All fabrics consist of fibers which are either man made or natural and that is significantly longer than it is wide. These fibers are then made into yarn which are long lengths of interlocked fibers. Lastly these fibers are weaved by a process of interlocking two distinct sets of yarn to form a fabric. The tighter the weave the heavier the garment, in other words a greater amount of yarn is used to make a piece of fabric. With this background lets discuss the difference between polyester and cotton.
Polyester is the most popular and widely used fabric in the world, and it is manufactured from polymers which is derived from petroleum. Polymers is a substance whereby a molecular structure is built up from a combination of many similar units bonded together. Thus, Polyester is a man-made fiber which is only manufactured in countries such as China, USA, Taiwan, India, Japan and Indonesia, with China being the biggest exporter of Polyester.
On the other hand, cotton is a natural fiber grown in countries such as China, Brazil, USA, Pakistan and India, with the USA being the leading producer globally. Cotton is a soft fluffy fiber which grows as a boll, a protective case, around the seeds on a cotton plant.
From the above workwear is either manufactured from a blend of polyester and cotton, polycotton, or 100% cotton fabrics. Poly cotton is a combination of the two fibers, the man-made fiber polyester, and the natural fiber cotton in a general ratio of either 80/20 or 65/35 with polyester always being the highest amount.
The choice to make use of workwear manufactured from polycotton or 100% cotton depends on several factors. These being strength, durability, cost, UV resistance and comfort.
Firstly, there is a generalization that cotton is stronger and better than polycotton because cotton is the more expensive of the two fabrics. This generalization is incorrect. The only reason why cotton is more expensive is because of demand and supply, even though there is no real shortage, there is a capacity to how much can be grown whereby a man-made product like polyester, has no real capacity.
In South Africa, workwear manufacturers import both cotton cloth and polycotton cloth and manufacture a finished product, the polycotton cloth is a lot cheaper than the cotton cloth thus the manufactured garment is cheaper. Besides for polycotton being cheaper than 100% cotton, polyester is a stronger fabric than natural cotton fabric.
From the above one would assume polycotton workwear is the best option, it is cheaper and stronger. Not necessarily, in terms of comfort the greater the amount of polyester the less comfortable the garment. Cotton is a natural, soft fiber whereas polyester is harder and more abrasive.
When blended with cotton, polyester improves the shrinkage, durability, and wrinkling profile of cotton. Polyester fabric is highly resistant to environmental conditions, which makes it ideal for long-term use in outdoor applications.
In a nutshell, a 100%cotton garment is going to make the wearer feel extremely comfortable, but it is actually not as strong as a polycotton garment. An 80/20 polycotton blend garment is strong but not breathable and comfortable. A polycotton blend of 65/35 percent provides the wearer with a balance of the advantages and disadvantages of the two, these being:
- Fade resistance.
Why choose a 100% cotton garment then? The two most common injuries associated with welding operations is burns to the skin and eyes. For protection from injury, the welder should always wear a 100% cotton garment. Any workplace or work task that involves a danger of a worker being burnt should never wear synthetic materials such as polyester or polyester blends since they will ignite and burn rapidly.
Article prepared and written by Clinton Smith – 28.08.2020