Best (and Worst) Fabric for Socks Explained

Socks are those everyday essential clothing items that most people can’t go without. Even though almost everyone wears them doesn’t mean that all socks are created equal.

Billions of socks are made each year in a variety of materials. Socks tend to be made of a combination of fabrics, each fabric serving a different function. The most commonly used fabrics for creating those sock designs and brands you love are in the table below.

Socks get designed with several different fabrics. Depending on your activity and other factors, some sock fabrics are better than others.

Read on for the best and worst material for socks explained.

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Best (and Worst) Materials for Socks Explained

Choosing comfy socks seems easy, but this is not always the case. Different compositions of different types of socks allow for the best attributes and worst parts of the sock.

Below is a chart ranking some of the best and worst sock types by the activity being used.

ACTIVITYBEST SOCK FABRICSWORST SOCK FABRICS
1. Casual and EverydayEgyptian Cotton, Cotton and Polyester blend, Bamboo, PolyesterCashmere, Angora
2. AthleticsBamboo, PolyesterCotton, Cashmere
3. RunningBamboo, Nylon, PolyesterCotton, Cashmere
4. Hiking and BackpackingMerino Wool, Wool, BambooPolyester, Cashmere
5. Sleeping and LeisureCashmere, WoolCotton
6. Cold Weather or SnowWool, AlpacaSpandex
7. Business or FormalNylon, SpandexCotton

It would be best to consider different situations/periods, especially in summer and winter, for various properties of socks. Also, the percentage of materials is essential.

For example, is that white sock 100% cotton? The list below details the best and worst sock materials for different purposes.

1. Polyester Socks

Pros

  • Great for active pursuits
  • Moisture-wicking; stays dry
  • Cheap cost

Cons

  • Not biodegradable

Polyester, a synthetic material, is perfect for socks. There are many additional natural fabrics and insulation features, such as comfort, dryness, and resilience. 

Polyester is moisture-wicking and dries very quickly. Thus it’s an effective material for sweaty feet in active roles like sports and working out.

The price of polyester is the least expensive of the sock material types making it an excellent bargain for casual socks and other low-impact activities. The polyester sock is pliable and great for active use such as sports, hiking, running, and walking.

Due to its versatility, it is usually cheaper than other sock materials, so polyester socks will be less likely to break the bank. Often a pair of polyester socks cost from $1 to 5 dollars.

One downside to polyester is that it is non-biodegradable.

The lack of biodegradable properties of the synthetic resin products of the polyester socks is because it is not woven, so it is not as comfortable for everyday or casual use.

2. Cotton Socks

Pros

  • Warm and soft
  • Comfortable all-day use

Cons

  • Absorbs sweat and stays wet
  • More expensive than other synthetics

Cotton is a natural and organic material commonly seen as a part of socks.

Most casual socks are typically made from cotton braided. Cotton is more padded and comfortable than other materials, such as polyester. They also are thicker and more durable.

One downside to cotton socks is that the cotton absorbs extra sweat. The extra absorbency makes them soggy and cold in cold weather.

Also, cotton can shrink when washed and tumbled under high pressure. Cotton socks are also relatively expensive and cost more than cheaper made fabric socks such as polyester. 

Cotton is a robust and smooth fiber that retains heat as it dries and is comfortable to wear at any temperature. Because cotton fibers tend to stretch easily and produce blistering, 100% cotton socks are best for dressing or lighting casual wear.

Many cotton socks manufacturers include synthetic fibers into the weave as they are meant for the softness and durability of cotton.

Overall, cotton socks are more durable and lasting. The longevity of cotton socks is especially true for the soft and luxurious fabric of Egyptian cotton.

The fibers are about 35 mm in length and soft and silky to the touch. 

3. Wool Socks

Pros

  • Warm and dry
  • Comfortable for hiking and outdoors

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Slightly flammable

Wool socks are one of the most comfortable and warm fabrics for socks in the world.

