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Cotton Socks Fail the Blister Test

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Updated July 04, 2008

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Updated July 04, 2008
Sweat plus the friction causes foot blisters, and cotton socks are the worst choice for walkers and runners. This was confirmed by a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia of athletic socks. "We found that 100 percent cotton socks were usually the worst especially when a person started to sweat," said Robert Mooney, MU biological engineering student in a press release.

Socks Tested for Producing Blisters

A team of University of Missouri-Columbia biological engineering students tested 10 popular brands of athletic socks. The testing device held the sock against a form at a set pressure and calculates when it begins to slip - just as socks rub against your skin. The test was done in a humidity chamber to simulate sweating. This revealed the coefficient of friction (COF) for each sock - a higher COF means a blister is more likely to develop.

Synthetic Socks Mean Less Blister-Causing Friction

All-cotton socks performed poorly while nylon socks did much better. The higher priced socks did not test any better than the inexpensive brands. The test also showed where on the sock synthetic fabric is needed to produce less friction. "I would look for a pair that had different compositions of materials in different parts of the sock," said Lisa Huhman, biological engineering student at Mizzou, in a press release. "I would not want a sock that was overall cotton. I might look for a sock that had some of those synthetic materials that were proven to be better."

What's Wrong With Cotton Socks?

Cotton does not wick moisture away from the skin, but holds it next to the skin. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester draw the moisture away from the skin so it can be evaporated in the shoe. Wool socks also have moisture-management properties.

Research Should Help Those With Diabetes

The research is also aimed at finding ways to design socks for people with diabetes who have circulation problems. Lisa Huhman, biological engineering student at Mizzou said, "We find out where diabetics have skin trauma and target those areas. This isn't just about helping athletes prevent blisters."

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Source: Press Release, University of Missouri-Columbia, Feb. 20, 2006.

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