Cotton remains one of the most popular fabrics in the world. Its use can be dated back nearly 7000 years ago, when ancient Egyptians used the material in many of their ornate fabrics. Still today, cotton continues to be a preferred textile for many manufacturers. It is soft, comfortable, and incredibly durable. It is easy to care for and can be used year-round, with moisture-wicking abilities in warmer months and a high degree of fabric integrity when the weather gets colder. Because of this versatility, the demand for pure cotton fabric remains at an all-time high, but with so many blended fabrics and synthetics available these days, it is important to know how to tell if fabric 100% cotton.
Cotton is considered a staple fiber, which means that it is made of varying lengths of fibers. It comes from the natural fibers of cotton plants and grows in a boll around the seeds of a cotton plant. Cotton is not only used for its fabric (which in turn is used to make clothing, upholstery, and linens), but its byproducts can also be found in the production of common, everyday items like plastics, bath products, paper, and cardboard, all of which are made using cotton seeds and the sticks and leaves from cotton plants.
Often times, cotton products, such as clothing and linen, have tags and labels that list the materials that were used to make this product. If these are not included with your fabric, there are other ways to determine if the material is made of cotton. There are three ways to test fabric in order to tell if it is 100% cotton – feel the fabric, conduct the burn test, and get the fabric wet.
Cotton should feel soft and smooth to the touch. It also has a natural feel to it without being slick like polyester blended materials are. Rubbing it across your cheek is one way to test whether or not the fabric is 100% cotton.
The most definitive way to know if fabric is 100% cotton is to conduct the burn test. This involves cutting a small piece of the fabric that you want to test, placing it in a fireproof container, and igniting one corner. Cotton does not melt or shrink away from a lit flame; it burns quickly and leaves behind gray ash when it cools. Additionally, when cotton burns, it smells similar to burning leaves and wood. Other materials, like silk and wool, have an odor more similar to burning hair when lit on fire.
Generally speaking, cotton does not dry as quickly as other materials, which is why another way to test your fabric to see if it is 100% cotton is to get it wet. Wetting the fabric and observing how well the water is absorbed can help differentiate 100% cotton fibers from other materials. The air pockets in cotton fabric fill up with water like a sponge, thoroughly saturating the materials. Cotton also does not have water-wicking capabilities, meaning the water will just sit in the pockets of the fabric until it dries, as opposed to it moving from wet areas to dry ones.
Though 100% cotton is the preferred fabric for many projects involving fabric (clothing, linen) and textiles, there are several alternatives on the market that have many similar benefits to 100% cotton material. Cotton fabrics can be costly so it may be worthwhile to consider using a different fabric material, depending on your project. For example, hemp is another type of versatile, breathable fabric that comes with the added bonus of being more environmentally safe to produce. Additionally, modal, a type of rayon fabric, is a breathable, semi-synthetic material that comes from the pulp of beech trees. Common in underwear, athletic wear, and jersey t-shirts, modal is known for its eco-friendliness, as well as its comfort and ease of care. One last cotton alternative is lyocell, which is sometimes known by its brand name, Tencel. Lyocell is one of the most popular environmentally sustainable fabrics made from the natural cellulose in wood pulp. The material is even more absorbent than cotton, and is soft, comfortable, and smooth to the touch. Cotton is most commonly spun into thread and used to make breathable textiles. Knowing how to tell if fabric is 100% cotton is crucial when it comes to ensuring that you have selected the right material for your project.