Wool vs Cotton Fabrics: Differences and Comparison

Wool vs Cotton Fabrics: Differences and Comparison

Jacket and brand comparisons are now a staple on our site. In such topics we explore different brands and jacket designs by learning more about them and their differences.

We followed the comparison pieces between jackets and brands with fabric technologies that are most commonly used in jackets to amp up their performance and, lately, have also gone a bit further, by looking at the materials that are used in jackets.

While Polyester and Nylon are the two most frequently used fabrics when making jackets, other fabrics and materials are also part of different designs.

In our efforts to bring you up-to-date information on choosing the best jackets and taking care of them in the best ways, we find it just as important to better understand the fabrics they are made of and the ways these fabrics are put to use.

Following our previous fabric comparison between Acrylic and Polyester, today we will take a look at two natural fibers, Wool and Cotton.

Contents:

1. Wool Fabrics

Wool, nature’s second best insulator right after down, is an animal-based fiber that is typically sourced from sheep of different ages and breeds, as well as a variety of other animals, including goats, rabbits and alpacas.

The most renowned is undoubtedly the merino wool, which is the preferred wool for luxury garments. Merino wool is incredibly fine and soft, giving the clothes that are made out of it all of the great benefits of wool with the addition of its exceptional softness and comfort.

merino sheep

However, while merino is more commonly used in regards to high quality wools, Angora is certainly the best of all wool types when it comes to its softness and it is sourced from four rabbit breeds, the French rabbit, the Giant rabbit, the English rabbit and the Satin rabbit.

While they are incredibly soft, they are not the most durable, which is why the blending of other fibers is necessary. There are ethical issues as well, related to the conditions the rabbits are kept in to protect the undercoat and the price is really high for this type of wool.

The other type of wool that bears mentioning is the Cashmere wool, which is sourced from the undercoat of the Cashmere goat.

Similar to merino wool, cashmere is also very fine and soft on the skin, but costs considerably more due to the small amount that can be sourced from a single goat.

The other types of wool that are also used are:

  • Mohair, from the Angora goat and has a frizzy look;
  • Alpaca wool, which is very fine and is also hypoallergenic;
  • Llama wool, which is coarser and not as common as the other types of wool;
  • Camel wool, which is soft and insulates very well;
  • Vicuna wool, which is regarded as the most expensive of all types of wool;
  • Qiviut wool, from the Alaskan musk ox, which is considered to be up to eight times warmer than sheep wool.

You might also like: Wool vs Fleece: What’s the Difference? Which One is Better?

Characteristics of Wool

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the properties of wool, which make it such a beloved fabric for many garments, blankets and rugs. We will discuss primarily wool sourced from sheep as it is the most commonly used one.

Wool is a very durable material that also exhibits flame-retardant properties, unlike most fabrics.

It is a naturally water-repellent fiber due to the presence of lanolin, a type of natural wax produced by wool-bearing animals, which coats and protects the fibers from getting wet too quickly.

Because it is so durable and flexible, it is a very long-lasting material that you can use for many years without quality loss. Add to that the fact that wool does not hold on to odors, it’s no wonder why it is so commonly used in undergarments and socks.

Wool is antimicrobial, too, it has great moisture-wicking ability, and it is also a very breathable material, on top of being really insulating as well, even when wet.

Lastly, wool is a sustainable material and does not come with many ethical issues because the animals, in the majority of the cases, are treated humanely and the shearing of wool does not require harming them.

2. Cotton Fabrics

Natural but plant-based, cotton is the most common fabric you will come across. From socks to underwear, T-shirts and jeans, cotton is a versatile material that is used for a variety of products, not solely limited to clothing.

Made out of thin tubes of cellulose, cotton, as a fabric, is very comfortable and can vary in thickness and weight.

Like wool, it can either be used on its own or blended with other fibers, such as polyester or elastane. Typically, when blended, cotton is a complementary fiber.

What we mean by that is that it is used in a smaller percentage in order to provide all of its qualities to the garment, while the main fabric, usually polyester, bears the weight of water-resistance and durability.

Characteristics of Cotton

Renowned for its great comfort and durability, cotton is an interesting material, which exhibits high absorbency despite originating from a hydrophobic plant.

As we mentioned in our Polyester vs. Cotton comparison, cotton, as a plant, is coated with a wax film that protects it from the elements out in nature.

The wax is then lost when the plant is processed and undergoes the purification process, which then creates the fibers that are used in making the fabric.

For those who have sensitive skins and are prone to allergies, cotton is a great choice as it is both soft to the skin and hypoallergenic.

While it is true that it has high absorbency, which can be an issue for those wearing cotton garments out in the rain, cotton is pretty breathable as a material.

Just like wool, it is a sustainable material due to being plant-based and it is also biodegradable.

3. Wool vs. Cotton: Comparison and Differences

Performance and Composition

These two fabrics are not that different in their overall composition and performance because they are both among the softest and most comfortable of the fabrics.

Wool, however, performs considerably better overall by having a longer lifespan and being much more durable than cotton.

It being anti-microbial and odor-resistant are two other important characteristics that add to the longevity and performance of the fabric.

It requires less washing, does not suffer from the typical smell of old clothing and it is extremely durable and flexible as a material.

Wool is also flame-retardant, whereas cotton needs to be treated to be so, otherwise it can light up quite quickly.

Weather Resistance and Warmth

Once again the better of the two, wool is very water-resistant as opposed to cotton, which soaks up water at a very quick rate.

This difference is primarily due to the lanolin wax present in wool fibers, which helps them repel water rather than hold on to it.

When wet, cotton is practically useless at insulating, which is another issue when using it in unpredictable weather. Wool, on the other hand, insulates even when wet.

There is a downside to wool, however, which is its long drying time when wet that can become an issue if you are to spend a long time in bad weather.

Breathability

In regards to breathability there are major differences as well.

Those of you who are experienced with wearing wool outdoors can attest to wool’s ability to wick moisture away and leave the inside of the garment dry.

Wool is a very breathable fabric and that is why several high-end sports and outdoor clothing companies are developing wool clothing for performance wear.

Cotton does wick moisture away but it is not as good as wool. Pair that up with its ability to absorb moisture and you’ll be soaking wet in no time.

denim cotton jacket

Care and Maintenance

Both of these materials are easy to care for, but wool requires a more gentle approach, whereas cotton does not really mind high water temperatures.

Cotton garments are also more durable to harsher detergents than wool ones, which are best cleaned infrequently and with a gentle detergent, preferably by hand.

Therefore, cotton has the upper hand when it comes to ease of cleaning, but it does require much more frequent washing than wool, however.

4. Use in Jackets

When it comes to being used in jackets, wool is the one that is used more frequently than cotton on its own.

Wool’s ability to breathe and insulate, while also being resistant to the elements, make it a suitable upper fabric in many winter jackets.

It is also used as lining in several designs due to its characteristics, as it adds to the warmth and comfort of the jacket, while also helping with moisture wicking and keeping odors off.

Cotton can also be used as a standalone fabric, primarily in denim or canvas jackets. These are jackets that require wax treatment to be weather-resistant, which is why they are used more as an insulating layer in dry weather rather than a multi-purpose jacket.

As for being used as lining, cotton’s softness and comfort is a good addition to any jacket, especially those intended for cold weather and long wear.

2 Comments

  1. Breathability and wicking are unrelated phenomena. Wicking is the transport of water in the liquid state; breathability is permeability to water vapor. Wicking ability is determined mostly by the chemical characteristics of the fiber; breathability is determined mostly by the weave and spinning of the yarns.

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