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I was looking for ways on how to prevent blisters on my foot when I found out that cotton socks are bad for running. As a curious person, it wasn’t enough to just follow that advice without knowing why. So I asked my friends in the running community as well as the expert in our local running shoe store, and here’s what I found.
In general, it is best to avoid cotton socks when running because it absorbs too much sweat and traps moisture which causes friction that leads to blisters. In addition, cotton socks make your feet moist and warm, a potential site for bacterial build-up that could result in fungal infections and foot odor.
Knowing this, I immediately ditched those cheap cotton socks I used to wear in PE class and bought multiple pairs of running socks. Ahead, we will take a closer look at these 5 reasons and how they can affect your running. I will also give you some advice on what you should wear instead. Let’s get right into it.
#1 It Absorbs Too Much Sweat
One thing I hate the most is that I sweat a lot. Probably a lot more than all my friends who run with me. Not just in my body but also my hands and feet.
This becomes a problem when I wear cotton socks, in particular. Cotton socks absorb so much sweat that I and my running buddies hear a squishy sound—that distinct sound that you hear when water rushes from a wet sponge—and it sounds disgusting.
Funny thing is, it happens in every step. Everyone who runs with me knows where that sound is coming from.
Not only that it’s annoying to hear that squishy sound in every step after the 7-mile mark, but it also adds a little bit of weight to my foot.
How much liquid does cotton socks absorb? According to Sciencing.com, cotton can absorb 27 times its weight in liquid. And since most regular socks are made of mostly cotton, it reaches a point where you can feel the weight difference.
I’m not sure how much it affects my speed, but every ounce matter with running footwear.
#2 It Can Cause Blisters
Blisters are these painful tiny bumps with fluid in between the skin layers. The mechanism of this injury is friction or heat. They may look small and less painful than they actually are but they could mess up your run big time.
Don’t get fooled by cotton socks feeling smooth and soft when you take them out from your closet. Once they get drenched in sweat, the smoothness will quickly disappear, therefore, increasing the friction between your socks and feet.
If you run long enough, your feet will get blisters around the common hot spots which are located in the:
- Sides of the foot
- Ball of the foot
- Under toes
- In between toes
#3 It Affects Breathability
Breathability is a must for every sportswear. That is why all running gear (except GPS watches), from shoe to shirt boasts breathability. And it’s not just a matter of comfort. Ventilation affects blood flow which could affect performance and recovery.
Cotton socks aren’t breathable. They trap moisture and heat, greatly impacting the breathability of your foot.
If you have breathable shoes but not breathable socks, you won’t benefit from the performance boost of breathable gear. Aside from that, unbreathable clothing reduces the feeling of “freshness” which could mess with you mentally.
#4 It Causes Foot Odor And Fungal Infection
Have you ever smelled your feet after you wore a sweaty sock for an extended time? You may think it’s your sweat but sweat is actually odorless. That awful smell is a result of the build-up of bacteria on your feet, socks, and shoes.
As mentioned earlier, cotton socks trap moisture and heat—the ideal environment for bacterial growth. As a result, it causes not only bad odor but also fungal infection (also known as athlete’s foot).
Aside from your feett, your shoes will likely smell awful too. If so, you can do these simple steps to get rid of shoe odor.
#5 It’s The Worst For Trail Running
You’re not gonna love wearing cotton socks in trails either. Not only that it will cause blisters and all of the things I’ve mentioned above, but it will also trap mud and dirt which is harder to remove in cotton garments.
Unlike running socks, most regular socks made of cotton don’t have grip technology, blister protection, cushion, and support built into them. The differences are more prominent in trails with regular socks because your foot could easily slide inside the shoe reducing stability and increasing the risk of developing blisters.
You’ll also miss the added comfort of the strategic placement of the cushioning too. Most running socks have cushioning placed in strategic areas to protect your feet.
If you want to know more about the differences between running socks and regular socks, I actually made an article that directly compared them. Check it out.
What Should You Wear Instead?
Instead of wearing those cotton socks you usually wear to work, you should wear running-specific socks.
These socks are made with synthetic fibers that wick away moisture keeping your feet fresh and dry through the run. This will greatly reduce the risk of developing blisters, foul odor, and athlete’s foot.
Aside from that, most running-specific socks are equipped with extra support in the arch that could potentially help runners with a weak arch or at least provide better sensory feedback.
Running socks are slightly more expensive than regular socks but they are way better than the latter. I highly recommend that you invest in at least 3 of those when you’re first starting out.
If you’re ready to choose one, I created a quick guide on how to choose your running socks at this link.
My Favorite Running Socks
If you want to take a quicker approach and just use the same socks I use, here are my recommended running socks for different situations:
- For cold weather: SmartWool socks – they are thicker and warmer than the other socks that I’ve tried.
- For hot weather: Balega Silver No-Show Socks
- If you get frequently blisters in between your toes: Injinji socks
- For trail running: MudGear Premium Compression Socks