Cotton is a staple fiber that has been in use for centuries, while bamboo is a fast up-and-comer in the textiles industry. These two fabrics can look very similar, and they have similar characteristics as well. If you’re debating between these two fabrics for a sewing project, you may be wondering what’s the difference between cotton and bamboo?
Both bamboo and cotton are plant-based fibers. The similarities include being breathable, soft, and durable, although neither is the most durable fabric. The differences are that bamboo is more breathable, moisture-wicking, and more expensive than cotton.
In this article, I’ll discuss the similarities and differences between cotton and bamboo in more detail. I’ll also explain the pros and cons of each to decide which one is better for you.
What is Cotton Fabric?
Cotton is one of the most commonly used fabrics worldwide due to its abundance and versatility. It’s also one of the oldest fabrics and it is thought that cotton has been in use as early as 5000 BC in India. In addition to silk, cotton was one of the most readily available fibers used for making clothing.
Cotton fibers are prized for the breathability and lightweight feel that they give to clothing. However, today, cotton fibers are used to make various specific fiber types. Denim, broadcloth, velvet, sateen, organdy, muslin, and flannel are just some of the many fabrics made from cotton. These fabrics have different textures, weights, and breathability, which goes to show just how versatile cotton is.
Cotton is derived from the cotton plant. There are also different types of cotton, including Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton. These types of cotton are thought to be superior and therefore more expensive than typical cotton.
To make cotton, the plants are first harvested by a machine and another machine called a cotton gin removes the seeds. At the product facility, the cotton fibers are formed into long strands and spun into yarn. The cotton yarn is dyed and then woven into various cotton fabrics.
What is Bamboo Fabric?Bamboo is a newer fabric that has gained popularity in recent years. It’s made from the bamboo plant. Because the plant is so fast-growing and can grow all over the world, many people praise bamboo for being more eco-friendly and sustainable.
However, cotton requires no chemicals to make fabric, whereas bamboo has to be chemically processed to create the fibers woven into fabric. Because of this, there are debates over how eco-friendly and sustainable bamboo really is.
To make bamboo, the bamboo plants are cut down and then the stalks and leaves are crushed into smaller pieces. These small pieces are then soaked in a chemical solution to turn them into a pulp. This pulp creates individual fibers. The fibers are washed, then spun into yarn, dyed, and woven into fabric.
Cotton vs. Bamboo: Key Points
|Breathability||Slightly less breathable||Slightly more breathable|
|Durability||More durable, prone to shrinking||Less durable, prone to shrinking and pilling|
|Weight||Comes in a variety of weights||Lightweight|
|Softness||Generally soft but comes in different textures||Softer than standard bamboo clothing|
|Moisture Wicking||More absorbent||More moisture-wicking|
|Ease of Care||Use normal cycle and low heat to dry||Use gentle cycle and low heat to dry|
|Cost||Less expensive||More expensive|
|Uses||A variety of clothing and home textiles||Mostly t-shirts and athletic wear, home textiles|
|Sustainability||Less sustainable unless organic||More sustainable|
What’s the Difference Between Cotton and Bamboo?
The chart above gives you a brief overview of the similarities and differences between cotton and bamboo. But now, let’s look at those similarities and differences in more detail.
Both cotton and bamboo are considered to be very breathable. This is because they are made from plant fibers which are naturally more breathable than synthetic fibers, which are often made from plastic.
In general, cotton fabric is considered to be very breathable. That’s why it’s popular for warm weather clothing. But the exact breathability of other fabrics that are made from cotton will depend on whether the fabric is woven or knit as well as the thickness of the fabric. For example, dresses made from brocade fabric aren’t as breathable as a basic cotton dress.
Bamboo is considered to be a very breathable fabric as well. But, bamboo is even more breathable than cotton. It’s a great choice for warm-weather clothing. But, because of this breathability, bamboo is popularly used for athletic wear. (There are a few other reasons for this, which I’ll mention later). Many t-shirts that can be made out of cotton can also be made out of bamboo instead.
In general, both cotton and bamboo are very durable fabrics. However, neither one is considered to be the most durable fabric. But there are plenty of fabrics that are less durable than cotton and bamboo.
