A Head to Head Comparison Cotton vs Synthetic vs Merino Wool
It’s no secret, we’re mad about merino wool. But is it worth the investment and hype die hard fans rave about?
We think so, but to be true to our values of respect, transparency and helping our community through their own sustainable journeys, we wanted to give you the hard facts about merino wool, the honest benefits, and how it compares to other popular fabrics in a similar style from top rated, brand name retailers.
Knowledge is power, and the more informed we are the healthier you and the planet will be in the long run. We vote for change with our dollars, and whether you shop at Nui or another sustainable business, buy merino wool or another natural fabric, feeling confident that your purchase aligns with your sustainable values and budget, contributes to the betterment of the world you and your family live in.
Is merino wool worth the investment?
After all, Merino wool is more expensive than many other yarns, and there are plenty of other options on the market. From cotton, to acrylic, to regular wool - you do have choices.
But are you getting value for wear?
At Nui, we believe merino wool trumps all other natural fibers because of it’s endless natural benefits: next-to-skin comfort, warmth, moisture wicking capabilities, breathability, fire resistance, sustainability and more...
A premium quality merino top feels softer and lighter than cotton while outperforming it in warmth, moisture wicking, and temperature regulation. As a next-to-skin layer, merino wool is hard to beat.
To fully understand why we have a special love for merino wool and why it is more expensive and touted so much, you have to understand its origins.
What is Merino?
Merino is a breed of sheep that thrives in Australia and New Zealand, and is best known for its long fiber, soft and fine wool. Wool's quality and softness is measured in microns, and the lower the micron, the finer and softer the wool is. Regular coarse wool can be 40 micron or more. Human hair measures at 75 micron. Nui's organic merino wool thermals are made from a super fine 17.5 micron.
Because of it’s fine texture, merino wool isn’t itchy or rough like thicker wool's but still has the impressive warmth and moisture wicking capabilities. It’s breathable, temperature regulating, antimicrobial, and resilient so it doesn't lose its shape - making it a perfect natural fiber to use as socks, pajamas, outerwear, and can be adapted for all seasons.
But wool is itchy. Isn't it?
When people think of wool, many think it is itchy and scratchy. And it can be.
But some wool is not. Why?
Wool has small barb-like scales all over it. In order to make it machine washable, it is treated with chlorine so that the scales won’t tangle together and cause shrinking and felting. This process results in wastewater with unacceptably high levels of adsorbable organohalogens (AOX) – toxins created when chlorine reacts with available carbon-based compounds. Dioxins, a group of AOX, are one of the most toxic known substances. This wastewater is so toxic in fact, that the process is not even permitted in the USA. Which is why most wool from other brands is processed in other countries and then imported into the US.
This is unacceptable for any sustainable brand that cares about people and planet. This is why Nui merino wool knits are NOT processed using chlorine. Instead, our knits are Oeko-Tex100 certified (fabric has been tested and certified to be free from harmful levels of more than 100 substances known to be harmful to human health) and safe for the wearer AND the environment.
A term you must know -MULESING
In addition to the aforementioned toxic chlorine process used on most wool, mulesing is a common practice that involves the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from a sheep to prevent parasitic infection flystrike.
This is clearly BAD. It is a painful and cruel practice that harms the sheep.
Most fast fashion brands who are not transparent about their sourcing obtain wool that is from mulesed sheep as it is cheaper and more readily available. From the customer standpoint, you would never know by looking at a garment if it came from a mulesed sheep.
But cruelty in any form, should not be tolerated. Knowing where and how your wool items are sourced and processed - knowing a brand’s values so you can make sure it aligns with yours - should be an important part of the buying process.
What is your sweater made of?
In addition to merino wool, the most common types of knit sweaters on the market are cotton, acrylic, regular wool, and blended fibers. So, let’s look at how these other materials compare to merino wool:
We love filling our cars with gas and then turning the nozzle on ourselves - said no one ever.
Acrylic is a fiber derived from fossil fuels - AKA petroleum. Acrylic is essentially a plastic and is cheap to use in clothing, which is why it is commonly found in fast fashion. As far as synthetic fibers go, it is also relatively warm, so it is used in many fast fashion sweaters and winter wear.
Many companies tout that it is a vegan material, but that doesn’t diminish it’s dirty footprint, using more water to produce than cotton, and shedding 750,000 microplastics into the ocean every time it is washed, causing great harm to our oceans wildlife.
Just like wool, cotton it is a plant-based sustainable material and is also biodegradable. It is breathable and absorbs 27 times its weight in moisture. This is great as a towel, but probably not so great if you want it to keep you warm and dry as a sweater or sock in the winter.
And while cotton is a “natural” fiber, in fact, conventional production practices involve the use of substantial fertilizers and pesticides. Pesticides threaten the quality of soil and water, the growers, the environment, as well as the health of biodiversity in and downstream from the fields.
Merino wool is actually a type of yarn while cotton is not. Cotton has to be made into yarn while wool only needs to be spun. That means cotton requires more energy and water and releases more CO2 emissions to process. Additionally, a cotton garment does not have the durability of one made of merino wool, as a comparative bend rate of merino wool bending 20,000 times without breaking, vs. cotton fibers which break after 3,000 bends.
Merino wool vs Acrylic vs Acrylic/Cotton blend
We think there is a clear winner in this showdown - merino wool.
Luxuriously soft next to your skin, warmer than all other fibers and fabrics, moisture wicking so it keeps you dry even when wet, breathable, and purchased from a trusted sustainable brand, ethical, eco friendly, and chemical-free.
This quote from Forbes Magazine very clearly separates the sheep from the goats, “fast fashion garments, which we wear less than 5 times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.”
You may have invested more for your Nui Merino Wool Knit Sweater, but knowing your sweater matches your sustainable values and gives your wardrobe a stylish nod from even the most discerning tastemakers is a win for everyone. And knowing your merino wool sweater will retain its shape, quality and style for years to come, makes it a hands down winner and an investment you won’t regret making.