Polyamide (also known as nylon) and cotton are two of the most popular materials used in the fashion and textile industry today.
Although you may know that one is synthetic and the other is a natural material, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about how the two materials are made, as well as the characteristics of the two.
So what’s the difference between polyamide and cotton? Polyamide is a synthetic material made from nylon chips. It is stretchy, durable, and shape-retaining. It is almost always blended with other materials. Cotton is a natural material sourced from the cotton plant. It is lightweight, breathable, and low maintenance. It may be blended or left pure.
If you are wondering what type of fabric to choose for your next project, read on to find out more about the differences between polyamide and cotton and their many characteristics. Let’s get started!
How is Polyamide Made?
Polyamide is a versatile and low-maintenance synthetic material that is made from nylon chips. This is why polyamide is sometimes referred to as nylon. To make polyamide, nylon chips are melted and turned into very fine fibers, which can then be dyed and woven into fabric or sold as yarn. These are my favorite polyamide yarns.
Because it is made of synthetic materials, the making of polyamide fabric requires a lot of harsh chemicals, which is not environmentally friendly. The material is also not biodegradable, which is a deterrence for a lot of environmentally-conscious shoppers.
However, polyamide is still hugely popular because of its quality, low maintenance, and appearance. Polyamide fabric is quite strong and known to be water and stain-resistant, and wrinkle-resistant. It resembles silk in some ways, especially because it is quite smooth and soft.
The material is quite stretchy, and its stretchiness can even increase when blended with other materials like spandex. Polyamide is also quite strong and durable, immune to tearing or fading even after some wear.
As a synthetic material, it doesn’t really shrink and can be machine-washed. However, the material is not resistant to high heat. Because the fabric is essentially plastic, it can melt easily under high heat. Make sure to keep the water temperature low in the wash and air dry when you care for polyamide fabric.
Polyamide doesn’t really absorb water, so it dries quite fast and can be semi-waterproof. If you live in a drier climate, this can sometimes get annoying because it will collect static electricity and cling to your body.
Polyamide can be blended with some other materials to improve its characteristics. In fact, it is almost always blended with other materials. For example, polyamide blended with cotton can be more breathable, while polyamide blended with spandex can be stronger and stretchier.
This synthetic material is quite popular because it is quite cheap to produce and it can cut down the costs of products made of otherwise more expensive materials. However, if you are an environmentally conscious consumer, polyamide may not be the best option for you.
How is Cotton Made?
Cotton as a material is almost as old as human civilization.
This natural fiber is the most widely produced and consumed in the entire world. Cotton fibers are made from treating the cotton plant through various steps to create a soft, natural fiber that can be woven into yarn or fabric.
Cotton is widely loved because of its many wonderful characteristics. Thanks to its natural roots, it can feel quite soft against your skin and won’t cause any irritations, which is why children’s clothes are often made of 100 percent cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture very well, perfect for summer clothing.
Unlike other natural fibers, cotton is quite low maintenance. It is machine-washable using warm water. Just be careful when you put it in the dryer since this fabric can shrink easily. Cotton can be dyed or bleached with ease.
The only downside to cotton is that it can wrinkle easily, and you will need to use an iron or steamer to straighten out the fabric before wearing it. Otherwise, it is a highly versatile material that can be affordable and practical for everyday use.
Since cotton is a natural material, the cost of producing cotton can be a bit more expensive compared to synthetic materials like polyamide.
However, compared to other types of natural materials like linen or silk, cotton is surely the most affordable. With cotton, you can enjoy all the benefits of a natural material despite paying a relatively lower cost compared to other natural fabrics.
Major Differences Between Polyamide and Cotton
Now that you know the basics of polyamide and cotton, let’s talk about some of the major differences between the two types of fabric.
These differences will help you decide what type of fabric, yarn, thread, etc. to choose for your next project:
Breathability is a combination of a few different factors – namely, how well the fabric absorbs moisture and wicks away body temperature. Breathability will allow a clothing item to feel comfortable and airy against your skin, which is hugely important during warmer seasons.