Wool is a unique material used to make socks for outdoor activities, including walking, backpacking with heavy weight on your back, and camping.

Depending on the wool used, sock prices can fluctuate but are often anywhere from $20 to $50 for high-end pairs. The cost of the pair of wool socks ranges from $10-20.

Natural wool carries many attributes required in a sock: warmth, a breathable surface, and breathable elasticity. Because wool is extremely warm and absorbing, wool gets used for making socks that can be bought for travel and camping.

The best part of wool is that it doesn’t allow bacteria build-up to proliferate. As a result, the wool is odor-resistant and can help keep smelly feet at bay. 

The downside to wool is that it wears out and can be very expensive compared with other sock fabrics. Also, wool is more flammable than other sock materials, so warming them by the fire is sure to give you a real hotfoot. 

Wool is excellent for staying warm and durable, even under harsh conditions, such as rain or snow. It is a great material for outdoorsy-type folks. 

4. Nylon Socks

Pros

  • Durable and functional
  • Used in a variety of sock types

Cons

  • Non-biodegradable
  • Not great for long hikes because of hot spots/blisters

Some socks are made entirely of nylon fiber.

Silky socks with sheer nylon material work great with dress shoes. They are stretchy and have a classic and elegant-looking smooth sheen to them.

The man-made quality of nylon socks makes them durable. However, they are not earth-friendly and take a long time to decompose in a landfill if thrown out. 

Nylon sock sizes generally range from $1-$10 for a pair depending on length and quality.

They are usually worn for a night out in a dress and formal occasions, but are durable and can get used many times before totally wearing out. 

Keep in mind the benefits from nylon: Silky nylon socks are both functional and versatile.

The strength of nylon socks’ power gets shown in their duration of usefulness, which lasts for many years, and their use for sports and activities requiring constant friction. 

5. Merino Wool

Pros

  • Great for hiking
  • Comfortable and breathable
  • Fire-resistant

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Thick and uncomfortable in cramped formal shoes

Merino wool keeps you warm during the cold and breathes enough to keep you cool when overheating. It aims to retain an even temperature, insulating instead of blocking heat. 

Breathability and wicking properties reduce clamminess on your toes and feet and make Merino wool socks one of the most comfortable and versatile sock fabrics in the world.

The natural fibers of merino wool are perfectly elastic and help a garment stretch and return to its original form, preventing sagging and slackening.

Another benefit of merino wool is that It is naturally fire-resistant and super absorbent. The material dries quietly while staying warm, even dry.

The difference between regular wool and merino wool is the softness of merino wool.

Merino wool is from a special kind of sheep called merino wool that has a silky consistency and is much less rough than ordinary sheep’s wool. Because of this rarity, merino wool is more expensive and more sought after than regular wool socks.

Merino wool is the backpacker’s secret for protecting their feet. It is also great for staying warm and cushioning. You may not want to pay the premium for everyday use, however. 

6. Silk

Pros

  • Great aesthetics
  • Resistant to dirt

Cons

  • Requires careful cleaning
  • Expensive

Silk is the most robust natural material for socks.

Silk is comfortable to wear all year but is sweat-sensitive and requires constant care and cleanup. Silk is flexible and feels light on your feet. The material is dirt resistant, absorbent, and has top insulating properties comparable to wool. 

The downsides to silk socks are that they are absorbent, so they harbor bacteria and smell badly after use. They need extra care for the safety and health of your feet. 

Silk is also costly. Silkworms make 100% natural silk for the material of silk socks, which is labor-intensive and difficult to procure.

That makes silk socks some of the most desirable and expensive socks on the market. They are usually saved for formal occasions or fancy occasions and outfits.

Silk is a luxury material. Silk socks feel great and look even better. However, they are prone to giving blisters and are too expensive for everyday use. 

7. Acrylic

Pros

  • Low maintenance
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Durable

Cons

  • Hot spots/blisters
  • Non-biodegradable

Acrylic is another man-made material that is good as a sock fabric.

