bad things about cotton fabric

Here is a detailed post about Bad Things About Cotton Fabric. Suppose you are looking for disadvantages of cotton. Then reading this article may help. It also includes pros and cons of cotton.

Cotton is one of the most popular fibers in the world and is used in nearly half of all clothing today. Cotton has been used for fabric since prehistoric times and has been found in civilizations from Mexico all the way to Ancient India over 5000 years ago. What made cotton so widespread in popularity was the invention of the cotton gin, which lowered the cost of production and lead to high profits.

What most consumers don’t know about this fluffy crop is that the production of cotton is extremely taxing on water and land resources–it can take more than 5000 gallons of water to produce 1kg of cotton:

That is equal to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.

If those facts aren’t enough to make you rethink the benefits of conventional cotton, here are 5 more reasons why cotton is bad for you:

disadvantages of cotton

Bad Things About Cotton Fabric

Conventional cotton Vs Organic Cotton

1. Conventional cotton production also accounts for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use. While pesticide use isn’t as concerning in clothing as in food, our skin is the largest organ and it is covered with tiny pores, so we literally ingest what we wear. That means that trace chemicals can be passed into our bloodstream every time we wear conventional cotton clothes.

2. Producers of conventional cotton are being poisoned by heavy pesticide use: more than 10,000 US farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemicals. 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.

3. More than 200,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1997. In India, one of the biggest cotton exporters in the world, around 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide (about one every thirty minutes) since the mid-1990s. Two factors have transformed this ancient livelihood for farmers: the rising costs of cotton production and the falling world prices of cotton. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalization of fast fashion. Cotton farmers will poison themselves with insecticides because they are in so much debt due to falling cotton prices because of shame and despair.

4. Conventional cotton growing is heavily subsidized by public funds, which drives prices down to ridiculously cheap levels, but at what cost? The toll on the environment and the farmers who grow the cotton is not reflected in conventional cotton prices and so doesn’t reflect the true cost of the fabric. In addition, we as Americans don’t get the chance to vote on how those public funds are allocated or who is receiving our money, so the negative impacts of the government’s choices are far reaching and nebulous, to the point where we can’t account for who is impacted or to what extent.

5. Conventional cotton fabric is processed with chlorine bleach. Hydrogen Peroxide and formaldehyde are also applied in the processing of the fabrics–It takes one-quarter of a pound of chemicals to produce one conventional cotton T-shirt, and one-quarter of a pound of chemicals to produce 2 pairs of conventional men’s boxer shorts. That’s a LOT of nastiness in your undies. And if you purchase dyed fabric, you can be pretty sure that carcinogens derived from the bleach were used. Blech.

As you mull these points over, remember that we aren’t trying to make you feel bad for your wardrobe or the great deal you got on that cute top last week. We are just trying to present the facts to you so you can make more sustainable choices for yourself this year. Conventional cotton has really negative impacts on so many individuals, and the more you buy, the more the environment and its people feel the effects.

There are a ton of alternatives for you to consider, like thrift stores or Organic Fair Trade cotton clothes and bags that have positive effects on the environment with your purchase.

Educate yourself and make an informed choice the next time you update your wardrobe because hey, spring is just around the corner. We at Gallant specialize in organic cotton custom makeup bags wholesale.

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Cotton is everywhere

Cotton is a popular fabric used for clothing, it’s easy to care for, strong, breathable, and hypoallergenic. It’s hard to find clothes that aren’t made with cotton in some way. It can be combined with almost any other kind of fiber to make a wide variety of fabrics. Cotton comes from the fluffy boll that surrounds cotton plant seeds. Bolls are processed and combed into yarn, that yarn goes on to be woven together to make various fabrics, which are then used to make clothing.

But cotton has several draw backs that are exacerbated by outdated government policies.

Machines + Chemicals > Slaves

Before cotton picking machines existed, slaves were used the world over to pick cotton. Machines were able to make slaves uneconomical once they were able to accurately pick the cotton bolls. But cotton leaves and other plant matter often got in the way, causing machines to break down and generally drove up costs. So cotton farmers started using defoliants to kill off all the unwanted plant matter and make it easier for machines to pick the bolls. The problem with defoliants is that they are very toxic, a famous example of a defoliant is Agent Orange, a chemical used by the US during the Vietnam war that ended up ruining millions of lives with huge spikes in cancer rates, birth deformities, and making thousands of square miles of land unusable.

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Agent Orange: An effective defoliant

Leave the Garden Hose On

Cotton is a thirsty plant, it requires more than 2000 litres of water to grow enough cotton for 1 pair of boxer briefs, and because it’s such a popular cash crop, using about 2.4% of the worlds arable farm land, farmers are often forced to plant cotton in areas that don’t get enough rain. This has resulted in 73% of cotton grown requiring irrigation, including the southern USA.

