Superpowers are always compared. This is true in politics, foreign policies as well as fashion. The two superpowers in the fashion industry are wool and cotton. They play a dominant role in what fashions are created and how comfortable you will be. Which is better is a question for you to answer.
As you already know cotton comes from a plant and wool comes from a variety of animals found around the world. That is the biggest difference between these two top fabrics. Winter brings out another difference as wool insulates better than cotton does.
To learn more about the differences between these two super fabrics, just continue to read our article. It has the facts about both materials helping you to use both to their best potential. It will only take a few minutes of your time to get these facts.
Both of these fabrics are ideal for clothing, bedding, and other applications. They serve you well and are very natural using very few chemicals in their construction. If you do not have a lot of time, use this quick comparison chart to see the many differences between these two super fabrics.
|Origin||The cotton plant||Sheep, goats, oxen, yaks, alpacas and other animals|
|Years of use||Thousands of years||Thousands of years|
|Insulation powers||Depend son the weave but fairly good||Much better than cotton|
|Texture||Soft, smooth and comfortable||Thicker than cotton, a little rougher and can be itchy|
|Breathable||Very breathable||Not as breathable as cotton|
|Versatility||Very versatile||Limited in applications|
|Moisture||Absorbs a lot of moisture||Able to wick that moisture away|
|Seasons||Best for summer and hot weather||Best for winter and cooler days|
|Laundry||Easily washed and dried||Most variations need hand washing or dry cleaning|
|Cost||A lot cheaper than wool||Some varieties can be very expensive|
|Warmth||Can keep you warm except when wet||Warmer than cotton especially when wet|
Keep in mind that both fabrics can be woven into different thicknesses, styles, light or heavyweight, and so on. Each style will have different qualities not reflected in the above chart
Not necessarily. Wool is by far warmer than cotton in most weaves or knits styles used to create the different fabrics. But cotton can be woven into very thick material making it better at keeping you warm than some wool options.
The thicker the fabric the harder it is to breathe. But generally, wool is considered to be the warmer of the two fabrics and it works wonders in winter or late fall when the temperatures drop.
Depending on the wool material you may find that wool may be warm but it is also itchy. That is something cotton does not do to you. It is a smooth fabric that works with just about every skin type.
Wool socks are always warmer than cotton ones and when the wool gets wet, it still keeps you insulated from the cold air. Cotton loses its insulation powers once it gets wet and you will feel colder when it does.
Generally, you will find that cotton is the most breathable of the two materials. We say generally because there will always be a weave style or thickness that makes cotton difficult to breathe in.
But cotton tops the list when it comes to breathing ability. Wool is not mentioned on some of the fabric breathing lists even though it will do that for you. Different wool varieties will have different breathing ability and if they come in a tight weave do not expect those materials to surpass cotton in this situation.
The lighter cotton weaves will be better at breathing than the heavier ones. Plus, the thinner material will breathe better than the thicker ones. Cotton is one of the most breathable fabrics out there so you will always be cooler when wearing this material than when you wear wool.
When it comes to this competition, wool is better than cotton. The latter fibers can be bent about 3,000 times before they will break. Wool fibers, on the other hand, can bend about 20,000 times before they will break.
That fact makes wool more durable than cotton. Then wool will retain its good looks even when it goes through some rough treatment and it is bent a lot. This is the durability you want when you are wearing socks.
Also, wool has flame resistant or retardant properties making it better at handling fires than cotton. Then with its water repelling nature moisture doesn’t weaken the fabric. Cotton does get stronger when wet so this aspect of the competition would be a tie.
When it comes right down to it, if the weather permits and some wool options are good for the summer, wool is the better fabric to wear when you want the clothing item to last.
Usually, towels are made from cotton and not wool. Terry cloth cotton is the go-to fabric when making towels but other cotton varieties are also selected for this duty. Cotton absorbs 27 times its weight so it is the logical choice when it comes to bath, hair, or beach towels.
But, there is a European company, Portugal to be country exact, which is starting to add about 5% wool fibers to its cotton towels. It is said that the addition of the wool material makes sure you get greater absorbing power and luxury.
If you get these towels, you have to be more careful in their care. The towels need to be washed in cold water on gentle without any chlorine bleach. Then tumble dry on low heat. In addition, certain household cleaners should not be applied to these towels including hydrogen peroxide, toothpaste, and facial cleansers.
Wool is said to absorb more water than cotton even though the latter can absorb up to 27 times its weight. The amount of water absorbed is not the key factor here. It is important but not the key issue that makes wool better than cotton.
Wool does not lose its insulating power when wet. You still stay warmer wearing wool than you would with cotton and wool will dry faster as well. Then cotton may gain strength when wet but strength doesn't really contribute to warmth.
The fabric may be stronger and last a little longer but the insulation properties are gone when cotton gets wet. The cold air has a bridge through the fabric which it takes advantage of.
In winter or rainy seasons, wool is the better sock material to wear as your feet should stay drier and warmer than if you wore cotton socks.
Some cotton materials can be expensive, for example, Pima or Egyptian cotton, but the cost of those materials may not touch the cost of cashmere, merino or alpaca, and other wool products. Cotton can be grown around the world and with some countries’ extended growing season produce more cotton than wool.
