Cotton and polyester are completely different fabrics and widely used for clothing. With summer approaching, which one should you wear to stay cool and avoid sweating?
Cotton is a lot more breathable than polyester and will keep your body temperature lower in summer with air flowing on your skin. However, polyester is moisture-wicking and will keep you dry when you are sweating. Cotton is highly absorbent and will show sweat patches.
Cotton clothing is often cooler and more comfortable in summer. It's soft, breathable, and durable. Polyester is a technical fabric, often used in workout clothes, like nylon and elastane, because it's quick-drying.
Cotton is an excellent choice for non-active summer clothes. But if you are planning to workout in hot weather, it's better to avoid cotton completely.
It's also important to consider the environmental impact of clothes before buying them. Conventional cotton and polyester are both very detrimental to the environment.
Cotton consumes a lot of water to grow. It also requires tons of toxic chemicals in pesticides, fertilizers, and dyes. Polyester is a petroleum-based synthetic fabric. It isn't biodegradable and contributes to plastic pollution.
More sustainable fabric options are organic cotton and recycled polyester. Cotton grown organically uses natural pesticides and limits additional water. Recycled polyester is made from polyester waste or PET bottles.
Here is a comparison between wearing cotton and polyester in summer.
Polyester fabric in summer
Polyester remains the most used fabric in the textile and apparel industry globally. 55 million tons of polyester fibers were produced in 2018 in the world. It represents 52% of global fiber production.
China is the biggest producer of polyester worldwide. Half of its polyester is made in the Zhejiang region and a third in Jiangsu.
Polyester fabric is made from synthetic fibers derived from petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemical products. Polyester is also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Polyester is used in a large variety of garments that people wear in the summer such as shirts, dresses, pants, jackets, and undergarments. Many fashion brands and designers commonly use synthetic polyester fabrics for their new collections.
Polyester has many advantages over more natural fibers like cotton, especially in summer. It's affordable, durable, versatile, and lightweight.
Polyester is often blended with other materials to enhance its elasticity. It can be treated to be water-repellant, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying.
It's a great choice for those who sweat a lot, during an exercise session or spending some time outside in high temperatures.
Unfortunately, synthetic materials like polyester have a huge negative impact on the environment.
Read up my article on the fashion industry's catastrophic contribution to climate change to learn more about the impact of your wardrobe.
Polyester isn't biodegradable. It contributes to the global plastic waste crisis and microfiber pollution. It can take up to thousands of years to decompose in the oceans.
Clothes made with polyester fabrics threatens ecosystems, land wildlife, marine life, and human health.
Recycled polyester is already much better than virgin polyester. It can reduce energy consumption by 30-50%, water consumption by nearly 90%, and greenhouse gas emissions by about 60%.
Check out my list of sustainable synthetic fabrics for more information about recycled polyester.
Wearing natural cotton in hot weather
Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber for clothing and accessories in the world. 30.3 million tons of cotton are produced each year globally, according to the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The biggest producer of cotton worldwide is China with 6.1 million tons of cotton produced in 2018, followed by India (4.69 million tons), and the United States (4 million tons).
Cotton is a natural and bio-based fiber extracted from cotton plants that grow in subtropical countries around the world.
Cotton fabric is used in many types of clothes for hot weather such as crop tops, shorts, socks, underwear, shirts, hats, skirts, blouses, and dresses.
Cotton clothes are soft, versatile, comfortable, durable, and keep your body cool in hot weather. Cotton is also lightweight and one of the most breathable fabrics.
However, cotton wrinkles easily and is subject to pilling. Cotton also absorbs moisture rapidly. When sweat doesn't evaporate fast enough from clothing, it will leave sweat marks and keep the fabric wet.
Cotton takes much longer to dry than synthetic fabrics such as polyester. It depends on the temperature, atmospheric pressure, and humidity conditions. Cotton isn't a great choice in tropical climates.
Conventional cotton is mass-produced globally. Its production is getting more efficient and to make more profits without concerns for the planet and the welfare of farmers.
Cotton farming is detrimental to the planet, people, and animals. It destroys biodiversity and soil fertility with the use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers containing toxic chemicals.
Cotton farming consumes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides, according to the Global Fashion Agenda.
It also takes about 20,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans, as reported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
A better alternative is organic cotton. It's more eco-friendly since 80% of all organic cotton is grown with water form rainfalls, which reduces pressure on local water sources.
Organic cotton is also grown without man-made fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Organic clothing is the best choice if you suffer from allergies or chemical sensitivities.
The Textile Exchange's Life Cycle Assessment on organic cotton estimates that organic cotton farming can potentially save 218 billion liters of water and 92.5 million kg of carbon dioxide.
Learn more about the benefits of organic cotton compared to regular cotton in my article on the case for organic cotton.
Organic cotton is a natural fiber. It's bio-based, recyclable, and biodegradable. It's non-GMO and grown without harmful chemicals. It has many benefits for the environment and for our skin over regular cotton.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.