In this article I’m talking about cotton versus wool.
Let’s begin with the pros and cons of cotton.
Cotton is a cellulose fiber, just like linen and hemp, which means that it’s grown from a plant.
Now it has this pros absolutely, it’s inexpensive, oftentimes you’ll find a cotton piece to be half the price of the exact same thing made out of wool.
Depending on the weave, cotton can actually be more breathable than wool. That actually has to do with the individual fibers, which are a lot smoother than the coarser fibers of wool, which tend to trap warm air.
Cotton is also very strong. It can be spun very tightly to form very fine yarns, which could then be woven into nice lightweight fabrics, making it ideal for the warmer climates.
Cotton is also great for people with sensitive skin. So if you’ve ever broken out or had irritation because you’ve worn something, most likely cotton is gonna be your best friend.
Some of the cons of cotton.
It does not insulate well, especially when compared to wool, especially when it’s wet. So if you’ve ever worn a wet t-shirt or a wet pair of jeans, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It seems to suck the heat right out of you, even if it’s warm outside.
Cotton is also less durable than wool.
Here’s something that blew my mind when I found this out!
You can bend cotton about 3,000 times before it breaks. Wool on the other hand can go over 20,000 bends before it breaks.
Finally cotton is actually worse for the environment compared to wool due to the huge amount of land and the huge amount of water that you need to yield a decent cotton crop.
Cotton is also hydrophilic or water-loving, which means that it loves to absorb water. Now this could be a good thing depending on its use.
If you’re looking at something like a handkerchief, which you’re wiping your brow with, then that can be fine. But if it’s against your body, like a shirt, more than likely you’re gonna want something that wicks moisture away.
Wool is a protein fiber which means that it comes from an animal just like hair or fur. In this case we’re talking about sheep.
The pros of wool are many, but let’s begin with its elastic properties.
It can hold a shape very well and this is why you see a lot of fine garments made out of wool, suits and outwear, all kinds of stuff that’s made from woolen fabrics, because of its ability to hold a shape well.
If you’ve ever had a nasty wrinkle in a suit or anything that’s made out of wool, you know how hard it can be to get that crease out. This is a perfect example of how well it can hold on to a shape.
Wool is also more durable being able to bend over 20,000 times before breaking, which also means that it’s the best material to find secondhand.
For example, I have my father’s old Filson Mackinaw Cruiser, probably from the late 70s early 80s and it looks like it’s brand new. The color saturation and all that stuff is still great. It has been worn hard but it almost shows no wear.
That’s a perfect example. So if you find something that’s made out of 100% wool, chances are it’s taking a beating, but it really doesn’t show its wear. That’s why it’s an excellent choice for second-hand goods.
Depending on the weave. wool can also achieve a better loft. which means that I could trap warm air against your skin making it a better insulator.
A perfect example of this is look at the really cool old flight jackets that they used to wear in planes before heat was available in the cockpit.
These used to keep bomber pilots warm because of that thick woolen material against their skin.
Wool also has moisture wicking properties, which means that it gets sweat away from your skin fast.
Nowhere else is this more important than on your feet, which have more sweat glands than any other part of your body, getting that moisture away from your skin is essential to comfort.
In fact, wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water while retaining 80% of its insulating properties, which means that if you’re caught out in a storm with something that’s wool, it’ll keep you warm even if you’re getting wet.
Wool is also fire retardant, meaning that if you get sparks on you, then won’t flame up, like a wick from a candle, which is made out of cotton.
It’s also water-resistant due to the lanolin that naturally occurs. This is only if it hasn’t been washed and that lanolin has been removed. If it’s natural wool, then it still sheds water nicely,
Wool is also naturally antimicrobial and renewable.
When you shear a sheep, if it’s done properly that sheep is going to keep giving you wool.
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Now as much as wool may seem like nature’s natural performance fabric, there are a few cons.
Wool is expensive. Something made out of wool is gonna be twice what it would cost if the same piece was made out of cotton.
Wool can be difficult to clean. There are companies who are making wool which you can launder at home but for the most part if you have a nice woolen garment you’re gonna want to get it dry-cleaned.
Finally it can be less durable than cotton, especially if it’s handled improperly, if you put it near a high heat source or if you go and hang it up while it’s still wet.
Wool really isn’t very strong when it’s wet. You have to take care when you have these nice woolen products and they’ll last you a long time.
There you go. These are some of the pros and cons of wool versus cotton.
I’m a wool guy! I absolutely love it. I think it’s well worth the investment.
A lot of times if you’ve bought a pair of wool socks, you’ll just keep wearing them and washing them and wearing them and washing them and they’re gonna live for a long time. I have a pair of wool socks that I’ve had for 15 years.
They’re well worth the increase in cost, it’s for that durability and just for the comfort factor.