Cotton – Sustainable natural fibre
Cotton is the most intensively used natural textile fibre in the world. It is primarily used for the fabrication of clothing and home textiles, but it is also sometimes used in the production of medical products, ropes and coffee filters. Compared to other textile fibres, cotton offers a whole range of advantages – so it is logical that we introduce this natural fibre to you in detail below.
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What is cotton?
When we talk about cotton, we are primarily referring to the seed hairs of the cotton plant. Its scientific name is Gossypium and it forms its own genus in the mallow family. The seed hairs of the plant are in turn used to produce a textile fibre – cotton fibre. It is considered the world’s most important textile fibre and is used practically all over the world. Besides clothing, it is mainly home textiles that are made from cotton. Tapestries, curtains or cotton carpets such as our Mandala carpets are typical examples.
Historical trivia: cotton is one of the oldest cultivated plants
Hard to believe, but true: people in India were already using cotton as a cultivated plant around 8,000 years ago. This can be reconstructed from cotton fibres found in a prehistoric settlement group. But it was not only India that discovered the benefits of the natural fibre early on: cotton plants also seem to have been deliberately cultivated and harvested in Africa and on the North and South American continents many thousands of years ago.
How is cotton produced?
The really precious thing about the cotton plant are the seed hairs, also called trichomes. These are located in the spherical seed fruit. When the fruit bursts open, the woolly hairs come out and can be harvested. In an increasing number of countries, this is now done with the help of machines to enable a particularly fast harvest. In most growing regions, however, cotton is still picked by hand. This takes longer, but guarantees a significantly higher quality and a longer harvesting period.
Once the cotton has been harvested, the processing begins. First of all, a thorough cleaning programme is on the agenda: the cotton is ginned and freed from plant parts. Then it is pressed into large bales. In the next step, smaller quantities of fibres are separated from these bales and mixed together to ensure consistent quality. The fibres are then combed and spun into yarn. In this way, the sustainable raw material becomes a versatile natural fibre that can be used to make all kinds of home textiles, among other things.
Where does cotton come from?
Cotton is now grown in many different countries around the globe. Most of them are in Asia, but there is also an up-and-coming cultivation country in Europe, Greece. After China, India leads the global ranking of cotton producers: Here, for example, more than 4.7 million tonnes of cotton were harvested only in 2018. Other countries where major cotton growing areas can be found:
What are the properties of cotton?
The reason why cotton is one of the most important natural fibres of all is the many positive properties of the fibres:
- very absorbent
- tear-resistant and robust
- resistant to moths
- easy to clean
The many positive properties of cotton predestine the natural fibre for use in the clothing and textile industry. In addition to the advantages, however, the sustainable raw material also has a few small weaknesses: cotton is susceptible to dirt and once it has absorbed moisture it can only release it again with difficulty.
Additional info: How should you wash cotton?
One of the positive properties of cotton is that the natural fibre is very easy to clean. Cotton can therefore be washed in the machine without any problems – even at high temperatures. Pure, white cotton (e.g. bed linen) can even be washed at up to 90 °C. Coloured cotton textiles, such as shirts, pullovers or jeans, however, cannot withstand such high temperatures. A maximum of 40 °C is recommended. This not only protects the natural fibres, but also the environment.
How sustainable is cotton?
On first sight, cotton is convincing from the ecological point of view. After all, the natural fibre is a renewable raw material – so compared to synthetic fibres, cotton performs better. However, in order to clarify whether cotton is really sustainable, a few other details have to be taken into account – and these mainly concern cultivation, harvesting and processing.
Unfortunately, in many growing areas, enormous amounts of pesticides have to be used because the cotton plant is very susceptible to pests and diseases. This not only harms the environment, but also the people who work in the cotton fields. Furthermore, the cotton harvest requires a lot of water, which in turn is often lacking elsewhere. The intensive irrigation of cotton plants can lead to a drop in groundwater levels and to the desertification of entire regions.
It is therefore all the more important to think about the sustainability of this actually valuable natural fibre when buying cotton products. Worldwide, there are more and more initiatives and organisations that advocate ecological, resource-conserving cultivation. When it comes to organic cotton in particular, for which no pesticides are used in production, fairness for workers in the cotton sector is also coming into focus.
Sustainability tip for cotton: recycle worn-out cotton
Your old curtains have had their day and there’s a hole in your cotton bedding that you can’t patch? None of this has to end up in the garbage can. Because cotton is a natural fiber that can be excellently recycled. You can turn worn-out cotton fabrics into cleaning rags, sew an attractive patchwork quilt from several pieces of fabric or reuse the cotton fabric as creative, environmentally friendly gift packaging.
Clothing made of cotton inspires with a pleasant feeling on the skin and maximum durability. In addition, the fabric is breathable and can absorb a lot of moisture. This is especially important when we start to sweat – which is why cotton is preferably used for summer clothing such as dresses or T-shirts. By the way, a popular alternative to cotton for clothing is viscose: a soft, flowing fabric that we use for our harem pants, for example.
Home textiles made from cotton
The list of home textiles made from cotton is long. The natural fibre proves to be extremely robust and versatile. In addition, the easy-care properties stand out: you can easily wash cotton tapestries or curtains – just take a look at our care instructions. There we explain in detail what you have to pay attention to when caring for cotton tapestries and the like.
Conclusion: Cotton inspires as a versatile natural fibre
There’s no question about it – as a natural fibre, cotton has become an indispensable part of the clothing and textile industry. And that’s a good thing, because cotton is a sustainable raw material as such – it’s only when it comes to production conditions that you should look twice. That is why we place great value on working with long-standing and trustworthy partners. This way, we can be sure of the best cotton quality and responsible use of valuable resources.