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What is Organic Cotton and Why Is it Better?

February 16, 2015

Since the late 1800s, cotton has served as one of the most prevalent and important naturally-grown products used by humans daily. Cotton is a used in a huge range of things we use in our every day life — from the fabric that makes our clothes, to the fibers that make up some of our paper, to the oil used in our margarine. Of course, one of the most common and luxurious uses of cotton in the world is the fabric that makes our bed sheets! Despite many products in the world today being made of cotton, there are are actually many variations in the types of cotton used — and the most important distinction is the one between conventional cotton and organic cotton. The two vary in growing techniques and environmental impact, but they also differ in quality and comfort.

The Basics of Organic Cotton

The differences between organic and non-organic cotton are rooted in the process of cotton farming used to grow the crops. Historically, traditional cotton farmers have relied on a huge amount of chemicals to make their crop grow abundantly. Pesticides have been around for centuries; in fact, even the Ancient Romans used products like sulfur and salt to get rid of insects and weeds. However, the rise of the chemical pesticide in the U.S. happen in the 1950s, when farmers began using toxic pesticides to control threats to their cotton crops. This rise began because of the discovery of new neurotoxic chemicals, like DDT, which were extremely effective at ridding plants of insect pests. The use of the chemical pesticide increased because it was seen as an affordable alternative to the amount of labor and machinery needed to keep a cotton crop safe using natural pesticide strategies. Now, about one-third of a pound of chemical insecticides is required to grow enough conventional cotton just to make one t-shirt.

By contrast, organic cotton farmers do not use chemical pesticides at all when growing their cottons. They use natural techniques to ward off insects and threats, including releasing beneficial insects into the crops and covering them with natural materials to prevent invaders. Some other techniques used by organic farmers to ward off pests include crop rotation, where crop types are switched in and out to avoid a large build up of cotton-specific pests; mixed cultivation, which helpers reduce crop-specific invaders; the encouragement of bird species that feed on predatory insects; and the creation of sustainable habitats for insects that like to feed on cotton pests, such as lady bugs, spiders, and ants.

Farmers of organic cotton often show a desire not only to be more environmentally-conscious for their land, as well as health-conscious for their consumer, but also bottom-line conscious as well. A recent study shows that the cost of pesticides rises nearly 1% every year, and moving away from chemical pesticides and switching to organic pest-control techniques helps farmers save money and ultimately protect their profits. Additionally, organic cotton farmers do not use any chemical fertilizers to help their cotton crops grow — only natural fertilizers and feeds.

Benefits of Organic Cotton

Of course, organic cotton products are better for humans and animals because they contain fewer chemicals. There are several other benefits to using organic cotton as well.

Not only is organic healthier than conventional cotton, but it also feels softer. The reason that organic cotton feels softer is that the threads that make up cotton have not been broken down or damaged by chemicals used in their growing process, making their surface smoother and nicer to the touch. Thus, using organic cotton sheets is often a good alternative for paying a high price for expensive conventional bed sheets, since the sheets will be naturally soft.

Environmental and Health Benefits

The growth of organic cotton is healthier for the environment, as well as for the people who live nearby. As mentioned, organic cotton uses no chemicals, while conventional cotton growers spray 55 million pounds of pesticides into the atmosphere annually. These pesticides are not only breathed in by farmers, farm workers, and people who live near cotton farms, but are also eaten in trace amounts by people who consume cottonseed oil. Additionally, people who wear clothing made from non-organic cotton can be exposed to trace amounts of pesticides that still linger in the fibers. Even people who drink from water supplies near cotton farms run the risk of ingesting pesticides that have seeped into the ground. Pesticides have been shown to not only harm the earth and its natural resources, but to also cause severe health problems like ADHD, weakened immune systems, and birth defects.

Where to Get Organic Cotton

Today, people are paying more attention to organic goods, and many are switching to organic cotton when available. Organizations like have created directories of sites that can connect consumers to organic cotton. Shoppers can also find organic products in stores, where they are identifiable by specific markings. Customers should look for the following labels: a GOTS symbol, which means that the Global Organic Textile Standard has confirmed that the product has met the strict criteria required for organic classification. You can also look for the Soil Association Symbol, which means that the soil the product grew in was certified as organic. In addition, an OE100 or Blending Symbol means that the cotton in a product has either been certified as 100% organic cotton or at least 5% organic, respectively.

For customers looking for soft sheets that are also eco-friendly and comfortable to sleep in, there’s our Boll & Branch line of cotton sheets that have been certified as 100% organic. These organic cotton sheets, as well as other organic cotton products, provide the same comfort of traditional cotton products with the additional benefit of being good for both the body and the earth. And who doesn’t want that?