Cotton vs. Nylon

What's the Difference?

Cotton and nylon are both popular materials used in the textile industry, but they have distinct characteristics. Cotton is a natural fiber derived from the cotton plant, known for its softness, breathability, and comfort. It is highly absorbent and allows air to circulate, making it ideal for warm weather clothing. On the other hand, nylon is a synthetic fiber made from petroleum products. It is known for its strength, durability, and resistance to wrinkles and abrasion. Nylon is often used in activewear and outdoor gear due to its moisture-wicking properties and ability to dry quickly. While cotton offers natural comfort, nylon provides enhanced performance and longevity.


Photo by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash
OriginNatural fiber derived from cotton plantsSynthetic fiber made from petroleum-based chemicals
StrengthLess strong compared to nylonStrong and durable
ElasticityLess elasticHighly elastic
ComfortSoft and breathableLess breathable compared to cotton
Moisture AbsorptionHighly absorbentLess absorbent compared to cotton
Wrinkle ResistanceProne to wrinklingResistant to wrinkles
Heat ResistanceLess heat resistantHigh heat resistance
CostRelatively inexpensiveUsually more expensive than cotton
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to choosing the right fabric for various applications, cotton and nylon are two popular choices. Both fabrics have their own unique attributes and advantages, making them suitable for different purposes. In this article, we will compare the attributes of cotton and nylon, exploring their differences in terms of comfort, durability, breathability, moisture-wicking properties, and environmental impact.


Cotton is widely known for its exceptional comfort. It is a natural fiber that is soft, breathable, and hypoallergenic. Cotton fabric feels gentle against the skin, making it a popular choice for clothing items like t-shirts, underwear, and bed sheets. The natural fibers of cotton allow air to circulate, keeping the body cool and preventing excessive sweating.

On the other hand, nylon is a synthetic fabric that is often used in activewear and sportswear. While nylon is not as soft as cotton, it offers a different kind of comfort. Nylon fabric has a smooth and silky texture, providing a lightweight and flexible feel. It is often used in garments that require stretchability and durability, such as leggings and athletic shorts.

Overall, the choice between cotton and nylon depends on personal preference and the specific application. If softness and breathability are the top priorities, cotton is the way to go. However, if flexibility and stretchability are more important, nylon may be the better option.


When it comes to durability, nylon takes the lead. Nylon fabric is known for its exceptional strength and resistance to wear and tear. It is highly resilient and can withstand heavy use and frequent washing without losing its shape or color. This makes nylon a popular choice for outdoor gear, backpacks, and other items that require high durability.

Cotton, on the other hand, is not as durable as nylon. While cotton fabric is strong, it is more prone to shrinking, wrinkling, and fading over time. Cotton garments may require more care and attention to maintain their appearance and longevity. However, with proper care, cotton can still last for a long time and provide comfort throughout its lifespan.

Ultimately, the choice between cotton and nylon depends on the intended use and the level of durability required. If durability is a top priority, nylon is the better choice. However, for everyday clothing items and less demanding applications, cotton can still provide satisfactory durability.


When it comes to breathability, cotton is the clear winner. Cotton fabric allows air to circulate freely, keeping the body cool and comfortable. It absorbs moisture from the skin and allows it to evaporate, preventing the buildup of sweat and odor. This makes cotton an excellent choice for hot and humid climates or for individuals who tend to sweat a lot.

Nylon, on the other hand, is not as breathable as cotton. It is a synthetic fabric that does not absorb moisture well. Instead, nylon fabric tends to trap heat and moisture against the skin, leading to a less comfortable and potentially sweaty feeling. However, advancements in fabric technology have led to the development of moisture-wicking nylon fabrics that help to draw sweat away from the body, improving breathability to some extent.

In summary, if breathability is a top priority, cotton is the fabric of choice. Its natural fibers allow for excellent air circulation and moisture absorption. However, for certain applications where breathability is less critical, such as outerwear or water-resistant garments, nylon can still be a suitable option.

Moisture-Wicking Properties

While cotton is known for its ability to absorb moisture, nylon excels in moisture-wicking properties. Nylon fabric has a low absorbency rate, meaning it does not retain moisture like cotton does. Instead, nylon quickly wicks away moisture from the skin and allows it to evaporate, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable.

This moisture-wicking property of nylon makes it an ideal choice for activewear and sportswear. Nylon garments can help athletes and active individuals stay dry during intense workouts or outdoor activities. The quick-drying nature of nylon also makes it resistant to mold and mildew, adding to its appeal in humid environments.

On the other hand, cotton fabric absorbs moisture readily but does not wick it away as efficiently as nylon. This can lead to a damp feeling and longer drying times. However, cotton's ability to absorb moisture can also be an advantage in certain situations, such as when wearing cotton towels or using cotton bedding that helps to absorb excess moisture from the body.

In conclusion, if moisture-wicking is a crucial factor, nylon is the fabric to choose. Its quick-drying properties make it ideal for active individuals and humid environments. However, for everyday use or specific applications where moisture absorption is desired, cotton can still provide satisfactory performance.

Environmental Impact

When it comes to the environmental impact, cotton has an advantage over nylon. Cotton is a natural and biodegradable fiber, making it more sustainable and eco-friendly. It is renewable and can be grown without the use of harmful chemicals or pesticides. Additionally, cotton fabric can be recycled and repurposed, reducing waste and promoting a circular economy.

Nylon, on the other hand, is a synthetic fabric made from petrochemicals. The production of nylon involves the extraction and processing of non-renewable resources, contributing to carbon emissions and environmental pollution. Nylon is not biodegradable and takes a long time to break down in landfills. However, advancements in recycling technology have made it possible to recycle nylon fabric, reducing its environmental impact to some extent.

Considering the environmental impact, cotton is the more sustainable choice. Its natural and renewable properties, along with the ability to recycle and repurpose cotton fabric, make it a greener option. However, it is important to note that sustainable practices and responsible manufacturing can also mitigate the environmental impact of nylon.


In conclusion, cotton and nylon are two versatile fabrics with their own unique attributes. Cotton offers exceptional comfort, breathability, and moisture absorption, making it suitable for everyday clothing and hot climates. On the other hand, nylon provides durability, flexibility, and moisture-wicking properties, making it ideal for activewear and outdoor gear.

When choosing between cotton and nylon, it is essential to consider the specific requirements of the application, personal preferences, and environmental concerns. Both fabrics have their advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice ultimately depends on the intended use and individual needs.

Whether it's the softness of cotton or the durability of nylon, both fabrics have their place in the world of textiles, catering to a wide range of applications and ensuring comfort and functionality in various settings.

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