The 12 Best and Worst Fabrics for Socks Explained


The 12 Best and Worst Fabrics for Socks Explained (1)

Over 20 billion socks are produced in the world every year. Socks are an essential part of most people’s everyday lives and are designed for many different uses. The production and manufacturing of socks have come a long way, from the design and dyes used down to the fibers found in each fabric. 

What are the best and worst fabrics for socks? Socks are commonly made with a blend of fabrics, and each fabric serves a different purpose. In the table below, you will discover the 12 fabrics that are used in making socks and whether they generally lean toward the best or worst choice in fabric based on what the sock is used for.

Sock Use

Best Sock Fabrics

Worst Sock Fabrics

Everyday Wear

100% Cotton, Cotton & Polyester blend, Bamboo, Polyester, Spandex

Cashmere, Angora

Running

Bamboo, Polyester

100% Cotton, Cashmere

Sports

Bamboo, Nylon, Spandex, Polyester

100% Cotton, Cashmere

Hiking & Outdoor Activities

Wool, Bamboo, Polypropylene

Mostly Polyester, Cashmere

Lounging & Sleeping

Cashmere, Wool

100% Cotton

Swimming

Nylon, Spandex

Cotton, Wool

Winter Weather

Wool, Polypropylene

Spandex

Formal Wear

Nylon, Spandex

 

100% Cotton

Remember, it is always important to consider what activity the sock is designed for. Some materials can be beneficial depending on how the sock is used. For example, a fabric that is ideal for a sock meant for lounging around or sleeping in would make a horrible choice of material for a hiking sock. Continue reading to fully explore and understand the best and worst fabrics for socks. 



Sock Fabrics

The information below will discuss each type of fabric used in the production of socks in more detail. It will explain what the beneficial uses of each fabric are and what type of sock each fabric should not be used for. It will also cover the various blends of fabric that work well to make the best functioning sock. 


1. Cotton

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 02:22 pm GMT

Cotton is produced from the fibers of a cotton plant. It is the most common material used in the production of socks for various reasons. It is an excellent sock for everyday use, and when combined with different blends of fabric, it can make socks that are used for other purposes, such as outdoor activities and more.

Here are some of the pros and cons of cotton: 

Pros:

  • Very lightweight material that absorbs moisture well. 
  • Very soft material that provides comfort
  • Breathable
  • Easy to wash in a machine or by hand
  • Durable 
  • Beneficial for sensitive skin
  • Can dry quicker than other materials
  • Holds color fairly well

Cons:

  • Absorbs moisture easily
  • Can lead to friction and irritation if worn for extended periods while wet
  • More expensive, especially organic and combined cotton
  • Keeps your feet colder because they hold moisture
  • Becomes heavier when wet
  • Can shrink when washed in hot water or machine dried with heat

After looking at the pros and cons of cotton, you will find that cotton works great for certain types of socks. Cotton socks function best for everyday use with casual shoes or sneakers. If you plan to physically exert yourself or expect your feet to become wet or sweaty, you will want to avoid 100% cotton socks.

There are specific blends of cotton socks that make them more resistant to moisture, such as polyester and cotton. Polyester is a non-absorbent material that, when mixed with cotton, makes one of the best combinations of sock fabrics. 

Cotton and polyester mixed socks can be used for almost any type of activity. They are durable, water-resistant, and comfortable. If you want to use your socks for aerobic activities as well as everyday wear, then a mix of cotton and polyester is the best choice. 


2. Wool

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:32 am GMT

Wool, the second most common material used in producing socks, is a fiber that is obtained from sheep. It is a very natural material that feels good on the skin and is known as one of the best-performing fabrics available today. But does wool make a great fabric for socks? Absolutely. 

Wool fabric does range in quality based on when the sheep are sheared. Some wools are also more delicate than others because of the breed of sheep they come from. In general, wool is a top choice for sock fabric and has many benefits with few disadvantages.  

Here are the pros and cons of wool: 

Pros:

  • It is an excellent insulator and will keep your feet warm in frigid weather. 
  • Good for your skin
  • Breathable
  • Wrinkle-resistant 
  • Water-resistant 
  • Absorbs moisture better than other fabrics
  • Prevents your feet from feeling wet
  • High-quality wool is exceptionally soft
  • Provides insulation
  • Retains its shape well
  • Colors and dyes do not bleed or fade

Cons:

  • Lower-quality wool can be itchy
  • It comes from animals, which some may not like
  • Difficult to clean, not recommended for machine washing or drying
  • Cannot be worn in warm weather without overheating your feet
  • Friction from carpet can wear down wool socks and lead to holes 
  • Thick and bulky fabric

When purchasing wool socks, you must find ones that are premium in quality. Higher quality wool socks will cover all the characteristics listed on the pros list and eliminate some of the items on the cons list. The higher the quality of the wool, the longer your socks will last and the better they will perform. 


