How To Tell If Batting Is Cotton Or Polyester

Batting is a popular fabric and material used for everything from making quilts to backing oven gloves and tea cosies.

Polyester and cotton backing are very different and can be torn apart using a number of tests from burn test, the feel and texture and the longevity of the fabric. The burn test will result in the fabric melting if it is polyester.

In this article, I am going to talk about the differences between cotton and polyester and how you can tell the two apart.

What Is The Difference Between Cotton & Polyester Batting?

When it comes to batting, two of the materials that always come up are cotton and polyester. Many quilters prefer one or the other, and sometimes it can be not very clear knowing which to choose.

Check out the differences between Cotton and Polyester batting here:

Cotton

This is made from natural fibres and is usually associated with its comfort and soft texture. Cotton has a thick flannel feel when you hold it because of its light and breathable natural fibre.

It is better if you quilt cotton with a machine as quilting cotton by hand is challenging. Of all the other materials for batting, it has the heaviest weight, which is a factor to consider depending on the work you intend to do with it.

You can wash cotton without pilling. However, it might shrink slightly depending on the mix and percentage of cotton in the fibre. The more cotton in a fabric, the more you should be wary of shrink.

Shrinking is considered flawed, but it has a bright side to it. When a batting shrinks after the first wash, it typically softens the quilt and makes it have a vintage and softer appearance, depending on your preferences. Cotton generally softens with time and ages well.

Overall, cotton is insulating, soft, and breathable. You should be mindful of the shrinkage and remember to preshrink, except you have a look in mind. Typically, cotton is also heavier and more expensive than polyester.

Polyester

This is a lightweight fabric that is also very durable nonetheless. Since you don’t need to quilt them very close together like cotton, it is excellent for hand quilting. This is especially true for the low loft versions of the material.

On the other hand, the higher loft option is a perfect choice if you want your quilting work to stand out from others. If you want a thicker quilt, we suggest the highest loft polyester batting because it is one of the easiest to tie.

Also, polyester batting options give a lot of excellent insulation without any additional weight. However, there are a couple of things you need to note with polyester batting.

The first is that it might shift if you do not quilt it densely. Another consequence of not quilting it closely is the polyester fibres migrating through the fabric to the outside of the quilt, usually called a beard.

Overall, polyester is warm, non-allergic, lightweight, less expensive, has a wide loft variety, and needling is easy. What may be a challenge is that polyester is not breathable.

How To Tell If Batting Is Cotton Or Polyester.

Price

On average, cotton batting is more expensive than polyester of the same size. This should be your first clue in deciding if batting is cotton or polyester.

Feel and Texture

Touch the fabric, and you can closely guess which material it is. Cotton has a softer texture than polyester.

Polyester batting also retains its shape far better than other fibres, including cotton. You will mostly see polyester fibres for beddings and cribs.

Fabric Burn Test

You can do a burn test by setting a piece of the fabric on fire, monitoring how the flame burns, and inspecting the ashes. You should only do this test outside and on a day that isn’t windy.

Stay in a well-ventilated area with enough space away from children, pets, and flammable items.

Items for The Test

  • Fabric to test
  • Flameproof container that has walls. You can use a large ashtray and place it in another container like the sink, where water is easy to get.
  • Pitcher of water to put off the flame if you’re not doing the test in a sink
  • Long matches or other sources of a small flame
  • A hemostat or long tweezers

Steps for Carrying out a Burn Test

  1. Cut the fabrics you want to test into small pieces of about 2-inch squares
  2. Place the piece of cloth in a fireproof container and set fire to one of the edges.
  3. Pay attention to the color of the smoke, as this will partly determine the material of the fabric. Check for the following:
  • Burning paper smells which means it is cotton and has an afterglow at the end of the burn.
  • A darkish plume of smoke that smells like burning plastic or chemicals indicates that the fabric is polyester or a cotton/polyester blend. 
  1. Wait till it has finished burning and the ashes have formed. Examine them for the following:
  • Soft and delicate ashes indicate a cotton fabric. When you touch it, it should turn to dust.
  • Hard and lumpy ashes are the remains of melted synthetic fibers such as polyester.
  1. You can take the steps further and have 100% certainty. Take some clumps of thread from a small part of the fabric. 
  2. Use tweezers to hold the clump over the flameproof container and slowly move a small flame to the clump. Watch out for the following:
  • If the fiber ignites as you draw the flame near, it is cotton
  • If the fiber curls away from the heat and melts, it indicates synthetic fiber like polyester.