Poorly managed cotton production has had devastating effects on the environment, with the most visible example being the Aral Sea going from the 4th largest lake in the world to a desert because local governments since the 1960s diverted all the rivers and waterways into cotton production, letting the Aral Sea evaporate and give way to the Aralkum Desert, whose sands are so polluted with pesticides and herbicides from decades of cotton industry runoff, dust blown from the Aralkum Desert has infected animals as far away as Antarctica with its toxins.

Monocropping = Insect All-Inclusive

Monocropping / monoculture is when a farmer only plants one type of plant at a time, it makes planting and harvesting crops easier. But the major problem with monoculture is vast spans of farmland with only one type of crop growing. Insects, fungi, and other pests that only eat that one crop move in, and they can devastate a crop in days. Regular cotton is always a monocrop, and it has an especially long list of pests and parasites that can kill it.

Killing Cotton Is Easier

To prevent their crops from being completely destroyed by pests, cotton farmers use a lot of pesticide and herbicide. In fact, even though cotton only uses 2.4% of the worlds arable land, it uses 24% of pesticides. Pests and fungi are such a problem for farmers that they’ve had to result to drastic steps to ensure they can profitably grow cotton. One measure to minimize the impact of bugs has been to pull the plant out of the ground after it’s been harvested, even though cotton is a perennial. This ensures any eggs or spores have been completely removed from the field.

But pulling cotton plants out and exposing the soil to the air causes the soil to lose nutrients, which has lead to cotton farmers needing to put fertilizer in their soil for the next season’s crop. Farmers use around 35 kg of fertilizer per acre of cotton field every year. Much of that fertilizer is potash, which itself is typically mined intensively far away from cotton fields (leaving a giant carbon footprint).

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All you need is fertilizer — Anatomy of a potash mine (used in fertilizer)

Just Use Round Up

Another controversy surrounding cotton is the extensive use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Genetically modified cotton is able to withstand proprietary herbicides and pesticides without harming the cotton plant. GMO cotton was first used in 1995 and now accounts for 95% of all cotton grown in the US and India.

There are many other problems associated with cotton, including child slaverycotton field workers dying from exposure to cotton’s various chemicals, to animals coming into deadly contact with the chemical aftermath of cotton farming.

Alms For Big Agra

But the worst part is that governments encourage the cotton status quo. In the US, cotton farmers get billions of dollars in cotton subsidies, China and other large cotton producers also subsidize their cotton industries, distorting the actual cost of cotton with governments around the world spending an estimated $6.5 billion on cotton subsidies in 2013.

Why do governments subsidize cotton? The short answer is extensive lobbying. The cotton industry has been around for a long time and is famously resistant to change. The few large cotton producers in the US seem to get a the majority of the cotton subsidies. Large agriculture corporations spend a lot on lobbying the US government, more than $32 billion in 2016. Monsanto spent more than any other organization lobbying the US government, it is also the largest seller of (GMO) cotton seeds.

Looking Beyond Cotton

There is no single fabric that has a zero carbon footprint supply chain. But there are alternative crops that can be used to make fabric more sustainably than cotton.


Wool isn’t a crop, it comes from sheep. But it is a natural yarn and if done right, sustainable. Wool makes a very breathable fabric that is hypoallergenic and very warm to wear. When you look at the the entire supply chain of wool, however, you run into familiar problems. The biggest problem is monoculture. Vast swaths of land full of sheep attract mites and other pests that prey on sheep. Lots of pesticides is used on any large scale sheep farm. Then there is the question of the feed for the sheep. Is it GMO feed? What hormones are used? Was the feed harvested sustainably?

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton has become popular in recent years. Cotton is called organic when it doesn’t use any irrigation water, synthetic fertilizer, or pesticides. All US organic cotton is GMO free. Though increasingly popular, only 0.7% of cotton grown around the world is organic. One of the problems with cotton is that it simply doesn’t produce as much fabric material per acre of land as other crops can.


Hemp fabric became a thing around 10 000 years ago, it was one of the first plants to be woven into cloth and has played a major role in human history. Hemp fabric is made from soft fibers in the stems of the plants and is very strong and quick to grow. It was for thousands of years the most cultivated plant on the planet, its use was so widespread that the British Empire made it a law that all colonies must grow hemp.

Hemp takes about 90 days to grow, yields roughly 14x more yarn per acre of land than cotton, and requires less pesticides, fertilizer, and irrigation than cotton. Its biggest drawback is its association with marijuana, meaning that it has been outlawed in North America for most of the 1900s.