3. Bamboo

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:32 am GMT

Bamboo is another natural material that is produced by pulling the fiber from the pulp of bamboo grass. Bamboo grows quickly, requires little watering, and needs less land to grow on, which makes it very environmentally friendly. These organic fibers are durable and resistant, which makes them a fantastic fabric for socks. 

Here is a list of pros and cons for bamboo:

Pros:

  • Very absorbent
  • Can pull moisture and sweat away from the skin through capillary action
  • Moisture is drawn to the outer surface of the fabric, allowing it to evaporate and keeping your feet dry and warm
  • Thermal regulator that keeps you warm on colder days and cool on hotter days
  • Stretchable, elastic
  • Breathable
  • Incredibly soft with a natural sheen
  • Very durable
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Very smooth and comfortable, it feels like high-quality silk or cashmere
  • Contains a natural antimicrobial that helps prevent bacteria
  • Smells fresh
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Known to pill

Bamboo is one of the best sock fabrics available. It contains almost all of the beneficial characteristics of wool and cotton combined and has very few negative qualities. Bamboo socks are designed and worn for almost all types of activities, ranging from everyday wear to hiking, sports, and more. 


4. Polyester

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:38 am GMT

Polyester is a human-made synthetic material that is produced using a chemical reaction between acid and alcohol. Because of its human-made characteristics, polyester is robust and durable, which makes it a great material to use in socks and many other items.

Although polyester is sometimes not perfect for a sock, when added with other materials and used in a well-designed sock, it can make a very good athletic sock.  

Here are the pros and cons of polyester: 

Pros:

  • Very resilient and long-lasting
  • Durable
  • Does not shrink
  • Holds its shape well
  • Dries quickly
  • Stain-resistant
  • Easily dyeable and holds colors well
  • Less expensive

Cons:

  • Not breathable if thick sock (but can if in an athletic sock)
  • Moisture does not evaporate well while being worn (unless combined with other material)
  • If regularly wet, bacteria and fungi can grow
  • Can cause sweaty feet to smell
  • Harmful to the environment, never decomposes
  • Poor quality compared to some other fabrics
  • Can cause your feet to overheat

Polyester socks are inexpensive and very durable. This material is not as highly recommended as others, such as cotton, wool, and bamboo, when used on its own. However, when polyester is blended with other fibers, such as cotton, it produces terrific material for socks. 


5. Nylon

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:50 am GMT

Nylon is a synthetic material, and like polyester, it is made using an acid that is entered into a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction forms a crystallized substance that is then heated and shaped to form nylon fibers. Nylon is a common material used in the production of socks, but like all fabrics, it has several strengths and weaknesses.

Here are the pros and cons of nylon: 

Pros:

  • Extremely stretchable
  • Some moisture-wicking abilities
  • A fair amount of heat retention
  • Durable
  • Resilient
  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Not very breathable
  • Likely to pill
  • Human-made
  • Performs better when blended with other fabrics

Nylon socks are almost always better when blended with other fabrics because they remove the negative attributes of the other material while keeping the good ones. For example, nylon will add elasticity and durability to another fabric that does not have that characteristic on its own. 

Another excellent quality of nylon is that it is highly adaptable. Manufacturers can make it thinner, silky, or bulky based on the desired qualities they want in the fabric.  


6. Spandex

Spandex is another synthetic fiber that is made from polyurethane and is known for its excellent elasticity. Elastane and Lycra are fibers very similar in style to Spandex, so they will be included in this section. Spandex first became popular with its use for women’s underwear and hosiery, but it did not take long before the production of spandex as shirts, dresses, pants, socks, and more began. 

Here are the pros and cons of Spandex:

Pros:

  • It is great at holding its shape
  • Very resilient
  • Provides a snug fit
  • Extremely elastic
  • Lightweight
  • Extremely breathable
  • Moisture-wicking 

Cons:

  • Harmful to the environmental 
  • Poor heat retention
  • Prone to pilling
  • Non-organic

Spandex is commonly mixed with other fibers to add to its strength in elasticity and a snug fit. Because of these properties, Spandex often replaces rubber. It also makes a fantastic material for bodysuits, swimwear, athletic wear, and compression garments. Unfortunately, Spandex is not easy to recycle and can cause microplastic pollution as fibers, when washed, flake off and end up in oceans and streams.