Acrylic is a synthetic fabric with excellent wicking properties, meaning it dries out quickly and doesn’t absorb and retain water. This is important because it will then not harbor bacteria that mildew and make your socks smell bad. 

Acrylic is low maintenance material for socks and great for active people. They are lightweight, heat up with friction only mildly, and quickly dry, even when soaked through.

Most outdoor hiking or backpacking socks are usually made with a blend of acrylic and wool which provides good outdoor exercise material and wicking properties and protection and warmth even during the cold season.

Acrylic does tend to heat up on hotspots of the foot and could cause blisters if allowed to run continuously in weak spots on the skin. 

Acrylic is one of the most popular additives to sports socks for its stretch and durability. Just don’t wear them for too long doing repetitive motion or you could end up with blisters. 

8. Alpacas

Pros

  • Warm and comfortable
  • Well-cushioned
  • Dirt-proof

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not durable

The wool from alpacas is some of the warmest and comfortable materials on the planet for socks. Like all Merino sheep wool, it keeps your warmth and is hypoallergenic.

Alpaca filament is also water-repellent and varies from being thin to heavier depending on what gets spun. Alpacas are animals that have oversized coats of fur, much like sheep.

Their consistency tends to be a bit more waxy and thick than sheep’s wool, so it is warmer and offers better padding for the balls of your feet while hiking or walking. 

The downside to alpaca wool is that it is costly compared to other sock material types. Even though they are comfy, alpaca wool is not as strong as other natural fibers.

It would be best to keep your toenails trimmed and not walk around in your alpaca wool socks without shoes to prevent them from wearing down and forming holes. 

Alpaca wool is not great for physical activity. It tends to wear out quickly and give your feet blisters or hot spots after strenuous use.

However, it is breathable and suitable for lounging and sleepwear, keeping your feet warm without getting them sweaty.  

9. Cashmere

Pros

  • Warm and comfortable
  • Well-cushioned
  • Dirt-proof

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not durable

The cashmere material for socks comes from the undercoats of goats which are incredibly soft and warm. It is called the “champagne of socks” and is a treat for your feet for long winter nights and other casual or lounging wear. 

Much warmer than traditional wool, cashmere is a genuinely remarkable fabric for socks. Because of their fluffed and warm structure, they are perfect for lounging.

Some people even sleep in their cashmere socks because they are known for being breathable and not causing sweating on your feet.

The downside to cashmere is that they are not very durable. Cashmere socks require hand washing and flat drying to keep them in tip-top shape.

Also, cashmere socks rub hot spots onto the balls of your feet if used for physical activity, so it is best to not wear them for athletics and instead wear them for movie night or sleeping. 

Known as one of the most luxurious and comfortable fabrics for socks, cashmere is an excellent material for keeping your feet warm and toasty. 

10. Bamboo

Pros

  • Durable and functional
  • Used in a variety of socks

Cons

  • Non-biodegradable
  • Not great for long hikes because of hot spots/blisters
  • Expensive

The polyester fabric of bamboo is a strange but valuable material for making socks.

It has high strength anti-microbial properties, which means that the material does not collect bacteria and harbors bad-smelling germs like other more absorbent materials. 

Softer silkier and more breathable than cotton make this an ideal choice for premium socks. 

Bamboo socks are wonderful for everyday use or activewear because they are great for controlling sweat and are moisture-wicking.

The downside of bamboo material socks is that they are a polyester-type material that heats up on the rubbing spots of your feet. This could cause things like blisters to occur.

Also, bamboo, as a material for socks, is prone to shrinking much more than cotton, so make sure you order a larger size than you think you need.

Finally, bamboo is much more expensive than other sock material types for everyday use. 

Bamboos’ ability to stave off bacteria makes it a great choice for athletes. However, be careful that you don’t develop any blisters from hiking or repetitive motion exercise. 

Conclusion

Wearing socks is an invaluable part of your comfort! By understanding the best and worst fabrics for socks, you can choose the right pair based on your activities and preference.

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