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Cotton vs polyester: pros and cons


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When it comes to buying clothes for pregnancy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for bargain basement prices for things like leggings and tops. The problem with doing this is that you might be purchasing something made of a material that irritates your skin, traps heat or retains moisture. With so many materials out there, it’s tricky to know which are the most comfortable. The truth is that generally the better the material the more expensive the item is too. This isn’t great news for those of us on a budget who still want to look and feel good during pregnancy.  

We’ve talked about the best fabrics for pregnancy before but here we’ll dive deep into two of the most common fabrics we see amongst the best clothes for pregnancy, cotton and polyester.

Cotton and polyester are two of the most popular fabrics in the world. They’re both used to make a wide variety of clothing and can appear vastly different in each use. Often, they’re also priced similarly. But which fabric is right for you during pregnancy or postpartum?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of cotton and polyester:


  • Pros: Cotton is a natural fiber that is soft, breathable, and absorbent. It is also relatively easy to care for. In summer, it can help you feel cool, while in winter cotton items can be easily layered without making you feel itchy or uncomfortable.
  • Cons: Cotton can be expensive in 100% forms, and it can shrink and wrinkle easily.


  • Pros: Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is durable, wrinkle-resistant, and easy to care for. It is also less expensive than cotton. When used in plush robes or baby clothes, it can be super soft. It’s also used frequently in items like maternity leggings, leather-look materials and fleece or fluffy tops, which are warm.
  • Cons: Polyester is not as breathable as cotton, and it can be hot and uncomfortable to wear in hot weather. If you have sensitive skin, it can irritate it.

Cotton vs. Polyester in Sportswear

Pregnant woman wearing polyester sportswear

When it comes to sportswear, cotton and polyester have their own advantages and disadvantages. Cotton is more breathable and comfortable to wear in hot weather, but it can also be heavier and more absorbent, which isn’t good for outdoors or activities in which you might sweat.

Polyester is less breathable, but it is also much more durable and wrinkle-resistant. It can have a moisture-wicking treatment added to it, making it great for outdoor use or workout activities. Lycra, for example, is a material derived from polyester. 

Ultimately, the best choice for sportswear depends on your individual needs and preferences but for stretch, durability and moisture-wicking, polyester is a more common option.

Cotton vs. Polyester in Underwear

Cotton is the traditional choice for underwear, as it is soft, breathable, and absorbent. However, polyester is a popular choice for lingerie underwear, as it is durable, wrinkle-resistant, silky and easy to care for. We are seeing a surge in bamboo blend underwears, which are soft, absorbent and more eco friendly than polyester. 

Cotton vs. Polyester in Shirts and Dresses

Pregnant woman wearing cotton dress

Cotton is a great choice for shirts and dresses in hot weather, as it’s breathable and comfortable. However, polyester can be more versatile in the types of reasonably affordable styles it is used for. If you’ve read our article on what dresses to wear when pregnant in summer, you’ll see a range of beautiful dresses made from polyester as well as cotton. Fabric designers love working with polyester as it’s easier to fold and pleat into different styles and shapes than cotton. Our recommendation is that if you do choose a dress or top made of polyester, to try and wear it during milder weather and for a shorter period of time so you don’t get too hot or irritated. When choosing your basics, try and choose natural fabrics. 

Environmental Impact of Cotton and Polyester

Cotton and polyester have different environmental impacts. Cotton is a water-intensive crop, and it can be harmful to the environment if it is not grown and processed sustainably. Conventional cotton farming can be harmful to the environment, especially if pesticides and fertilizers are used. Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is made from petroleum. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and the production of polyester can contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the environmental impact of both of these fabrics depends on how they are grown, processed, and disposed of.

Even though polyester is not biodegradable like cotton, it can still be produced in a more sustainable way. For example, some polyester is made from recycled materials, which can reduce the environmental impact of the fabric. There are some small steps you can take to reduce your footprint and make more environmentally conscious choices, especially when it comes to maternity fashion. 

Wearing Cotton and Polyester in Winter and Summer

Cotton is a great fabric to wear in both winter and summer, although it might not be as warm as you need it to be in winter. Polyester and its varying blends tend to be a popular choice in winter (think: fleece, boucle and puffer jackets). One thing to be mindful of is your skin. Cotton is cooler and calmer on skin, while polyester can irritate your skin. If you’re wearing a thick jacket made of polyester in winter, why not wear it over a 100% cotton long sleeve top. In summer, veer away from polyester during hot weather, instead opting for the material in the evening or on cooler days. 


Is 100% polyester too hot?

Yes, 100% polyester can be too hot to wear in hot weather. Polyester is not as breathable as cotton, and it can trap heat. If you are looking for a fabric that is cool and comfortable to wear in hot weather, choose cotton or a bamboo blend, which is soothing and cool. 

Which fabric is cooler, polyester or cotton?

Cotton is cooler than polyester. Cotton is a natural fiber that is breathable, and it absorbs moisture. Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is not as breathable and can trap heat. That being said, sportswear that is made from polyester blends and treated for moisture-wicking are designed to keep you more comfortable in this regard.

Which of those fabrics wrinkle less?

Polyester wrinkles much less than cotton, making it a durable choice for many manufacturers and designers. That’s because polyester is a synthetic fiber, while cotton is a natural fiber that is more likely to wrinkle.

Which fabric is better for your skin?

Cotton is far better for your skin than polyester. Cotton is a natural fiber that is soft and gentle on the skin. Polyester is a synthetic fiber that can be irritating to some people’s skin, especially if you suffer from eczema, psoriasis or are prone to heat rash.

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Maternity Editor and first time mama with lots of experience and tips. Lives life to the fullest! South American by nature, based in Melbourne Australia. Mum to Mila, my life and soul.