natural fibers in this category. Nylon is made to be close to your skin as it wicks away moisture quite well but that and its tight fibers mean that your body will get hotter when wearing this fabric.
Since cotton can be woven or knitted into different weights, thicknesses and has a natural ability to breathe, it is the better fabric here. Nylon is more for those activities that require a lot of physical movement like cycling, team sports, swimming while cotton handles how you look after the games are over.
It stands to reason that if cotton breathes well it is not going to keep you as warm as other fabrics will. This is true in this category as cotton needs layers to keep you as warm as nylon can. Nylon may be able to wick away moisture and keep you drier but it does not let the heat out and allow you to cool off as you go.
Cotton will absorb your sweat and the rain and once it has done that, it loses all of its insulating powers. When that happens the cold air takes advantage and creeps right through the clothing and chills you.
Nylon, in most cases, has a tighter weave than cotton does. That tightness removes any escape routes heat might have had if the weave was looser. Without those escape routes, heat has nowhere to go but stay close to your body. You get hotter with nylon and that is only good when it is cold outside or in the gym.
This is one of those dreaded depends questions. The sun can be a powerful object when fabrics are exposed to its rays for some time. Its rays affect almost all fabrics in some way unless they have been treated chemically.
But with cotton whether it has been treated or not, and if nylon has been treated or not, it will fade faster. Of course, if you compare treated cotton to untreated nylon the results may be different.
Fading has been an issue for quite some time. The different clothing manufacturers have spent years researching, testing, and examining this issue. The result of all this work is that they have found certain chemicals that help preserve the dye and keep the fabrics looking good.
If you do not want any fading taking place, look for those clothing items that are treated to be colorfast, etc. One word of warning though, do not assume they have all been treated in this manner. It is often hit and miss with cotton.
This is not really a contest at all. It is a given that almost all synthetic fibers are cheaper than natural ones. The only factors that would change this fact would be the thickness of the material, how costly it is to produce, and if the demand was extremely high.
Cotton is more expensive than nylon. It takes longer to grow the plant than it does to mix the chemicals needed to make nylon. Also, pesticides and herbicides cost a lot of money as well. The processing of cotton can be long and involved once you add up all the manufacturing costs.
Then the demand for cotton is high. Even though there is a huge supply and cotton is relatively cheap to purchase in different stores, it still will cost more because too many people want that material for their clothing.
Nylon is more specialized and not as widely used in fashion except as a minor blend so the demand is not that great for the material. Plus, the supply of nylon is probably greater than the demand. There is just too much nylon fabric sitting on the shelves to make it worth raising the price.
Before nylon and polyester were invented, manufacturers of webbing did not have a lot of fabric options when it came to making webbing. Hemp was suffering from a bad reputation and silk and linen were too expensive.
Given that nylon is stronger than cotton, more durable, and is extremely difficult to tear, it is the better fabric in this category. Cotton has a purpose in some netting but it will wear out in time especially after heavy use.
Nylon can endure heavy use, heavyweights, and stress better than cotton so it makes it the best choice for this fabric option. What makes cotton so attractive to most people is its softness but that softness does not hold up under the pressure netting gets.
Also, cotton tears very easily and that is not a good feeling when you are 10,000 feet in the air look down at the ground with nothing but a parachute holding you up. You will be very grateful that the parachute was made with nylon instead of cotton.
The same reasons why nylon is better in the previous section apply here as well. There is nothing wrong with cotton rope or lifting straps except that they may not hold the same amount of weight that nylon ropes and lifting straps can.
Nylon is made to be very strong and while cotton gets stronger when it is wet, that doesn’t make it stronger than nylon. Then nylon will last 4 to 5 times longer than cotton will.
That is because of its ability to resist abrasions. But that is not all, nylon resists the attacks of the sun’s rays and doesn’t deteriorate like cotton can when left in the sun. Plus, nylon resists bacteria, mold, and mildew. This will keep you healthier when handling it.
Finally, nylon is lighter than cotton and other rope materials as well as being able to float. That comes in handy when someone undoes the wrong end of the rope on your boat and the nylon slips into the water.
Cotton is going to be better here as the higher the cotton content, the softer and more comfortable they will be. The drawback to cotton socks is that they may not last and they will take a long time to dry.
Then cotton socks are very breathable, hypoallergenic, and are very lightweight. That makes them ideal for athletic activities. Don’t forget its absorbent qualities either. Nylon socks are cheaper and probably stronger than cotton ones but they cannot compete with the softness of cotton nor its comfort level.
But what most manufacturers do is blend the cotton with the nylon to make the ideal sock. The blend is stronger, stretchier, and more durable. without sacrificing softness or comfort.
Or when you can’t wear cotton socks to the formal event of the evening, nylon can be made into sheer socks and have a silky look to them. Cotton cannot beat nylon there. Nylon socks may be cheaper as well as some stores have them as cheap as $1 and the same stores may have cotton socks for $10 a pair.
One factor that might have you opting for a cotton thread over the nylon version is that cotton thread accepts dyes very well. Nylon, not so much. You may end up with a garment that has two color tones and those color tones do not match but clash.
But aside from that, nylon is stronger than cotton thread and lasts a long time. it can take the punishment daily wear provides and holds up well. Cotton may wear out just through the friction it goes through when you are walking or sitting, etc.
Then nylon will stretch when you are sewing stretchy fabrics. Cotton, not so much. with that said, nylon cannot match the softness of cotton thread nor can it match the endless colors that cotton can come in.
You can get a better fabric color match with cotton over nylon. Which thread you will use will depend on the type of fabric you are sewing or repairing. Cotton thread has some durability and versatility but it does not stretch very well.
Then if the clothing gets wet, cotton may get stronger but its lifespan will shorten. Nylon can get wet and not lose any of its lifetime. All you have to do is choose the right thread for the fabric you are working with.
If there was only one category to consider, natural vs. synthetic, then cotton would be the better of the two fabrics. It is natural, healthier to wear, comfortable and doe snot have the harsh chemicals that nylon has.
Unfortunately, there is more than one category to consider and overall, nylon may be better because of its strength, durability, ability to resist deterioration from the sun as well as not tear.
Yet, nylon is not as soft or as comfortable as cotton is. Nor can nylon match the look you get when you are wearing cotton. For different activities, cotton will be better than nylon and nylon will be better than cotton.
Where cotton stands out is that it does not have harsh chemicals that may be absorbed by your skin, unless it has been chemically treated in some way. That makes the biggest difference between the two.
The question you have to ask and answer is, ‘if you want synthetic materials made from oil products and chemicals next to your skin, or do you want natural materials?’ Nylon has its place but it won’t replace cotton any time soon.
You have seen the many differences between these two fabrics. Now it is time to look at the advantages and disadvantages of both materials. These strengths and weaknesses will help you decide where you should use either fabric or if you should use a blend of the two
Cotton is a very good fabric and you will find it almost everywhere. Its versatility is well known and it is not usually expensive unless you get the higher quality cotton options.
Nylon has its place and in some categories the better fabric of the two. But it is not for every aspect of life and won’t replace cotton any time soon.