Merino Wool vs. Cotton: What's The Difference?

Cotton vs Merino: Is it time to change your shirt?

Cotton shirts are the norm. So much so that we rarely stop to consider the alternative. And yet a Merino wool shirt looks better, feels better and is better for the environment.

Merino Wool vs. Cotton: What's The Difference?

If you’re looking for a simple hack to make your life easier and more comfortable, at the same time as reducing your environmental impact, then changing your shirt could be the best thing you do this year. Here’s why.

Looking good

Of course, freshly laundered and pressed cotton looks good when you first put it on. But it doesn’t keep that crisp look for long. Cotton fibres are easily bent out of shape, so creases form quickly.

By contrast, Merino wool is crease-resistant. Wool fibres are more resilient than cotton; you can bend them, and they spring back to recover their original shape. This makes it difficult for creases to form. So, not only can you get away without ironing wool, it stays looking good all day. 


Crumpled. Does your cotton shirt sometimes end the day looking like this?

Cool when it’s hot. Warm when it’s cold.

Cotton is a natural fabric, so it’s breathable and therefore a reasonable choice on a hot day. But cotton attracts moisture and is slow-drying, so when you sweat, it shows. Going straight from the bike and into the big meeting probably isn’t a good idea; you’re going to want to change your shirt - if you’re wearing cotton, that is.

A Merino wool shirt, however, is not only breathable but it wicks moisture away from your body, saving you from sweat patches. In fact, wool can absorb more than 35% of its own weight in moisture without feeling damp to the touch.

But it’s cleverer than that. We know that wool keeps you warm when it’s cool. But it also keeps you cool in the heat. As moisture evaporates from the wool, it cools the fabric and you.

A Merino wool shirt is breathable and keeps you comfortable in all conditions

A Merino wool shirt is breathable and keeps you comfortable in all conditions

If you’re wondering whether all this can be true, take a look at your sportswear. Cotton is all but obsolete - replaced by superior fabrics that stretch, wick moisture and help you regulate temperature. Look to any endurance sport and you’ll see their base layers are made from high-performance fabrics like Merino wool.

Fresh all day long

One of the reasons you can wear our shirts more than once between washing is because Merino wool is anti-bacterial, that is to say it’s an inhospitable environment to bacteria – technical but true. And because it’s the bacteria that cause odour, you and your shirt stay fresh all day.

Many of our customers report wearing their shirts for 10 days or more between washes, with their shirts staying fresh, clean and crisp - no odours and no creases. Try doing that with a cotton shirt! *

* Actually, it’s probably best not to.

water droplets

Easy to care for

Caring for cotton is a chore. Odour-causing bacteria grow rapidly, the moment you start perspiring in cotton, so cotton shirts need to be washed after every wear. And they have to be pressed every time. We are going to go ahead here and assume that you have better things to do with your time than ironing.

Because a Merino shirt stays fresher longer it needs less washing. And because you can wear it straight from the drying rack, you’ll save hours a week on laundry and ironing.

Turning on the washing machine

Cotton shirts mean lots of laundry


You might think that with cotton being a natural fabric, it would be environmentally friendly. But that’s before you discover how much water and chemical pesticides are used to grow cotton. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16.5% of the world’s insecticides — that’s more than any other single major crop.

A crop-duster airplane spraying cotton with chemical insecticide

Cotton being sprayed with insecticide

On top of pesticides, the cotton fabric in non-iron shirts is treated with additional chemicals, such as formaldehyde, to stiffen the fabric and make it less crease-prone. That’s why non-iron shirts typically feel less comfortable than untreated shirts. When you stop to think about how Nicorette patches work, it makes you wonder just what your body could be absorbing from that non-iron shirt. 

Merino wool needs no such chemicals, making it a purer choice for you and the environment.

A merino sheep in nature

Environmentally friendly 

Cotton is also the largest consumer of water in the clothing supply chain. It can take an astonishing 2,700 litres of water to grow a single cotton t-shirt. The world’s fresh water supplies are limited and the demands from a growing human population increase every year. Cotton has the World Wildlife Fund sounding the alarm: “The stress cotton is putting on water supplies isn’t sustainable – for the cotton industry, people, wildlife or ecosystems.”

And that’s just for the manufacture of cotton. We know caring for cotton is time consuming. But it’s also energy consuming. If you looked at a single cotton shirt, the washing, drying and ironing after every single wear will account for as much as 70% of its lifetime energy consumption.

A cotton t-shirt can take 2700 litres of water to make

In short, cotton is bad for the environment.

Merino wool, by contrast, is a renewable resource. Sheep grow a new fleece every year, fuelled by nothing more than grass, a little water, and sunshine. And because wool clothing needs much less washing, drying and ironing, it consumes much less energy over the life of the garment. Switching to wool shirts can substantially cut your personal energy consumption and carbon emissions. 


Why shouldn’t we wear these fabrics every day when they are superior in every way?

At Hardvark, we think we should. We’re leading the charge with beautifully crafted Merino wool shirts that outperform cotton in every respect. Hardvark shirts are designed to keep you comfortably sharp and help you be at your best, all day, every day. They make life easier for you and the easier on the planet. That’s progress. Now you know all the advantages of wearing Merino wool instead of cotton, isn’t it time you made the switch?