Know Your Cotton: The Differences Between Egyptian, Organic, and More

You may have heard words like “Egyptian cotton” on sheets and bedding, or “organic cotton” to describe children’s clothing—but what do these labels really mean? What are all the different types of cotton, and what makes them different? Unlike synthetic fabrics, cotton fabric comes from a plant—and a plant with many variations at that. Keep reading to learn more about the different kinds of cotton and what they mean.

Conventional Cotton

“Conventional” is the word we use to describe cotton grown with modern farming methods. These methods allow cotton producers to work a lot more efficiently, always taking advantage of the newest innovations to grow more cotton per acre without damaging the environment. In fact, cotton growing in the United States has made huge strides toward sustainability in the past couple decades.

Growing cotton takes the basics: land and water. Cotton growing doesn’t require too much of either; U.S. cotton farmers now grow almost twice the amount of cotton on the same amount of land than they did in 1980, leading to a 30% reduction in land use. Soil erosion has also decreased by 68% using modern farming techniques. Also, did you know that most of U.S. cotton is grown using rainfall alone? Only 3% of agricultural water in the world is used for cotton. In fact, it takes more water to grow an acre of regular lawn grass than it takes to grow an acre of cotton.

U.S. cotton farmers have also reduced their pesticide usage drastically—Biotech innovations have helped farmers cut their pesticide usage in half in the past 20 years. In fact, U.S. cotton farmers sprayed, on average, less than twice in 2015. And of course, samples of U.S. cotton are tested, and none have ever shown traces of insecticide.

Conventional cotton may be grown using transgenic plant varieties (GMO) or with varieties from conventional breeding, like in a greenhouse. Conventional cotton farming techniques are used all over the world.

Organic Cotton

“Organic” is a label you’re probably familiar with. You see it on your food products and you look for organic fruits and vegetables when you’re shopping. But what does it mean with cotton? Organic cotton is a method of cotton farming that uses non-GMO seeds and that doesn’t use synthetic pesticides. Instead, they plant organic seeds and use only organic pesticides. Since the seeds aren’t genetically enhanced to resist damage from external forces like pests and insects, it takes a lot more land and water to grow organic cotton than it does to grow the same amount of conventional cotton. Less than 1% of the cotton grown globally is organic.

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton is American cotton that has fibers ranging in length from 1¼ inches to 19/16 inches, making it “Extra-Long Staple” cotton. In comparison, conventional cotton’s staples are about ⅞ of an inch. When you’re working with a natural fiber like cotton, extra-long staples, or fibers, mean a stronger cotton yarn and a softer, higher quality final product. Pima Cotton is typically grown in California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.

Egyptian Cotton

We all know that “Egyptian cotton” is something luxurious, something to be desired, and denotes a high-quality set of sheets. But do you know what it actually means when you see it on a product label? Let us explain it for you.

Put simply, Egyptian cotton refers to any cotton grown in Egypt, regardless of its fiber length. However, Egyptian cotton is also associated with an Extra-Long Staple cotton variety, related closely to Pima cotton. Its fibers are even longer than Pima cotton’s, producing a dense weave that translates into a softer fabric, almost satin-like. No wonder we want to sleep on Egyptian cotton! But since the phrase “Egyptian Cotton” doesn’t necessarily mean “extra-long staple cotton,” buying Egyptian cotton can sometimes be tricky.  

Pima, conventional, Egyptian…whatever variety of cotton you buy ultimately brings you all the benefits of this amazing fiber. Cotton is grown from the earth, unlike chemically-processed synthetic fibers, and offers all the advantages that such a natural substance can bring. It’s soft and breathable, yet durable and high quality. It’s The Fabric of Our Lives® for a reason.