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Cotton Fiber: Types, Manufacturing Process, and How to Care for Cotton Fabric

Eman is a writer and textile engineer. She obtained a bachelor's degree in textile sciences from the Faculty of Applied Arts, Egypt.


Cotton, The King of Fibers

Cotton, The King of Fibers

Cotton is one of the most important fibrous plants in the world, and it belongs to Gossypium. Cotton is a small shrub with large yellow flowers; its seeds are covered with a white fluff of Cellulose from which the fiber is obtained.

Cotton is grown in hot regions, where it does not tolerate cold or frost, and needs special care because it needs fertile soil and a lot of water for irrigation.

Cotton fibers are often blended with other fibers such as wool, linen, nylon, and polyester to achieve the best properties of each fiber.

China, India, the United States, Pakistan, Brazil, and Egypt are among the largest cotton producers in the world. The USA is the largest exporter of cotton in the world, along with Australia.

Types of Cotton Fibers

1. Gossypium Barbadense

It is long-staple cotton and is the most important type of cotton. This type of cotton is about 8 feet tall and has a straight, smooth stem, leaves are broad, and flowers are yellow with crimson bases and black seeds. This cotton is grown in Egypt.

2. Gossypium Hirsutum

Gossypium hirsutum or Mexican cotton is the most widely cultivated cotton in the world. Globally, about 90% of total cotton production is derived from this type. Its habitat is Mexico and the West Indies.

3. Gossypium Herbaceum

It is cultivated in Central and South America. It is about 15 feet tall, has strong large leaves, a yellow flower, and gray fuzz.

4. Gossypium Arboreum

This type of cotton is a short-staple and grown in India and China. It is about 12 feet tall, has long thin branches, soft leaves, and large flowers.

Cotton Field

Picking cotton in Armenia in the 1930s

Picking cotton in Armenia in the 1930s

Brief History

More than 5,000 years ago, cotton fabrics were found next to the stuffed bodies in the ancient Peruvian civilization. It was also said that the original habitat for cotton cultivation was India, where Indian cotton fibers were used in ancient times, and cotton in India was known as the Calico, relative to Calicut city in India.

The cotton industry began in Europe in 1635, and they imported cotton from the Levant and India.

At the end of the eighteenth century, cotton cultivation began in America, while the cultivation of long-staple cotton began in Egypt at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In 1793, a cotton gin was developed by Eli Whitney, which was able to provide an easier, faster, and more economical way to separate the cotton seeds from the fibers.

Since the early 1990s, global cotton production has declined due to the proliferation of synthetic fibers.

An Old Cotton Gin Machine

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum.

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum.

Chemical Structure of Cotton Fiber


A cotton fiber resembles a twisted ribbon. These twists are called convolutions. There are about 60 convolutions per centimeter. The convolutions give cotton an uneven fibrous surface, which increases inter-fiber friction and enables soft cotton yarns to be spun.

The outer layer, the cuticle, is a thin film that mostly consists of fat and wax. The waxy layer forms a thin sheet above the primary wall that forms grooves on the surface of the cotton.

The main wall comprises non-cellulosic and amorphous cellulose materials where the fibres are arranged in a cross pattern. Due to the unorganized orientation of cellulosic and non-cellulose materials, the surface of the primary wall is disorganized and open. This gives flexibility to the main wall, which is required during cell growth.

The primary components in the primary wall are cellulose, hemicelluloses, pectin, proteins, and ions. The secondary wall, in which only crystalline cellulose exists, is highly arranged and has a structure combined with the cellulose fibrous parallel to each other.

The Stages of Cotton Production

The stages of cotton production including seeding, picking, and ginning.

The stages of cotton production including seeding, picking, and ginning.

Cotton Manufacturing Process

1. Cultivation

Preparation of soil: Most of the agriculture takes place in the spring. Soil preparation is done by removing the residues of the previous crop cultivated in the soil. This is done by cutting the stems and flipping them into the soil or leaving them on the soil surface to protect them from erosion. The soil is sown in the spring with specific machines, some of which make lines for seeds to be placed in, while others plant seeds on the flat ground because cotton cultivation requires soil with high fertility, so the farmer adds very large quantities of fertilizer under the seeds, or near them, the addition of pesticides may be done at the time of preparing the soil, or the time of cultivation of cotton. Seeds are placed by machines in small pits, some 15 to 25 cm apart. Fertilizers are placed, the pits are covered, and the soil is pressed around seeds. When the farmer wants to increase the yield in the field, he increases two rows of seeds, the distance between them is 25 cm, while reducing the distance between the lines, or increasing the width of the lines, usually, the distance is 100 cm between the lines, and thus can grow about 75000 to 150000 plants per Hectare (1 Ha=10.000 m2).

