Cotton vs Bamboo: A Full Guide

Cotton field and bamboo stems

By: HEATHER BIEN

 

When it comes time to choose the material that touches your skin on a daily basis—be it through the clothing you wear or the sheets you sleep on—you probably want to invest in something that’s well-made, comfortable, and affordable. 

Cotton is a staple of the textile industry, and has roots dating back to the fifth millennium B.C. in India, where the earliest production of cotton was recorded.1 

The use of the bamboo plant to create everything from activewear to bedding is a newer phenomenon, but the popularity of the material has risen rapidly in the past few years as new technologies have allowed designers to develop bamboo fiber into a wide range of textiles.2

Both of these materials have appealing qualities, depending on your preference of texture, durability, and price point. Read on to learn more about cotton vs bamboo and what effects the production of each material has on the environment. 

Cotton flowers

Cotton: The staple fiber 

Chances are, you probably have some cotton-based garments in your dresser and cotton-made sheets in your linen closet. 

Since the invention of Eli Whitney’s mechanical cotton gin, America has led the cotton production race, falling right behind China and India. As the production of regular and conventional cotton became more streamlined, higher quality cotton was produced with longer and stronger fibers.1  

Today, you may notice a rise in organic cotton-based clothing. This organic label means there are no harmful chemicals like fertilizer or pesticides used to grow the cotton plant, making the plant stronger and the resulting fibers long-lasting. This is the type of cotton that we incorporate into some of our clothing.

Those who wear cotton frequently laud this material for the following qualities. Cotton is:

  • Soft
  • Durable
  • Easy to care for
  • Affordable 
  • Breathable 
womens bamboo clothing

Cotton and the environment 

The cotton plant grows in tropical and subtropical climates around the world in countries including Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, and more. The plant requires ample sun, lots of rain, and little to no frost in order to thrive.1

While organic cotton is grown sans harmful chemicals, the overall production of cotton around the world can have some negative impacts on the environment. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton is the “most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world.”3 The sheer popularity of cotton as a viable textile means its production will inevitably affect the world around it. 

When grown without utilizing responsible, sustainable practices, cotton plants can:

  • Erode and degrade soil quality
  • Pollute soil and water if pesticides are being used
  • Affect biodiversity if there is runoff into water sources containing harmful chemicals and minerals

Again, there is a rise in organic cotton production and a burgeoning awareness about the harmful effects of unchecked cotton production around the world. 

When purchasing cotton clothing, sheets, or other products, look for an organic label. Your items will last longer without having to be replaced, helping you create a smaller carbon footprint. 

Bamboo forest

Bamboo: The up-and-comer 

Ultra-durable and hard bamboo has long been used as a building material around the world. Bamboo material can also be used to make other bamboo products such as environmentally friendly utensils, toothbrushes, and accessories.4 

With the advent of new technology, bamboo viscose can now be made into breathable, absorbent clothing with bamboo fabric. Bamboo bed sheets are also popular and rival the softness of much-loved Egyptian cotton sheets. There are all sorts of bamboo textile options on the market such as bamboo linen, bamboo bedding, bamboo bath towels. Many of these products are made with bamboo viscose. Learn about what bamboo viscose is right here on our blog!

Those who purchase bamboo-based textiles laud this material for the following qualities:

  • Breathable
  • Light 
  • Soft
  • Durable
  • (Usually) eco-friendly 
  • Easy on sensitive skin 

Bamboo and the environment 

The use of bamboo in the making of clothing and other products is often touted as uber eco-friendly. This is because the bamboo plant is regenerating, meaning it doesn’t need to be replanted every year to produce. 

Bamboo grows like a weed in a variety of environments and doesn't require as much water as cotton plants. Because bamboo is so versatile, being used as food for pandas, shelter for humans, and fiber for textiles, it is considered a sustainable and efficient crop. 

So, is bamboo better than cotton?

When shopping for bamboo-based products, keep an eye out for the Forest Stewardship Council certification and other certifications, like The Organic Crop Improvement Association. 

Companies like Boody Eco Wear source their raw materials from bamboo farms that adhere to strict regulations so that you can rest easy knowing the finished product has been tested for any harmful chemicals.2 From men's bamboo shirts to women's bamboo clothing, Boody's collections transform your dreams of affordable, sustainable fashion and luxury into an ultra-wearable reality. If you're wondering, “what is sustainable fashion?”, see our blog for more information!

About the Author:

Heather Bien is a copywriter and writer based in Washington, DC. She works with retail, ecommerce, and creative brands on their website copy and digital presence, and her freelance writing has appeared on MyDomaine, Apartment Therapy, The Everygirl, and more. When she's not with laptop and coffee in hand, you'll find her planning her next weekend getaway, working on her budding green thumb, or scouting for her next great vintage find.


Sources:

  1. MasterClass. What Is Cotton? A Complete Guide to the History, Characteristics, and Uses of Cotton. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-cotton 
  2. Boody Eco Wear. Benefits of Bamboo. https://boodywear.com/pages/benefits-of-bamboo 
  3. World Wildlife Fund. Cotton. https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/cotton
  4. Earth.com. Top 5 Uses for Bamboo Plants. https://www.earth.com/earthpedia-articles/top-5-uses-for-bamboo-plants/#:~:text=Because%20of%20its%20combined%20strength,floors%2C%20roofs%20and%20other%20structures
  5. KOPA. Bamboo VS. Cotton: An Environmental Comparison. https://keepingourplanetalive.ca/blogs/blog/bamboo-vs-cotton-an-environmental-comparison 
  6. Sleep Foundation. Bamboo vs. Cotton Sheets. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedding-information/bamboo-vs-cotton-sheets 
  7. World WildLife Fund. Cotton Industries. https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/cotton 
  8. World Wildlife Fund. Bamboo—Impact on Pandas and Environment. https://help.worldwildlife.org/hc/en-us/articles/360008012813-Bamboo-impact-on-pandas-and-environment 

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