WISEGEEK 

Clear answers for common questions

There are many benefits to cotton clothing, but some of the most commonly cited are the material’s hypoallergenic nature and its moisture-wicking properties. Fabrics made of cotton are naturally resistant to dust and dust mites, and are also non-irritating — which means that they won’t aggravate dry skin or cause allergic reactions, even in people who are prone to skin problems like rashes or eczema. They tend to naturally repel water and sweat, and as a result they tend to be very breathable. The fabric can tolerate very hot water so it’s easy to sterilize, and it can be used for almost any sort of clothing. It’s biodegradable and doesn’t usually take many resources to process, and in most cases is fairly affordable, too.

Allergy and Sensitivity Concerns

Cotton fibers are one of the only natural fibers that cause virtually no allergic reactions and don’t irritate human skin. Wool and silk, which often feel soft to the touch, can cause irritation in some people, and synthetic fibers like polyester or fleece can aggravate dry skin by trapping sweat and robbing the skin of its essential oils. As a result, cotton is usually said to be the best choice of material for people who suffer from asthma or allergies, as well as anyone who has sensitive skin. Many experts recommend that newborns and infants be dressed exclusively in clothing made from 100% cotton in order to protect their skin from irritation.

It repels dust, as well. Cotton materials that have been stored for long periods of time often come out of drawers and closets looking as fresh as they did when they were first put in, at least in terms of dust accumulation. They repel lint and hairs in many cases, too.

Breathability

Natural fabrics including cotton allow for better air circulation, which helps remove and absorb body moisture. In hot and sweaty seasons this means that cotton draws heat away from the skin and keeps the body cool and dry, but in colder temperatures it can actually provide insulation, keeping the cold and wet out. These attributes make cotton clothing good for layering and appropriate for all seasons.

Versatility

This material can also be used in almost any context. People wear cotton underwear as often as they wear cotton pants, jackets, blouses and hats. It’s easy to dye and blend with other fibers, too. Cotton is the only fiber that becomes stronger when wet, and it's the preferred choice in hospitals in most places since it can endure high temperatures and be sterilized without wearing down the integrity of the threads or the weave. Cotton is the ideal wash-and-wear fabric, and it is also the preferred choice for most firefighter uniforms since it can be coated with flame-retardant substances.

Environmental Concerns

People who are concerned about the environmental impact of their clothing purchases are often pleased to learn that cotton is biodegradable and a renewable resource. During processing, less than 10% of it is lost or deemed non-usable. Organic cotton is even better: no pesticides are used to grow it, which means fewer chemicals in the environment and less exposure for the farmers and manufacturers.

Cost and Availability

Cotton clothing is widely available in most places. Some blends and brands are more expensive than others, but in general it’s an economical choice, as well. Cotton fibers are widely available to manufacturers, which keeps the cost relatively low. Discount distributors use it just as often as high-end retailers, and though there are often differences in quality based on the thickness of the material and the tightness of the stitches, in terms of basic materials, cotton clothing is usually fairly consistent.