Rayon / Viscose


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Eucalpytus harvesting time

Rayon / Viscose is an artificial fabric made of plant cells. Some viscose yarn manufacturing processes use chemicals that are harmful if not disposed of properly. But the ecological benefits of this fabric can be huge. Consider Tencel yarn made from eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus trees are one of the largest trees in the world, you get 20x as much fabric per acre of land with eucalyptus trees than cotton, and eucalyptus trees don’t need any pesticides.

But Tencel grows its eucalyptus in South America, ships the wood to its facilities in Europe to make the yarn, and then ships the yarn to another facility (usually in China) to be made into a fabric. In addition to an extensive global supply chain that leaves a giant carbon footprint, eucalyptus trees require a lot of water, making them only profitable in marginal land that gets a lot of rain.

pros and cons of cotton

What Is Textile Recycling?

Textile recycling is the process by which old clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse or material recovery. It is the basis for the textile recycling industry. In the United States, this group is represented by SMART, the Association of Wiping Materials, Used Clothing and Fiber Industries. The necessary steps in the textile recycling process involve the donation, collection, sorting and processing of textiles, and then subsequent transportation to end users of used garments, rags or other recovered materials.&;

The basis for the growing textile recycling industry is, of course, the textile industry itself. The textile industry has evolved into a nearly $1 trillion industry globally, comprising clothing, as well as furniture and mattress material, linens, draperies, cleaning materials, leisure equipment, and many other items.1 

The Urgency to Recycle Textiles

The importance of recycling textiles is increasingly being recognized. An estimated 100 billion garments are produced annually, worldwide.2 According to U.S. EPA, around 17 million tons of textile municipal solid waste (MSW) was generated in 2018, about 5.8% of total MSW generation. The recycling rate for textiles derived from clothing and footwear was 13.0%, while the recovery for sheets and pillowcases was 15.8% for the same year.3 As such, textile recycling is a significant challenge to be addressed as we strive to move closer to a zero landfill society.

Once in landfills, natural fibers can take a few weeks to a few years to decompose.4 They may release methane and CO2 gas into the atmosphere. Additionally, synthetic textiles are designed not to decompose. In the landfill, they may release toxic substances into groundwater and surrounding soil.5

Textile recycling offers the following environmental benefits:

  • Decreases landfill space requirements, bearing in mind that synthetic fiber products do not decompose and that natural fibers may release greenhouse gasses
  • Avoided use of virgin fibers
  • Reduced consumption of energy and water
  • Pollution avoidance
  • Lessened demand for dyes.

Sources of Textiles for Recycling

Textiles for recycling are generated from two primary sources. These sources include:
1. Post-consumer, including garments, vehicle upholstery, household items and others.
2. Pre-consumer, including scrap created as a by-product from yarn and fabric manufacture, as well as the post-industrial scrap textiles from other industries.

The donation of old garments is supported by non-profit as well as many corporate programs, including those of Nike and Patagonia.

Wearable and Reused Textiles

In the European Union, about 50% of collected textiles are recycled and about 50% are reused. Approximately 35% of donated clothes are turned into industrial rags. Most of the reused clothing is exported to other countries.6 Oxam, a British charitable organization, estimates 70% of their clothing donations end up in Africa.7 The issue of sending used clothing to Africa has generated some degree of controversy as to the benefits of such initiatives, where it can have an adverse impact on local textile industries, native dress, and local waste generation.

The Recycling Process 

For the basics of recycling, read my article, How Clothing Recycling Works. For textiles to be recycled, there are fundamental differences between natural and synthetic fibers. For natural textiles:

  • The incoming unwearable material is sorted by type of material and color. Color sorting results in a fabric that does not need to be re-dyed. The color sorting means no re-dying is required, saving energy and avoiding pollutants.
  • Textiles are then pulled into fibers or shredded, sometimes introducing other fibers into the yarn. Materials are shredded or pulled into fibers. Depending on the end use of the yarn, other fibers may be incorporated.
  • The yarn is then cleaned and mixed through a carding process
  • Then the yarn is re-spun and ready for subsequent use in weaving or knitting. 
  • Some fibers are not spun into yards, however. Some are compressed for textile filling such as in mattresses.

In the case of polyester-based textiles, garments are shredded and then granulated for processing into polyester chips. These are subsequently melted and used to create new fibers for use in new polyester fabrics.

Beyond Recycling, Shop Sustainably

As society becomes more familiar with the hazards associated with sending old textiles to the landfill, and as new recycling technologies develop, it can be anticipated that the textile recycling industry will continue to grow. At the same time, watch for trends such as slow fashion to draw continued attention to the interplay of clothing and sustainability. The fast fashion industry generates considerable pollution and a sizeable negative impact on climate change. Consumers can help affect change by choosing clothing brands that last longer and which demonstrate a commitment to reducing their climate change impact.

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