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How to Select the Best Flag Material: Nylon, Cotton & Polyester Compared

Feb 21st 2022

Whether you’re expressing support for your favorite country or sports team or just adding a decorative touch to your home, flags are a great way to put your passion on display. Flags are available in various materials, each with qualities that excel in different conditions. Let’s look at the most widely used fabrics for flags and compare the benefits and considerations for nylon, cotton and polyester flags.

Common Flag Materials

With the historical use of flags dating back to the days of the Roman and Persian Empires’ military standards, it’s no wonder that through the ages, an abundance of materials and fabrics have been used in the construction of flags. The earliest American flags, for example, were made of everything from wool to cotton and silk to linen, depending on the flag being created.

Today, commercially produced flags are most often available in three varieties of fabric — cotton, nylon and polyester. While specialty flags are available in other materials, these are usually far more expensive and significantly less durable than more common materials.

Nylon Flags

The most common material used for flags, nylon is a synthetic material that was first synthesized by DuPont in 1934. It was quickly adopted in consumer goods — most notably women’s hosiery and other garments — and it reached the height of its popularity in the 1950s and 60s.

While less relevant in clothing today, nylon remains an incredible material for flags, as it offers great durability while being lightweight and inexpensive.

Some of the benefits of nylon flags include that they are:

  • Recyclable
  • Affordable
  • Quick drying
  • Colorfast
  • Difficult to stretch or tear
  • Resistant to damage by mold, mildew and insects

These benefits make nylon an ideal material for outdoor flags.

Cotton Flags

A cotton flag is the perfect choice for anyone that wants a vintage yet timeless look to their flag and is the go-to material for re-enactments and ceremonial uses. One of the much-loved features of a cotton flag is its draping quality due to its heavier weight and natural fibers.

While cotton flags can be used in outdoor settings, it is most often preferable to use synthetic fabrics for outdoor use. Cotton’s natural quality makes it susceptible to mildew, rot and sun damage if not properly cared for. Cotton has a more attractive appearance that makes it the preferred choice for indoor use.

Some benefits of cotton flags include that it is:

  • A natural material
  • Durable
  • Biodegradable
  • Machine washable
  • Soft
  • More beautiful with its natural fibers and superior draping

Polyester Flags

Similar to nylon, polyester is another synthetic material initially discovered by researchers at the DuPont company, though the synthetic fiber was patented in 1941 by two British chemists. Though primarily used in clothing, recent years have seen the base polymer of polyester, PET, used for water bottles, videotape and x-ray film.

While polyester flags have many of the same traits as nylon flags, they can be significantly heavier, making them excellent for outdoor use due to increased durability. Because of this, polyester flags are also more expensive.

Some of the benefits of polyester for flags include that it is:

  • Strong and durable
  • Non-absorbent
  • Machine washable
  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Colorfast
  • UV fade and stain resistant
  • Resistant to damage by mold, mildew and insects

Best Outdoor Flag Materials

While there are no rules restricting what materials outdoor flags must be made of, some general performance factors must be considered. As mentioned above, nylon and polyester’s synthetic qualities make them more durable for continuous outdoor use, for which reason many consider them the best flag fabrics for outdoors.

With that in mind, cotton flags can still be used outdoors, though it should be noted that they will require more care to maintain than nylon or polyester flags. If you choose to use a cotton flag outdoors, be sure to wash your flag regularly to prevent mold and mildew buildup and prevent your flag from exposure to precipitation.

Best Indoor Flag Material

While nylon and polyester flags are the most common choices for outdoor flags, cotton is king for indoor flags. While nylon and polyester flags are perfectly suitable for indoor display, cotton is most often preferred due to its striking visual appearance, soft feel and beautiful drape.

The aesthetic appeal of a cotton flag is arguably the foremost reason it is preferred for display indoors. Still, if you prefer the appearance of nylon or polyester, by all means, put it on display!

How to Select the Right Flag Material

Are cotton or nylon flags better? What about polyester? Well, it all depends on your unique situation. Now that you’re familiar with the most popular flag materials and their best uses, it’s time to determine what flag fabric is best for your needs. There are a few important considerations to take into account when determining the right type of flag material. Consider what flag fabric will provide the best value while also meeting individual preferences for appearance and placement.

To determine what flag material is best for you, ask yourself questions such as:

Where Will My Flag Be Displayed?

Inside? Outside? No preference? If you have a specific placement for your flag in mind, that’s an important factor to consider. There are certainly no hard and fast rules in place when it comes to flag fabrics. Just be aware of the properties of the fabric you choose — you can certainly display your cotton stars and stripes from your porch’s flagpole as long as you’re prepared to regularly care for your flag to increase its longevity.

What’s My Budget?

If money is no object, you’re in luck. For the rest of us, that’s likely a consideration that needs to be made. For those that want to keep spending to a minimum, nylon flags are a great option. Given nylon’s popularity as a fabric for flags, they’re also the most economical option. Cotton flags are the next most expensive, with polyester flags commanding the highest price.

What Appearance Do I Prefer?

Given that nylon and polyester are both synthetic fabrics, their appearance and feel are markedly different from cotton. The shine of nylon and polyester fabric may look nice to some, while others prefer cotton’s more matte appearance. Additionally, while the wrinkle-resistant nature of these fabrics may keep them looking good with little maintenance, they may not create a draping effect as pleasing as a cotton flag.

Find the Best Flag for You From Independence Bunting

If you’re in the market for a quality, American-made flag, pleated fan or holiday bunting, Independence Bunting is happy to help! We carry a wide variety of flags and bunting for all occasions, proudly made at our own factory in Deer Park, NY. Shop pleated fans for all occasions, or browse our variety of flags available in cotton, nylon and polyester.

Have a question, or can’t find the item you’re looking for? We’re happy to help! Call us at 1-800-995-9129 to inquire about our products and services or to place your order.