Your closets and drawers are filled with clothing made of cotton, the most commonly used fiber in the United States. Some of your favorite T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, blouses and undergarments originated from the humble cotton plant because of its many advantages. Nothing is perfect, though, and cotton clothing also comes with a few disadvantages. Find out the strengths of America's favorite fabric and what you can do to counteract its weaknesses.
Soft, Natural and Breathable
Cotton is soft and comfortable. It is hypoallergenic and won't irritate sensitive skin or cause allergies. The fibers are spun tightly into yarn that won't irritate skin or cause static electricity. For these reasons, items that you wear frequently and close to your body, like T-shirts and underwear, are usually made of cotton.
Cotton is all-natural and doesn't contain chemicals. Natural fabrics like cotton fabric are highly breathable and allow air circulation that discourages fungi from growing in dark, moist environments. Synthetic fabrics don’t offer such ventilation, and constrictive garments in man-made materials can encourage yeast to flourish.
Cotton is perfect for wearing in the summer, as it can easily absorb body moisture and help keep you dry by drawing it away from the skin where it evaporates in the air around you. Cotton is also able to draw heat away from your skin, keeping you cool and comfortable in hot weather.
Strong, Inexpensive and Versatile
Cotton is strong, durable and resists abrasion. All-cotton garments are machine washable and can stand up to repeated washings in hot water. Cotton fibers also dye very well, offering vibrantly colored yarn.
Cotton is inexpensive and extremely versatile, used in a variety of common clothing fabric, like broadcloth, calico, chino, corduroy, denim, duck, gingham, and seersucker. This ensures that you'll be able to buy economical cotton clothing in a range of distinct textures and looks for all seasons and any occasion.
Shrinkage and Wrinkling
Make sure your cotton clothes fit well before you buy them, as cotton has poor elasticity and won't have much give. Your cotton clothes are prone to shrinking after laundering, even pre-shrunk cotton clothes. And because cotton also has poor resiliency, meaning the fabric won't return to its original shape after being altered, you won't have much luck stretching out the jeans you accidently shrunk in the dryer. Try air drying fitted cotton clothes that you don't want any smaller.
Bring a travel iron or consider wearing other fibers when travelling. All-cotton items such as shirts and blouses wrinkle easily and require ironing or pressing after long wear or packing to keep them looking sharp.
Because cotton is a natural fiber, it risks damage from mildew. Cotton fabric may pill easily, as lint can form because of short fiber length.
Cotton fabric is not colorfast, so the dyes in these clothes can fade in the washer and dryer. Help keep colors looking bright by turning them inside out before laundering and using the shortest cycle possible for the soil level and fabric.
Hilary White is a professional writer and editor based in San Diego. White has been writing articles on fashion, style, fitness, nutrition, movies and entertainment since 1994. Her articles have been published in "Westways" magazine, "Pages" magazine, "Book Street USA," "Magill's Cinema Annual," and numerous titles from Visible Ink Press. White holds a bachelor's degree in English from Michigan State University.