Polyester vs Cotton: Which is Better for Shirts?

Do you prefer polyester or cotton?

This is one of the first questions we ask during a consultation about garments. How would you answer? Most people fall into one of three groups: pro-cotton, pro-polyester, or don’t know and/or don’t care.

No matter how you feel about the fabrics, it’s good to know the features of both cotton and polyester. This will help you choose the right garment for the job and spend your money wisely. If you are not sure which fabric you should choose for your next apparel project, don’t worry. We’re here to help.

Cotton – What is It?

Cotton has been used in cloth and fabric for thousands of years. It is made by harvesting the natural fibers from the boll of the cotton plant, spinning them into yarn, and weaving or knitting it into fabric.

Why do we love cotton?

Comfort! Cotton feels lightweight on the skin, is super soft, and does not cling. Also, it is hypoallergenic, making it a great choice for sensitive skin.

Pros and Cons of Cotton

Pros: Cotton is more breathable than synthetic fabrics; many say that cotton feels lighter weight than polyester as well. These qualities make cotton the perfect choice for warm weather.

Cons: The natural fibers in cotton garments may wear faster and shrink more compared to synthetic fibers. It is also slower to dry.

Cotton has a reputation for wrinkling. If this is your concern, you will be pleased to learn that many 100% cotton apparel items are now non-iron. Non-iron cotton garments are easier to care for and they will not lose their polished, wrinkle-free look throughout the day. (check out a quick read on how cotton is made non-iron.)

When Should I Choose Cotton?

  • When garments will only be worn and washed once or twice a week – cotton is more delicate
  • When screen printing – ink adheres better to cotton
  • When you have sensitive skin – cotton is hypoallergenic

Examples: Giveaway tees for your next tradeshow; button up shirts for summer sales calls; commemorative polos for your company’s next event

Polyester – What is It?

Polyester fabric is made from synthetic polyester yarns that are woven or knit together. The yarns are manufactured with customizable qualities and dimensions.

Why Do We Love Polyester?

Easy care and great performance! It never shrinks, will not fade, and does not wrinkle. It is extremely durable and holds up especially well to frequent washing and wearing.

Pros and Cons of Polyester

Pros: Polyester wicks moisture away from the skin and is quick to dry. This makes it a preferred choice for athletic wear and work uniforms.

Cons: Polyester is less breathable than cotton. Polyester also has a reputation for being clingy or feeling heavy and irritating on the skin.

When Should I Choose Polyester?

  • When garments will be worn and washed several times a week – polyester is easy to care for and durable
  • When you need safety gear – polyester does not fade
  • When you need to look wrinkle and sweat free – polyester is a performance fabric
Examples: Uniform shirts for machine operators or custodians; golf shirts for tee times with clients; safety tees for road maintenance or lawn care workers

Blended Fabric – What is It?

It is fabric that consists of more than one type of thread. In this case, we are referring to fabric that combines cotton fibers and polyester fibers.

Why Do We Love Blends?

You can get the best of both worlds! Cotton-poly blends combine the softness and lightweight feel of a cotton garment with the ease and durability of a polyester garment.

Pros and Cons of Blended Fabric

Pros: Cotton-poly blends have a soft feel and higher absorbency than 100% polyester. They’re easier to care for than 100% cotton and they have great moisture wicking ability.

Cons: This blend may be more irritating to sensitive skin than 100% cotton. Blends are not as durable as a 100% polyester garment.

When Should I Choose a Cotton-Poly Blend?

  • When you want the soft feel of cotton, but don’t want to worry about it shrinking
  • When you want the moisture wicking properties of a polyester garment, but don’t want the clinginess of 100% polyester
  • When you need a uniforming solution that is super comfortable and easy to wear without sacrificing durability

Examples: tees for your servers or bartenders; year-round polos for office-wear; ¼ zip pullovers for layering

Frequently Asked Questions

Does polyester or cotton hold up better over time?

Polyester is more durable than 100% cotton. If your activities require frequent or heavy duty washing, polyester is likely the better choice.

Most people agree that cotton is more comfortable than polyester. This is because cotton is more breathable and feels lighter and softer on the skin.

Both fabrics work well with screenprinting but ink adheres better to cotton.

Polyester is generally considered to be more “easy-care” than cotton. That’s because polyester doesn’t fade and it’s more resistant to wrinkling than cotton. It’s also quicker to dry than cotton. Polyester doesn’t need as much attention when washing.

We’re Here to Help!

Here at Midwest Stitch, we make it a goal to inform our clients of options available to them. We enjoy consulting and creating solutions tailored to your unique needs and preferences.

Our showroom is a valuable resource for our customers. We’d be happy to show you the different fabrics available so you can feel them with your own hands and even try them on. Whether you are on team cotton, team polyester, or somewhere between, we’ll make your next company apparel project a success!