7. Silk

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 01:24 pm GMT

Silk is a natural protein fiber that comes from insect larvae, or silkworms, that are used to make cocoons. The silk fiber refracts light from various angles that give it its shimmering appearance.  Silk has more of an impact on the environment when produced because it requires more fertilizer and water than other natural fibers. Silk has become very popular in clothing for many reasons. 

Here is a list of the pros and cons of silk:

Pros:

  • Lightweight 
  • Very comfortable
  • Holds shape well
  • Strong, natural fiber
  • Shines and shimmers
  • Holds color and dyes well
  • Insulates well, keeping feet dry and cool
  • Smooth and soft
  • Absorbs moisture

Cons:

  • Can be very expensive
  • Requires special care
  • Can be difficult to clean
  • Delicate
  • Tears easily
  • Stains easily

As you can see, silk works well for athletic wear because it remains comfortable when hot. It can also keep you warm during colder weather by keeping heat close to the skin. Silk fabric is also threaded closer together and protects the skin from bug bites. Silk is often blended with cotton to produce a comfortable piece of clothing.


8. Acrylic

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 03:03 am GMT

Acrylic is another human-made synthetic fabric that was initially produced as a replacement for wool. Acrylic is a fossil-fuel-based fiber that is formed from the reaction of petroleum and coal-based chemicals. It has a wide range in thread count, which makes it suitable for a variety of items, such as clothing, furniture, wigs, and more.

Here are the pros and cons of acrylic:

Pros:

  • Very durable
  • Easy to clean and care for
  • Can pull moisture and sweat away from the skin through capillary action
  • Moisture is drawn to the outer surface of the fabric, allowing it to evaporate and keeping your feet dry and warm
  • It provides stretchability and give
  • Does not usually irritate the skin
  • Mildew resistant
  • Less expensive than cashmere 

Cons:

  • Likely to pill
  • Poor breathability
  • Dangerous production process because of its flammability and toxicity

Acrylic is an excellent replacement if you cannot find wool because it looks and feels almost identical. Acrylic fibers are also blended with sheep wool and cashmere to create lightweight, warm, and soft clothing articles, such as socks. 


9. Rayon

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:50 am GMT

Rayon is another human-made fiber; however, unlike the other human-made fibers we have talked about, rayon is not synthetic. It is made from natural animal products and wood. Rayon has been designed to imitate what other natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, and silk, feel like. Rayon is also commonly blended with other fibers. 

Here are the pros and cons of rayon:

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Environmentally friendly and biodegradable 
  • Less expensive than the fabrics it imitates
  • Great breathability
  • Moisture absorbency
  • Holds color and dyes well
  • Feels soft
  • Can have a sheen to it

Cons:

  • Toxic when bleached
  • It is relatively lightweight but a more substantial fabric than most others
  • Not recommended for machine washing or drying
  • Becomes misshapen when wet 
  • Shrinks easily
  • Not very stretchy

Because of its ability to shrink easily, you must be careful when washing rayon. If your fabric has less than 30% rayon, then it is less likely to shrink in the washing machine or dryer. Rayon is so prone to shrinking that it can even shrink when hand-washed in cold water. To guarantee your rayon socks will not shrink, make sure they aren’t made of pure rayon but rather a blend of another fiber and a small amount of rayon. 


10. Cashmere

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 08:54 am GMT

Cashmere is so similar to wool that it is often considered the same thing. However, cashmere is made from a goat’s coat, while wool is made from sheep. The hairs on the goat are so thin that when cashmere is woven, it becomes silky and incredibly soft.

Cashmere is a trendy fabric worldwide because of its many excellent characteristics. Because of its popularity and the small amount of it that is collected from a goat, it can be costly to purchase. 

Here are the pros and cons of cashmere:

Pros:

  • Very soft and comfortable
  • Silky to the touch
  • Keeps you very warm, just like wool
  • Made of natural materials
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Difficult to wash, must hand wash gently with soap
  • Very delicate, wears out easily
  • Is an animal product

Cashmere socks have been said to be the most luxurious socks in the world. They are extremely soft and comfortable, which makes them perfect for lounging around the house. It is not recommended that you wear cashmere socks with shoes because they are so delicate, and the friction would cause them to wear out quickly. If you like to have an extra layer on your feet, then wear them with slippers. 

Although cashmere is extremely popular by itself, it is also commonly blended with other fabrics, such as cotton, silk, and wool, to produce more formal clothing and outerwear for men and women. Often, cashmere socks are blended with other fabrics as well to make them more durable and long-lasting. 


11. Polypropylene

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/16/2024 07:29 pm GMT

When you think of socks, polypropylene probably does not come to mind. This fabric is becoming more popular in the production of socks because it is so waterproof. It is a synthetic material that contains plastic, making it very durable and stain-resistant. It is also known as olefin. 

