From Christmas gifts to cozy feet warmers in cold offices, socks come in all shapes, sizes, colors and most of all—materials.
A label threaded to a pair of socks reads “100% polyester”, but how exactly does it differ from a pair of socks labelled “100% cotton”? And why are socks made with different blends of materials?
Furthermore, there is a wide spectrum of purpose for socks.
Understanding the various types of sock material will be a huge advantage when it comes to making an informed purchase. After all, they are daily essentials.
Types Of Sock Material
Cotton is often used to make socks for a variety of reasons.
Lightweight and breathable, cotton socks are comfortable to wear as they prevent your feet from sweating too much. Even if you still do sweat, it is effective in absorbing moisture and easily washable. Cotton is also fairly durable and even holds color well.
Due to its lack of elasticity, 100% cotton socks will not be as durable and wear out easily. Hence
Sometimes, cotton socks are made with nylon for its non-absorbent properties, allowing it to be moisture resistant. This blend is typically used for sports socks as it wicks away moisture while providing ample support to the feet.
Other than being great everyday socks, cotton socks are a prime choice for babies due to its breathability and comfort.
One tip for baby socks is to find brands that have non-slip mechanisms such as silicone dots or extra elastic.
There are specialized varieties of cotton available too:
- Common Cotton
Breathable with its moisture-absorbing capabilities, the common cotton is a popular fiber among socks, especially for everyday wear. However, the moisture-absorbing capability can result in a damp feeling, which is why the common cotton is generally blended with nylon, a non-absorbent material.
- Combed cotton
A much softer version from common cotton as impurities and shorter strands are combed out to leave the long straight cotton fibers. The process of combing also makes the fibers closer together, resulting in a stronger, more durable material. Combed cotton is suitable for sensitive skin.
- Mercerized cotton
Mercerizing is to treat cotton with caustic alkali under tension, in order to increase strength, luster, and affinity for dye. This results in the wrinkle-resistant and breathable properties of the cotton. It also offers more shine and softness as well.
Defying the ‘everyday wear’ reputation of cotton, mercerized cotton is often used for more formal occasions instead.
This material is a premium choice as it is soft, breathable and more comfortable than cotton. It is smooth to touch and has an added sheen similar to silk or cashmere.
Due to micro-gaps in bamboo fiber, bamboo socks tend to be very absorbent. They also have great moisture wicking capabilities, keeping feet dry.
For people with sensitive skin, bamboo is hypoallergenic and antibacterial, which also keeps feet free of bacteria and smelling fresh, making it a preferred choice of fiber for socks worn in summer.
Finally, it is an eco-friendly fiber, needing much less land and water to grow as compared to cotton.
3. Merino wool
Made by merino sheep that live in New Zealand, merino wool is super soft, breathable and itch-free. It absorbs odors caused by bacteria by trapping the smell and preventing them from building up.
Merino wool is shrink-treated, therefore able to maintain its shape and size even after numerous washed.
The luxurious material is also moisture-wicking and heat-insulating, making it a popular choice among hikers and skiers.
Merino wool socks last longer than cotton socks as well.
4. Rayon / Modal
Socks made from rayon are soft, smooth, breathable and hold color well.
Using thin threads, rayon is comfortable, cooling to wear and have high moisture absorption properties, making them ideal for hot summers.
Made from wood pulp, the material is also popular for its sheen and can feature textures similar to cotton, silk and wool.
The world’s first ever synthetic fiber, Nylon is known for its high durability and strength. It is widely used in making socks and commonly seen among female stockings. Nylon is abrasion, water resistant and also ideal for making socks that will undergo stretching and pulling as the fiber is strong and durable.
Unfortunately, it does not absorb moisture well and is not breathable, which may result in your feet feeling sweaty all the time. This may lead to odor or worse, fungal infections. As such, it is not suitable for intensive sports activities due to its lack of brethability.
These days, nylon is usually used as a blending ingredient in socks for its durability and elasticity.
Polyester is a man-made petroleum-based synthetic fiber produces highly durable socks that also hold color better and longer than cotton. Socks made of polyester are quick drying and while compared to nylon, it is a less expensive alternative.
Downsides are that they do not breathe similar well, absorb moisture or have moisture-wicking abilities.
This material should be avoided for the environmentally conscious and comfort seeking.
Made from the wood pulp of trees such as eucalyptus, oak and birch, this material is actually softer than cotton.
As is it made from natural ingredients, it is biodegradable and eco-friendly as well.
Lyocell socks are suitable for sweating feet or sensitive skin as it has strong moisture-absorbing properties. It is also breathable, lightweight and comfortable.
The downside to lyocell is that, due to the technology required in its production process, it holds a higher price tag than cotton.
Also known as lycra or elastane, spandex is a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity. It is typically used as a blending ingredient in making long stretchy socks.
Compression socks are likely to use spandex as well, along with materials such as nylon, cotton and even natural rubber. With its strong resistance to stretching, socks with spandex maintain their shape well and provide a cozy fit that can improve blood flow and lessen swelling in the legs.
These are commonly worn by medical professionals and athletes who are up and active on their feet all the time.
Related: Ultimate guide to compression socks
Just like cotton, you will never find a 100% spandex socks, instead, it is often mixed with other fabrics, maintaining a spandex content of between 3% and 10%.
Not many know that acrylic can be used to make socks.
As a material, it is actually light, soft and warm, although not as warm as wool.
Socks made of acrylic are wrinkle-free and great at retaining their elastic shape.
Similar to nylon, acrylic tends to be a blending ingredient in socks as it does not absorb moisture well and can be itchy on bare skin.
It is not recommended for babies as well as people with sensitive skin. However, due to its insulating and moisture-wicking capabilities, the material is superb for outdoor activities in cold weather.
In addition to the abovementioned types of material, there are many environmentally-friendly alternatives for socks. Some of them are made of recycled materials that help you shop and wear sustainably.
Which type of material do you prefer and why?