Polyester Leggings vs Cotton: Which Material is Better?

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Polyester Leggings VS Cotton

Leggings are nowadays an important part of every woman’s wardrobe. We wear them to exercise or in everyday life and I believe each one of us has had good or bad experiences with our purchases.

To be honest I didn’t care much to look at the leggings materials before buying them. Now I know how important it is to pick the right material, and this applies to all sports garments.

It should be clear that when it comes to leggings, we find composite materials, and today we will compare two of the main ones we find used in leggings: Polyester and Cotton.

Table of Contents:

1. Polyester Overview

Polyester was first developed in 1926 and finalized in 1946 by DuPont. It was sold under the name of Terylene. This fiber was composed of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol (PET).

Even though it sounds complicated, it is basically a plastic thread.

Polyester threads are strong and have high abrasion. It is a very resistant material and it doesn’t wrinkle.

Don’t miss: Nylon vs Polyester Leggings: Which is Better? Which Should You Choose?

It lives for a long time and is basically indestructible. It is not a breathable material and not so soft. That is why to improve its properties, polyester fibers are often mixed with natural ones.

For example, the composite of cotton and polyester is called poly-cotton.

Polyester is very hard to dye but in the meantime doesn’t lose its color for a long time. Polyester is one of the most used materials in the fashion industry due to its low price and quality.

In leggings, polyester is the material you find more often.

Advantages of Polyester:

  • It is relatively resistant to heat
  • It doesn’t bleach
  • It is resistant to stain
  • It doesn’t wrinkle

Disadvantages of Polyester:

  • It is difficult to dye
  • Some fibers simply don’t spring back as well as others
  • Doesn’t resist oil stains
  • It isn’t a soft material on its own
  • Damages the oceans (because some of the threads that are damaged during washing go directly to the sea in the form of microplastic)
How It`s Made Polyester

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2. Cotton Overview

Cotton is a natural fiber and one of the main materials of the fashion industry. The threads are derived from cotton plants.

These fibers date back to 5500 BC, crazy I know! The cotton plant requires a lot of water and sun. It grows in tropical and subtropical areas like India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, etc.

For many years, especially in the time of the industrial revolution, when the spinning frame, spinning jenny, and the spinning mule was invented, Britain was the main producer and exporter.

Later it was America that came ahead and gained the market. Cotton later started being replaced by polyester or other synthetic fibers.

Cotton has widespread use in the fashion industry and not only. I really like it when my clothes are made of cotton especially sweaters, nightwear, and lingerie.

Cotton is soft and breathable. It can be bleached and tumble-dried.

Advantages of Cotton:

  • It is soft
  • It is durable
  • Absorbs sweat
  • Is breathable

Disadvantages of Cotton:

  • Tends to shrink
  • Doesn’t have a good color retention
  • Tends to wrinkle
  • Is responsible for soil erosion and contamination
How Cotton is Processed in Factories | How It’s Made

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3. Polyester vs Cotton Leggings: Comparison and Differences

Water-Wicking Ability

Cotton is better at water wicking ability than polyester, although polyester also has a good performance.

Cotton is more breathable, feels better, and doesn’t stick to the wet skin, but if you want a fast-drying fabric, polyester is the best there is.

It has the ability to expel the water to the surface of the legging where it will evaporate.

In contrast, cotton is absorbent and will hold on to the water for a long time, leading to a slow drying time.

Color Retention

As mentioned, polyester is hydrophobic. When dyed, the fiber absorbs only the color of the dye that dissolves into the fabric, making the dye permanent.

On the other hand, cotton doesn’t have this ability and tends to bleach with time.


Cotton, when produced for fashion, is one of the softest fabrics. It is well known as one of the nicest fabrics for the skin.

It is also recommended for newborn babies, so it leaves no room for discussion that it feels better than polyester.


Polyester is a very strong fiber and it is way more durable than cotton. It also has the ability to maintain its shape for a longer time due to its flexibility.

This is very important considering the fact that leggings are used mainly to perform physical activities that require a material that doesn’t lose its form.

Bovilla reservoir Tirana Albania Leggings Hiking

Outdoor vs Indoor

Both of the fabrics can be worn indoors or outdoors. Polyester performs better outdoors than cotton and in colder weather keeps you warmer.

Also due to its ability to dry fast is a good choice for rainy weather.

Read also: How Much Spandex Should Be in Leggings?

4. Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better for sportswear?

Polyester is used more often than cotton in sportswear, due to all the features we mentioned above. When we buy sports clothes we usually expect to have them for a long time and we expect them to perform the way we need them to, so polyester is the best choice.

Which is better for casual wear?

When it comes to casual wear, where you don’t intend to engage in physical activity that will require a low absorbent material, I would surely choose cotton. It is nicer to the skin, more breathable, so more comfortable.

Which is better for winter?

Cotton is not very good for winter due to its inability to dry fast and that can even cause health problems like hypothermia. Instead polyester tends to keep you warmer.

Which is better for spring/autumn?

This depends on where you live. If you live in a Mediterranean climate zone as I do, spring and autumn mostly feel like summer. In that case, I would prefer cotton. When damp, cotton makes you feel fresh.

But if it is cold where you live, I would go for polyester.

Cotton Vs Polyester (Sportswear Secrets)

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5. Time to Decide: Which is Better? Which Should You Choose?

I think that it is clear until now that when it comes to leggings I would go for polyester. It is not by chance that most of the brands use polyester in leggings and not cotton.

Before doing the research I would assume that this was because polyester is cheaper and they tend to lower the costs of their products.

But afterward, I realized that in fact, Polyester performs better than cotton when it comes to leggings and most sportswear.

To conclude, if you need leggings for everyday use, and you don’t plan to use them to exercise, cotton would do just fine.

But if you plan to wear your leggings to train, polyester is the material for you.

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