When it comes to breathability, no material can beat cotton. It absorbs moisture really well without feeling too sticky or uncomfortable.
On the other hand, polyamide won’t absorb your natural sweat, so although it can feel light and airy, it may not be the best type of fabric for summer clothing.
Warmth refers to the fabric’s ability to trap your body heat. If you are making a garment for colder seasons, choosing the right fabric that adds warmth will be quite crucial.
As you can probably tell from the previous section, cotton’s breathability also means that it doesn’t trap heat very well. It doesn’t mean that cotton cannot be useful on a cold day – a cotton shirt can be used as a layering piece that feels soft and comfortable against your skin.
On the other hand, polyamide, because it is not breathable, is known for its ability to trap body heat and is even a little water-resistant. Outer layers are often made of polyamide or a polyamide-blend. This characteristic makes it perfect for outerwear and clothing items for the colder months.
When it comes to durability, polyamide comes out as the better-performing material. There is a reason that a lot of sportswear is made of this material since it is quite light, strong, and stretchy.
It is virtually impossible to rip polyamide. If you have a piece of clothing that is made of this material, know that it will stay in your collection for a long time.
On the other hand, cotton is comparatively quite a delicate material that is prone to fade and rips, especially after wearing. Although cotton is quite a low-maintenance material and is relatively quite durable (not prone to snags, easy to wash, etc.), even wearing a piece of cotton clothing can affect its looks after a while.
You will see that the fabric can become thinner and even tear in some places. It is also prone to pilling, making the fabric look quite aged only after a few washes.
Although both polyamide and cotton are both considered low-maintenance fabrics – both of them are machine washable – there are some differences when it comes to caring for the two.
First of all, cotton will shrink in the wash.
If you are working with cotton yarn, make sure to knit a swatch, wash and block the piece first to see how much the material shrinks before starting your project. If you are sewing with cotton fabric, make sure to pre-wash the fabric before you sew to get the desired size without any unwanted shrinkage.
Because cotton will shrink in the wash, you should only tumble dry or air dry this material to prevent any further shrinkage. Cotton also tends to wrinkle a lot in the wash, so some ironing on medium to low heat is needed to get rid of the wrinkles.
On the other hand, polyamide is not prone to shrinkage, but it will melt when it comes in contact with high heat since it is essentially plastic. So, you should also avoid putting polyamide fabric in the dryer, or it will distort the shape of the fabric.
Fortunately, polyamide does not wrinkle. So it is otherwise quite easy to care for. You only have to air dry the item, and it is ready for you to wear!
Sewing With Polyamide Vs Cotton Thread
We’ve only talked about polyamide and cotton as fabric and yarn, but what about sewing threads?
If you are a sewing enthusiast, you know that the quality of the thread is just as important as the fabric. Choosing the right thread quality can decide how your project will look and how long it will last.
There are some pros and cons for both polyamide and cotton threads. Cotton can absorb dye really well, so you can find cotton threads in almost every color imaginable. On the other hand, since polyamide does not dye well, there is a limited color range that you can find if you are looking for polyamide thread.
Both cotton and polyamide threads are quite strong and durable, but as mentioned above, polyamide can stretch well, while cotton has very limited stretch and may even shrink in the wash. Since polyamide is a lot stronger than cotton, you can expect the thread to be able to sew very thick and strong material with ease.
On the other hand, cotton can only be subjected to so much wear and tear because it may wear out quite easily. Even the cotton threads that are sitting in your collection may get weaker with age. Polyamide threads can take more of a beating.
However, if you are sewing a lightweight cotton piece, using cotton threads that match the quality and characteristics of the fabric would be ideal.
Cotton vs Polyester vs 50/50 vs Tri-blend T-shirts
RushOrderTees has a fun video comparing polyester, cotton, 50/50, and tri-blend t-shirts. Check it out below.