July 9, 2021
Fabric Care Guide: Cotton
Cotton is a simple and everyday fabric that is so versatile and adaptable, and this Fabric Care Guide will help you understand this natural textile a bit more to help know how to care for your trusty cotton pieces for years to come. It is known as the ‘most popular fabric in the world’ and represents almost half of the world textile market. Cotton may be a common and well-known material, but the knowledge to care for the fabric may not be as well known.
Cotton’s history is also intertwined with the history of hemp, an equally diverse fiber that was, at one point, even more popular than cotton. Let’s take a moment to understand how cotton is now completely universal while hemp fabric production is almost nonexistent.
Scientists searching caves in Mexico found pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old, and in the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun, and woven into cloth in 3,000 BC. Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 AD, and by 1500, the fabric was known generally throughout the world. Cotton was first spun by machinery in England in 1730. The industrial revolution in England and the invention of the cotton gin (which could do the work 10 times faster than by hand) in the U.S. helped pave the way for cotton to be the most widely produced natural fiber in the world, representing about 31% of the world textile market today and employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles today are made of cotton.
Hemp was used 10,000 years ago by the Ancient Chinese who used hemp for clothing, paper, food, and medicine. It was also found in ancient Egypt where it is believed that hemp rope may have been used to help construct the pyramids. When Columbus made the first journey across the Atlantic, all three of his ships used hemp intensively, even to fill the gaps between the wooden hull. Jamestown was the first colony in America to cultivate hemp in 1607 and it went on to have a huge impact in early America for everything from clothing, food, rope, sail cloth and even to help with military efforts.
However, not everybody was happy about hemp’s versatility, strength, and durability. Businessmen feared that the versatile plant would not create as much profit because it can be grown anywhere quite quickly—the freedom and availability of the product was feared. What happened next is an example of media deception and corporate greed. In the 1930s, a triage of powerful corporations and businesses in the United States saw how hemp would compete with paper, fuel and textiles and this upset corporations who were heavily invested in oil and synthetic fibres. Because of this, a smear campaign was built against hemp and the production and demand virtually halted. This was the beginning of America’s harsh ‘War on Drugs’, and hemp was outlawed in the 1970s along with it’s more notorious cousin marijuana. Hemp plants were sensationalised by the media, politicians, and corporations as being responsible for poor health and rebellion whereas in reality hemp itself has zero drug value. Cotton became mainstream in the 1950s thanks to the controversy against hemp, and remains today as the world’s textile leader.
There are many steps to transform the light, fluffy bundle of cotton on the plant into a functional textile. Here is the process explained in four main steps:
- Harvest: The cotton fibers must be collected from the plant by hand or by machinery.
- Processing: Once the cotton is harvested, the small, sticky seeds must be separated from the fibers in order to process the cotton for spinning and weaving.
- Spinning: When the fibers are de-seeded, they can then be cleaned and spun into yarn.
- Weaving: The cotton yarn can then be woven into a fabric.
SUSTAINABILITY & ENVIRONMENTAL WELFARE
It is estimated that 97% of the water in the Indus River goes towards producing crops like cotton. In Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea has been drained to provide sufficient irrigation for the country’s cotton production (see above).
Cotton’s most prominent environmental impacts result from the use of pesticides, the consumption of water, and the conversion of habitat to agricultural use. Cotton needs a large amount of pesticides and fertilizers to grow which damage and pollute the land. The cotton plants (and farmers) have become dependent on genetically modified cotton seeds and the pesticides needed to maintain the crop. These modified seeds and chemicals not only deplete the land of its nutrients, but they also cost the farmers more money, leading to unhealthy physical and mental working conditions. Unfortunately, farmer suicide rate, especially in India, is on the rise due to the increased production prices for cotton. The global reach of cotton is wide, but current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production. It takes 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, meaning it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make 1 cotton t-shirt.
Global cotton production requires over 250 billion tons of water annually, but organic cotton has a 91% lower water consumption than cotton grown with heavy use of pesticides. Besides, organic cotton has:
- 62% lower energy demand
- 46% lower CO2-emissions
- 26% lower soil erosion
An even better and more sustainable alternative to cotton is the previously mentioned fiber, hemp. As stated before, the fabric qualities of hemp are similar, but the environmental and social impacts are significantly better than that of cotton. For example, hemp uses 1/5th the amount of water as cotton and can return up to 60% of the nutrients back into the soil. It requires no pesticides and is a natural weed deterrent. Hemp also removes carbon from the air more successfully than cotton, a potential opportunity for lowering CO2 emissions.
It is difficult to give guidance on washing cotton as there are so many types of cotton fabric available and so many uses for it. To be safe you should always refer to the care label for your cotton item before washing.
- Cotton T-shirts can be prone to shrinking when they are washed and dried. To try and stop this happening: wash in cold (30°C or below) water, whether using a washing machine or washing by hand.
- Give garments a gentle stretch when they come out of the wash to get them back into shape.
- Always air dry clothes flat and out of the sun if possible.
- If you have an item that you know is prone to more than 10% shrinkage, hand wash it in cold water.
Cotton fabrics should be washed at lower temperatures compared to clothes made from other fibres. And, if you do accidentally spill something on your favourite item of clothing and need to get rid of a stain, these handy tips will have your clothes looking as new in no time.
Cover the wine stain in white vinegar, which neutralizes purple and red pigments. Immediately after applying the vinegar, rub in liquid detergent, then launder in hot water. The stain should lift.
COFFEE & CHOCOLATE
Pre-soak the stain in a solution of 1 quart warm water, ½ teaspoon dishwashing detergent (not laundry detergent) and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for 15 minutes. Rinse the stained area with warm water, then use a sponge and rubbing alcohol to blot up any remaining stain. Rinse the fabric again with warm water.
First, remove any excess oil with a paper towel or cloth. Then sprinkle baking soda on the affected fabric and allow it to sit for 24 hours. After a day passes, vacuum or brush the baking soda away and spray the affected area with a vinegar and water solution. Scrub with soap and a brush, then rinse.
Try our Bicarbonate Stain Remover Soap to care for minor, everyday stains!