Is Merino Wool Socks Better than Cotton?

As soon as the temperature drops, we reach for our trusty Merino wool socks. We love it because it’s naturally antimicrobial, odor-resistant, and non-allergenic. But is all this true? Is Merino wool socks better than cotton? What can both fabrics deliver to the average sock-seeker? Well, let’s answer those questions, starting with the second.

Merino wool is better than cotton because it absorbs moisture more readily, keeping your feet dry. Both Merino wool and cotton perform excellently in terms of softness and comfort. But Merino wool wears the crown better due to its durability.

There are many more reasons to choose Merino wool over cotton. I’m not saying that cotton is a bad choice. Both fabrics have their benefits, but Merino wool has more advantages over the latter. Here are some of them:


For any climate or weather condition, Merino wool socks are a savvy choice. Thanks to its natural ability to effectively regulate heat, Merino wool keeps you comfortable regardless of temperature. You can wear it during the winter or on hot days and in any season.

Woolies have been a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts for more than two hundred years. Wool fibers are naturally hydrophobic, so even if you’re hiking through wet grass or crossing streams, you won’t get that wet, squishy feeling in your socks. That’s because lanolin, an oil secreted by sheep to protect their skin from moisture, is dispersed throughout the Merino wool.

Cotton’s ability to absorb water makes it a poor choice for socks when hiking in cold or foggy terrain. The socks will end up getting soaked after minutes of being exposed to water vapor, making you feel heavy and lowering your body temperature.

When your body temperature drops below 32°C, especially if you’re hiking in the mountains without access to hot food or fire, hypothermia sets in. Basically, your heart tries harder to pump blood, your pulse rate drops dangerously low, and if there’s no immediate help, you could pass away.


Merino wool is tough to beat. It can withstand being bent 20,000 times before it breaks—compare that to cotton, which needs only 3,000 bends before it starts breaking down. Merino wool is also flame retardant since it absorbs moisture and prevents fires from starting.

Asides from that, Merino wool is flame retardant because it contains 14% nitrogen and a lot more moisture than synthetic and natural fabrics, including cotton. As a result, wool requires higher oxygen levels to burn and will only ignite when exposed to the blazing heat of at least 570°C! Once it has caught alight, the fabric will not allow the fire to spread, unlike synthetics. In addition, merino wool produces less smoke when burnt and no toxic gases like polyesters.

In contrast, cotton turns yellow at 120°C, and at 240°C, it’s as good as gone.

Even though both cotton and Merino wool provide comparable levels of comfort for the feet, it is safe to say that wool is more durable.

Fabric Care

Cotton and Merino wool are both easy to care for. Wool is not easily stained and doesn’t retain odors, so you need not worry about washing it too often. Hand washing in warm water with a minimal amount of detergent should be all that you need to do with Merino wool socks.

Conversely, cotton can withstand harsher detergents and won’t be damaged by hot water, so you can machine-wash cotton socks. That’s a good thing because they get stained and smelly quickly enough that you’ll need to wash them after every use.

Less Stink

When your feet get sweaty, they may smell bad. This is because moisture is what causes most foot odors. But when you wear Merino wool socks, moisture will be wicked away from your feet, keeping them fresh all day long!

Cotton may wick moisture just like wool, but it doesn’t last long before it starts to smell bad. So if you’re traveling on an adventure and want your socks to feel fresh for more than a few days, Merino is the best option.

Quick Dry

Merino wool fibers are porous, which means they’ll dry easily after being washed. This is especially important when traveling or doing adventure sports since you don’t want to be stuck wearing wet socks.

When hiking or traveling, it’s better to take fast-drying socks, such as Merino wool ones, so that you can carry everything you need and don’t have to worry about washing your things in a hotel room with minimal access to laundry facilities.

Environmental Impact

Merino wool socks are made from Merino sheep’s wool, and cotton socks are made from the fiber of cotton plants. Both fabrics are processed naturally, so there’s less pollution from their production than other synthetic materials.

But if we were to call the jury on cotton and Merino wool, we’d have to admit that wool is more environmentally friendly. You see, those Merino wool socks are made from the sheared wools of Merino sheep, which will regrow over time.

And cotton? After harvesting the cotton buds, you destroy the leftover plants and recultivate the entire farmland to have more cotton. Such mass planting requires so much water to carry out.


Think of Merino wool as the human equivalent of sheepskin. What does your skin do for your body? First things first, it insulates or protects your other organs from subjection to environmental woes, e.g., cold.

In the same vein, Merino wool safeguards the bodies of innocent Merino sheep from cold. Do you see why Merino wool socks are said to be better at insulation than cotton?

On the other hand, wool is suitable for providing warmth. In dry conditions, when both cotton and wool are wet, wool offers better insulation. Wool offers better insulation because its scally fabric allows more air pockets to remain within the fabric.

Final Thoughts: Is merino wool socks better than cotton?

Cotton and Merino wool are both great for keeping your feet dry, but Merino wool has some advantages over cotton. It’s versatile, meaning you can wear it in any season. Also, Merino wool dries faster than cotton, making it a better choice for vacations and outdoor adventures.

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