The emergence of buds: After two months of cotton growing, the buds begin to appear, which begin to open three weeks later, turning from white to yellow, then brown, then eventually becoming dark red, and then they wither, fall, and leave behind the boll, which has the fibers that grow and expand by the heat of the sun, and in the end, the boll is divided into two parts, then the cotton fluff comes out.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton yarn.

Organic cotton yarn.

Organic cotton is grown in subtropical countries such as Turkey, China, and the United States of America without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. Since 2007, 265,517 bales of organic cotton have been produced in 24 countries around the world and the production rate has grown by more than 50% annually. In the United States, the cultivation of such cotton must comply with the requirements of the National Organic Program of the US Department of Agriculture to be considered organic. This institution defines permissible practices in terms of pest control, agriculture, fertilization, and post-harvest operations.

Organic cotton farming does not provide cleaner and healthier products but will also benefit the environment by:

  • Eliminate pollutants in water as well as conserve groundwater.
  • Organically grown crops provide the soil with high organic content, which reduces soil erosion.
  • conserve biodiversity.

Modern Cotton Gin


2. Cotton Ginning Process

After the cotton is harvested, it is pressed into bales and sent to the Cotton gin to separate the staple (white fiber) from the seed. In the ginning process, the cotton passes through a group of cylinders working with centrifugal force, some of which are used to dry cotton from moisture, others are used to clean cotton from dust and strange materials, and then the cotton is pressed into the bales to be transferred to spinning, weaving factories after that to dyeing and printing factories. The seeds are sent to the contemporary to extract oil from them.

3. Spinning

In the spinning process, the spinning machines take cotton fibers from the silver and rotate it up to 2.500 revolutions in a second twist that makes fibers into yarn for weaving.

Mills draw and twist the roving into yarn and place it on bobbins. By the use of automatic winding, the yarn bobbins are transferred to larger bobbins called cheese cones.

4. Weaving

Modern looms operate at very high speeds, interlacing the length-wise yarns and the crosswise yarns.

In preparation of warp yarns for weaving, hundreds of yarn threads are wound from cheese cones onto a large warp beam. Then yarns on this beam are coated with starch to add strength for weaving. On the other hand, starch is not placed on the weft because flexibility is needed in the weaving process.

Currently, in modern mills, the weft is fed into the loom from cheese cones by air jets at a high speed that its movement cannot be seen.

5. Finishing

The woven fabric is sent to a finishing process where it is bleached, dyed, printed, or given a special finish before being made into clothing or other home products.

Manufacturing Process of Cotton

Cotton Uses

Cotton fabrics are often used in making underwear, children's clothing, some socks, towels, bedding, sheets, blankets, bathrobes, bras, pajamas, and curtains.

Light cotton fabrics are used to make blouses, shirts, and dresses. Thick cotton fabrics such as gabardine are used to make pants and linens.

Household Applications of Cotton



  • Cotton fabrics, especially organic cotton have no negative effects on the skin, flexible and soft.
  • It has the ability to absorb sweat easily.
  • Cotton textiles bear high temperatures, repeat ironing and washing, as well as the ability to multiple pigments.

Moldy Cotton Fabric



  • Cotton fabric has the ability to shrink.
  • Cotton fabrics wrinkle quickly and therefore need permanent ironing. The wrinkle in the cotton clothes is due to the crack of cellulose chains forming cotton fiber after washing, which is quickly re-upright by heat.
  • With increasing humidity in the atmosphere, cotton fabrics become moldy due to the effect of bacteria and fungi on them, giving the fabrics a mold odor and some stains. Therefore, when storing cotton fabrics, use mold-resistant materials or products and not store them in wet, dark places.

Cotton Clothes

Cotton Shirts.

Cotton Shirts.

How to Maintain Cotton Fabrics

1. How to Keep Colored Cotton Clothing During Washing

Cotton clothing can be taken care of during washing by the following steps:

  1. When washing colored cotton fabrics for the first time, it is best to soak them in the washbasin for an hour to remove excess dye and also to test whether the dye is stable or not.
  2. When washing dark clothes for the first time, soak them in warm water, add a cup of vinegar and salt, and leave them for 4 to 5 hours, as this works to fix the color of the clothes and change their color when washing them.
  3. Separate the cotton clothes from other clothing, and sort the bright cotton clothes from the dark clothes; so as not to dissolve colors and mingle with each other during washing.
  4. Remove stains from cotton clothes with stain removers, liquid detergents, or gels because it is difficult to remove stains after washing and drying clothes.
  5. Turn the clothes to the interior to maintain consistency and brightness.
  6. Check the label on each piece of clothing and adjust the washing cycle at the lowest temperature suitable for washing colored cotton clothes. It is not preferred to use hot water so as not to resolve colors and dyes.
  7. Pay attention to some clothes that do not fit the washer dryer by checking the label on each item. Some clothes need to be air-dried by hanging them on a clothes hanger. When using the dryer, it is preferable not to prolong the drying time so that the clothes are not wrinkled severely.