That supply helps cut the price of the material down. Some wool-producing animals can only be shorn once a year so that limited supply boosts the price of wool. Then the size of the herd is a factor as well. Some herds are not that large anymore while cotton can be grown in great numbers.
Both that and the fact that wool can be very smooth and luxurious contribute to the high cost of wool. The quality of both fabrics plays a role in the price of the materials and cotton is usually on the cheaper side of the scale.
In this competition, wool provides you with better insulation, better fashion style, as well as quick-drying and warmth. Wet or dry wool will top cotton in keeping you warm. It will also give you a more sophisticated look especially when you wear cashmere or some other top quality wool material.
Where cotton beats wool is in the lack of itchiness that comes with this fabric. Many inexpensive wool materials can be very itchy while cotton is smooth all the time. You get great comfort when wearing cotton. The other category where cotton will top wool is in the price.
Unless it is really fine cotton material in the sweater, cotton will always be cheaper than wool. It is hard to be more expensive than cashmere, merino, or alpaca wool products. And there are even more expensive wool sweaters than those wool options.
Cotton is for the everyday man who does not need to look sophisticated. They just need a good sweater to stay warm in.
If you want durability, comfort, the ability to change colors, and warmth, then you should choose the wool yarn despite any weaknesses. Wool is actually a type of yarn while cotton is not. Cotton has to be made into yarn while wool only needs to be spun to be considered that option.
Then the yarn is best used for knitting and weaving although it can be twisted into embroidery or sewing thread. To create wool yarn, the fleece is categorized into several different sections- fleece, broken, pieces, bellies, and locks.
These categories make sure the yarn is uniform in texture and grading. The fleece yarn is what is usually used to create wool sweaters and other clothing items. Cotton cannot match the quality that wool provides for yarn but it has its place in the weaving and knitting industry.
For summer, it would be cotton socks all the way. Unless you happen to have a good pair of merino wool socks. The latter can help keep your feet cool and moisture-free. The cotton sock will be a lot cheaper than the wool alternative.
When you are doing physical exercise or heavy labor that will make you sweat, then wool socks will be best. They wick away the moisture while the cotton will absorb it and cool your feet down considerably.
Also, your feet will never get dry until you take the socks off and shower. Then along with being comfortable, wool socks will last longer than cotton ones. It is a tough fabric that does not tear as easily as cotton can. Give wool socks a shot when you do your daily workouts to see the difference between the two fabrics.
Some of the issues with cotton are that they will tear or receive holes due to the stress the blankets are under. Wool blankets only tend to get holes because moths have been able to land on them and have lunch.
Of course, cotton will be the cheaper blanket to buy but the wool may be more durable and stronger than cotton. Both blankets will be soft, with some qualities of the wool blanket being itchy and not comfortable to sleep under.
But wool has an advantage when you go camping. It resists sparks and flames due to its natural ingredients that are not found in cotton. With its nitrogen and water content, wool needs more oxygen to burn than cotton does.
The good news is that when both cotton and wool burn, they do not release any toxic fumes like synthetic fibers will.
First, the good news. Both fabrics are from natural sources. This means that there is little need for chemicals in the processing of the fibers. The lack of chemicals makes sure the air and water and ground are not as polluted as synthetic fabrics do.
Second, the bad news, at least for cotton, is that it is not as environmentally friendly as wool is. The cotton plant needs a lot of water to grow properly and that need is translated into being environmentally unsound.
For wool, the animals that grow the hair for the many variations it comes in do not need as much water as cotton plants do even if they are members of large herds. That is a big concern here- the amount of water consumed for each product.
But this is not cotton’s fault as that is the way it was made. It is the way nature wants it and we just have to be careful with our water supply
One thing about cotton and its easy care. If the clothing goes through many washes the fibers tend to break down and the clothing will wear out. This is not so much a problem with wool pants as this fabric needs to be dry cleaned and does not endure the same amounts of water that cotton pants do.
Then, cotton pants are best worn when the temperatures are well above zero. They are usually thinner than wool pants and breath much better. Wool pants are best worn in the winter or the cooler days of the year. They retain heat better and are thicker materials.
The big difference will be in the cost of the pants as well as the cost of the cleaning.
This is a good topic as while you want the best breathing material as your base layer for comfort and coolness, you want the best material for the job. That is usually merino wool.
Cotton is good at breathing but when you are hiking it will soak up the moisture and lose its insulation properties. In turn that will cool you down too much, plus cotton takes a long time to dry. Also, cotton creates a lot of foul odors when wet.
Wool resists creating those odors and it is still quite comfortable and smooth against your skin. That is if you get the right quality. In addition, wool dries quicker and wicks the moisture away also you stay warmer at greater heights.
Generally, that would be the consensus as Merino wool is a good wool fabric. It can be smooth, not itchy, warm, as well as good looking. Plus, it can be durable and helps keep odor away.
But there are good cotton fabrics that would be close to this material and there will be supporters for both sides of the argument. This question is best left up to you and your experiences with both materials. As your time with wool and cotton will depend on the quality you buy.
In this competition, it is hard to decide which is better as both are natural products and both have excellent qualities. They also have their best times of the year with cotton better in the summer and wool in the winter. So do yourself a favor and stock up on both materials for the best results.