Most conventional pairs of socks are made from polyester or nylon, which deposit thousands of microplastics each wash, which escape to the sea and harm marine wildlife. In 2011, ecologist Mark Browne of University College Dublin discovered that 85% of microplastics on our shores were from synthetic fabrics released during doing laundry. You can buy microplastic catch bags but they don’t catch all of them (and even then can rise up and ‘travel off at landfill’ in rainy weather). And let’s be honest, most people are not going to buy or use them.
Elastane (also called Lycra and Spandex – a plastic made into a fabric using chemicals) is used in socks, hosiery, swimwear and yoga/sports wear, because it helps natural fabrics like cotton or bamboo to stretch, and keep good shape (around 5 to 10% is used). But this is enough to do damage to our waters, and it’s perfectly possible to find 100% natural fibre socks, though brands are still few and far between. They won’t be as stretchy, but the plus side is they are less likely to cause itchy or sweaty feet. The strange thing is that you have to go to companies that offer clothing for people with eczema, to find truly natural socks.
Eczema Clothing offers a really nice range of 100% organic cotton socks for men, women and children. These socks are thoughtfully designed with no raised seams and no tight elastic around the ankle.
If you need socks en-masse (say for school uniforms or sports teams), The Sourcing Team offers corporate branded socks in 100% organic cotton.
Stripe & Stare Socks are designed in London and made ethically abroad, made from Tencel (from trees, a bit like a local bamboo) and a new fabric called Roica V550 (a biodegradable alternative to elastane, which breaks down in soil in a few years, releasing no harmful chemicals). Sold in a recycled gift box, these socks are designed in a range of pretty colours and styles.
Did you know that there is a creature called a deep-sea sock? He has no gills or eyes, and looks a bit like a blob floating on the ocean floor. He looks like a purple sock!
Don’t Leave Socks Around Near Pets
Many people forget that socks (to a dog) smell super! They smell of you. And even if you don’t have smelly feet, your dog can smell them, and thinks they are fab. So don’t leave them around, because socks can be choking hazard, if dogs start chewing them. For more tips, see Amy’s book to keep your dog safe.
A Kinder Pair of Socks
Rescued goat Marcia at Farm Sanctuary says ‘please don’t wear cashmere’
- Avoid cashmere This is from goats, and they often are shorn of their coats in winter, when they need it the most (the same can happen with sheep). Some goats uses for cashmere die of the cold, as they have little fat on their bodies.
- Although wool is natural, many sheep suffer a technique where they have chunks of skin cut off (without painkillers) to prevent flystrike. Others are killed, when they get old or wool production slows. Sheep do usually near shearing or could die from heat exhaustion or tip over in the rain (if you see a fallen sheep, put her upright and stay with her until the rain drains away). Sheep that are not sheared also can’t see predators.
- Nylon or polyester. It’s difficult to find any socks without a touch of these ,but go for what you can. These are made from petroleum (oil) so don’t biodegrade, and also cause smelly feet.
- Silk involves killing silkworms (some ‘peace silk’ leaves them too exhausted to eat, so they also die). Look instead for socks made with Cupro (looks like silk, made from cotton off-cut waste).
Better Materials for Socks
- Linen comes from the flax plant. It’s biodegradable and breathable.
- Cotton is good, choose organic or recycled if you can.
- Hemp is also good and can be grown locally. It’s only a distant cousin of cannabis, so won’t make you high.
- Bamboo is a fast-growing grass but not local.
- Tencell is a locally grown wood polp, that produces biodegradable cellulose.
If you have diabetes, you may need special socks, to keep your feet dry. Maggie’s Organics offers organic cotton socks for diabetics. They have maximum circulation without falling down, and extra stretch in the legs. Features no-feel toe seams and plush cushion foots.
How to Choose Good Socks
- Choose bamboo if you run, as they wick moisture better.
- Cotton and hemp are good for everyday wear.
- Choose socks with padding if you have extra weight or arthritis.
- Socks should feel snug, but not cut off circulation. People with eczema are best avoiding poorly-made rough seams.
- Ethical Wares sells good wool-free hiking socks (one organic brand) to go with their vegan hiking shoes and boots.
Socks to Help the Homeless
All homeless shelters say clean socks are always the most requested item, especially as people living on the streets are unable to wash them. This can lead to damp and uncomfortable shoes, which in turn can lead to foot infections (which can be deadly for people with conditions like diabetes, or lead to amputations).
How to Wash Organic Socks
- Wash socks daily with biodegradable detergent (unscented for pregnancy/nursing or young children), and avoid fabric conditioner, as this avoids absorbing sweat. Lint does not accumulate much on natural fabrics.
- Wash socks ideally by hand in a little warm water and mild detergent, for a few minutes. You don’t have to scrub them. For the machine, turn them inside out and organise into pairs then wash in cold water.
- To whiten socks, avoid chlorine bleach. Just add 1 teaspoon vinegar to one litre of heated (warm) water, soak for 30 minutes, then wash as normal. Or use lemon juice (takes a few hours).
Make Your Socks Last Longer
- Organic socks last longer anyway, as fabrics are not treated with chemicals.
- Use a reusable make up pad set that has a mesh laundry bag. You can use this to put pairs of socks in, to avoid them getting lost in the machine.
- Never dry-clean socks, and wash similar colours. Wash inside out and don’t use too hot water (or bleach).
- Dry socks flat to preserve the elastic. Pat dry (don’t wring) and don’t iron them. To dry, place wet socks in a towel, roll into a tub and twist slightly, then air-dry.
- Buy socks that fit your feet, to avoid the heel breaking through.
- Buy good vegan shoes. A couple of good pairs (alternate daily to let the sole dry out) also keeps socks in good condition. Shoes that rub your feet will also ruin your socks.
- Marie Kondo (that tidiness-obsessed Japanese woman) says to place one sock on top of the other, then fold along imaginary lines, like folding a letter – stack ‘standing up’ in sock drawer.
- Look after your feet. Rough skin and jagged long toenails can break through a sock.
Should Babies Wear Socks?
Don’t let baby feet overheat. NHS say to remove extra layers like hats, coats and blankets when entering warmer temperatures (like a car), even if it means waking a baby. But keep heads and feet warm, in cooler temperatures.