2. Tips for Washing White Fabrics

  1. Separate white clothes for colored clothes.
  2. Wash white clothes, at high temperatures.
  3. It is possible to place half a cup of baking soda with whitewashing; it helps to preserve the pure white color, thus avoiding the yellowing of white cloth.
  4. Wash the yellow areas resulting from sweating in the armpit area with regular soap before placing it in the washing machine.
  5. Soak white, solid stained clothes in lukewarm water with a little washing powder and gel for at least 3 hours.
  6. If spots are mixed on white clothes, you can soak them in chlorine water for only an hour, before putting them in the washing machine.
  7. To remove the frankincense, put on the white clothes cubes of ice, and then remove it with a sharp knife.
  8. It is preferred to hang white clothing in the sun.

Curtains Cleaning

Cleaning the curtains with a vacuum cleaner from top to bottom.

Cleaning the curtains with a vacuum cleaner from top to bottom.

3. Cotton Curtains Cleaning

  1. It is recommended to remove dust from the colored cotton curtains before washing. Use only cold water for washing and rinsing. You can also add a few drops of lemon juice to the last rinse as it will give the curtain more cleanliness and shine. When you are done washing, do not spin it and press it with your hands. After spreading, do not expose it for a long period of sunlight; So as not to affect the colors.
  2. It is better to clean the cotton curtains while hanging. As much as possible, remove the dust from curtains daily so that you can keep them clean for a long time and do not have to disassemble and install them many times.
  3. The dust can be removed by cleaning the weekly vacuum cleaner from top to bottom.
  4. Remove any stains from cotton curtains with a sponge damped in warm water and a suitable washing powder, then wash them with another sponge dampened with water only.
  5. The steam cleaning machine is ideal for cleaning heavy or difficult to disassemble curtains.

Cedar Storage Bag


4. Tips to Prevent the Mold

  1. Good ventilation in the house.
  2. Dry fabrics well before storing them.
  3. Adjust the heating devices or air conditioners to keep the place dry and free of moisture.
  4. It is possible to store clothes or fabrics in cedarwood bags; It helps protect them from the breeding of insects and prevents moisture from getting into the fabric.


© 2018 Eman Abdallah Kamel


Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on December 18, 2018:

Thank you very much, Mr. Holland. There are global calls to revive natural fibers due to the many diseases caused by synthetic fibers. I always appreciate your visit and comment.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 18, 2018:

We are all about natural fibers in our home...great information here...great research and very thorough.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on December 10, 2018:

Yes, Linda, I had the best memories of my days when I was a child, in the late 1980s and early 1990s when cotton filled Egyptian fields as well as many textile factories. I remember that I went on a trip to the cotton gin with the school. Since the late 1990s, I have not seen cotton in Egypt, and of course, it is very sad. There have been global calls for the revival of natural fibers since 2009. I hope to see the cotton fields filling Egypt again, as well as the countries that were cultivated in the past. Thanks, Linda for the comment. I always appreciate your visit.

Linda Chechar from Arizona on December 09, 2018:

When I was a little girl my family traveled to Louisiana to visit our relatives and we drove through miles and miles cotton fields. Unfortunately the US doesn't grow much cotton any more. During the 1970s the cotton fields took over with soybeans.

I honestly didn't realize there were so many types of cotton! I prefer this natural fiber for clothing, bath towels and bed linens. You mentioned shrinkage, stains and fading which are the things that are bothersome to me. Cotton is not particularly easy care fabric. But I still prefer it over synthetics.

Great article, Emmy!

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on August 14, 2018:

Thank you very much, RTalloni. There is a lot of global interest in reviving organic cotton cultivation, but most farmers do not meet the standard specifications of this agriculture. Consequently, most cotton products are not organic 100 %. Most of the mattress fillings these days are not 100% organic cotton, but they are mixed or maybe mixed with chemical fibers. The outer cover is made of cotton and is often mixed.

RTalloni on August 13, 2018:

A lot of interesting information here. I especially appreciated the history, though your tips are valuable. Thanks for a neat read.

A funny story on organic cotton comes from a mattress purchase we made this year. It is one of the new foam styles and we were holding our breath, excuse the pun, to see whether it would have a strong odor. We had to return another brand because of that issue. Well, this one did have one, but it dissipated quickly and guests have enjoyed using it. The funny thing is that with that strong chemical smell that mattress was covered in a beautiful organic cotton cover. mattress cover.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on July 03, 2018:

Thank you very much, Fatma.

Fatma sobih on June 15, 2018:

This article is full of informations, Thank you for the tips .

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