Here are the pros and cons of polypropylene:

Pros:

  • Soft
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to clean
  • Water-resistant
  • Durable
  • Handles bleach well
  • Very breathable
  • Stretchable

Cons:

  • It is not recommended for heated drying because it has a low melting point
  • Can sometimes pill

Polypropylene is often used as a base layer in the production of clothing to make other fabrics more waterproof and improve their ability to draw out water to their outer surface for evaporation. Although polypropylene is commonly blended, you can find 100% polypropylene socks. These types of socks are great for hiking and other outdoor activities. They are often made into a sock liner that protects your feet from blisters while keeping you comfortable. 


12. Tencel

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Tencel, also known as lyocell, is another cellulose fiber like rayon that is made from the pulp of wood. Tencel is produced to be economically friendly and biodegradable. As it is soft and can feel luxurious, it makes great material for socks. 

Here are the pros and cons of Tencel (or lyocell):

Pros:

  • Soft and smooth
  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Breathable
  • Does not irritate the skin; it is ideal for those with skin allergies or sensitivities
  • Great for sweaty feet because it is moisture absorbent 
  • Does not wrinkle easily
  • Stretchable and elastic

Cons:

  • More expensive than cotton
  • Typically blended with other fabrics

Tencel will perform well on its own; however, it is often blended with other fabrics to enhance the performance of both fabrics. Tencel is commonly blended with wool and cotton to produce dress socks or everyday wear socks for both men and women. 


What Lifestyle Activities to Consider When Picking Out Socks?

Now that you are familiar with each of the common materials used in making socks, you need to figure out what you will be doing while wearing your socks to choose the best ones for you. If your socks are for skiing outside, then choose winter wear socks. If they are for lounging around, then try buying some cashmere ones. 

Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself to help you figure out what type of socks you need to buy: 

  • What activities will you be doing?
  • How will you be dressed?
  • What type of shoes will you have on with your socks?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Will your feet get sweaty?
  • Is your skin sensitive, or do you have allergies?
  • Which material do you prefer?

Characteristics of Socks to Consider

Once you know what type of activities you will be using your socks for and how they will work with your feet, you will then need to consider the actual constitution of the sock itself. Socks not only come in different materials; they also have various shapes, designs, and sizes. Being able to find a sock that fits properly is an essential step in finding the best sock for you and avoiding one that you will never wear again. 

Here is a list of the characteristics of socks you will want to consider:

  1. Sock Height – Depending on your activity, you will need to purchase a certain length of sock. Shorter socks, such as ankle socks, are suitable for sports activities, running, everyday wear, and similar activities. If you plan to use your socks for hiking or with taller shoes, such as boots, you will want taller socks. In winter weather, you might consider socks that cover your calves for activities such as skiing. 
  2. Sock Thickness – Again, depending on your activity, the thickness of the sock should vary. Thicker socks will keep you warmer and will cushion your feet more, making them ideal for colder weather. For warmer everyday activities or sports, you will probably want a thinner sock that is breathable and releases moisture. Some activities, such as hiking, might require either a thick or thin sock. You can try out both types to figure out which one is more comfortable for you. 
  3. Sock Weight – Always make sure that the weight of a sock is comfortable for you. To adjust weight, you will have to adjust the thickness of the sock. 
  4. Sock Fit – You will want to make sure your socks fit nicely around your heels and toes to prevent any curling or rubbing. The better the fit, the more comfortable you will be in your socks. Also, make sure you can position the seams of the socks in a way that they do not rub or irritate your feet. 
  5. Sock Constriction – When you purchase your sock, pull it inside out so you can see all the seams and fabric that is on the inside. Make sure all the seams are flat, so they do not irritate your feet, and pull out any lint or pill that has accumulated. 

In Conclusion

No one wants to purchase a pair of socks that will wear out quickly and get holes, so making sure you purchase a sock that is made of the best fabric and avoid the worst fabrics is crucial. Some fabrics will fare better with the everyday wear and use that socks endure. 

Remember, just knowing which fabrics work well for socks in general and which ones do not is not enough. Because socks are often made of a blend of materials, understanding the benefits and adverse effects of each material is essential when in the market for socks. Wearing the correct socks for your activity can make all the difference when it comes to your comfort!

For more information about socks, read my other article about 11 different socks materials and how I rate them for summer use

Thanks for visiting Helpshoe.com


Resources:

Sew Port

Medium

Nicharry

Sock Drawer

Soxy

Eastern Mountain Sports (Page no longer available)

Recent Posts