If they are taken care of properly, both fabrics can last long. They can both shrink if dried in the dryer on high heat. Bamboo is more prone to pilling than cotton, but it’s also slightly more durable than cotton due to the chemicals added when making the fibers.
Bamboo and cotton aren’t necessarily fabrics that you think about being warm. Both fabrics are average for how warm they will keep you. Both have medium heat retention abilities, so they aren’t be as warm as some fabrics, such as wool and cashmere. But they’re not going to be as cooling as linen either.
When it comes to which of the two is warmer, the natural structure of bamboo fibers and the fabric, as a result, makes bamboo slightly warmer than cotton. Bamboo can be worn year-round, although it may not be suitable if you live in a cold climate. It’s also not suitable for making sweaters. Cotton is best for spring and summer clothing, but it can keep you warm in the fall and winter when worn with layers.
In general, cotton and bamboo are considered thinner, lightweight fabrics. This is again due to being made from plant-based fibers, which are naturally more lightweight.
However, due to its versatility, cotton can be used to make so many different fabrics. That means that cotton fabrics can also come in many different weights. The weight of cotton just depends on the specific cotton fabric and the garment being made. Muslin is lightweight, denim is medium-weight, and brocade is heavyweight.
Bamboo isn’t as versatile as cotton and it is generally just a lightweight fabric. It may come in a few different, slightly different fabric weights. But, most bamboo fabric is still considered lightweight, which is part of what makes it so breathable.
Another similarity between bamboo and cotton is that they are both soft. The soft texture is again due to being plant-based. But, there can be different variations of softness, especially with cotton fabric, depending on how the fabric is woven.
Fabrics have something called a thread count, which can play a role in how soft they are. Cotton comes in thread counts ranging from 100 to 2,000 in some cases. Usually, for standard cotton clothing, the thread count is around 100-200. Bamboo usually comes in thread counts ranging between 300 and 600. The higher the thread count, the softer the fabric.
With that being said, bamboo fabric tends to start softer than cotton. Depending on the type of cotton fabric you choose and how you care for it, cotton can get softer and softer the more it is washed.
Since both cotton and bamboo are breathable, they are both at least somewhat moisture-wicking. In some cases, cotton tends to absorb moisture more than wick it away. Cotton can take longer to dry, especially depending on the type of cotton fabric you choose.
Bamboo is more moisture-wicking than cotton. This is due to it being more breathable than cotton and the structure of the bamboo fibers. Bamboo may absorb some water, but it will dry much quicker than cotton. That’s another reason why bamboo is commonly used for athletic wear, especially for t-shirts.
Ease of Care
Cotton and bamboo are generally easy to care for, provided that you know what you’re doing and that you use caution when washing them. Both of them can be machine-washed. But, you have to be careful when caring for both of these fabrics because they can shrink easily.
Bamboo requires more care than cotton since it is prone to pilling and isn’t as resistant to abrasion. It is recommended to wash it on a gentle cycle, but you don’t have to use any kind of special detergent with bamboo. Cotton can be washed on the normal cycle as long as you use the right settings.
You’ll want to use cool or cold water to wash both of these fabrics. You can put them in the dryer, but you’ll want to dry them on low heat to prevent them from shrinking. As far as care is concerned, cotton wrinkles more easily and bamboo is more resistant to wrinkles.
The cost of cotton and bamboo is one of the biggest areas where these two fabrics differ. Because cotton is so abundant, it is one of the cheapest fabrics you can buy. However, fabrics made from Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton will cost a little more since these are considered to be higher-quality fabrics.
There are so many fabric options made from cotton, so the cost depends on the exact type of cotton fabric. Thicker, heavyweight cotton fabrics will cost more than thinner, lightweight ones.
Bamboo is not necessarily an expensive fabric, especially when compared to other natural fabrics such as wool and silk. However, it will be more expensive on average than cotton is. Although bamboo is abundant in nature, it’s more expensive to produce due to the processing methods. Since it’s still a newer fabric and isn’t as readily available, these factors can also affect the cost.
I’ve already mentioned that cotton is very versatile and many different types of fabrics can be made from cotton. Because of this, cotton can be used for clothing such as t-shirts, dress shirts, and even dresses. It’s also used to make denim for jeans. Cotton fabric can also be used to make home textiles such as bedsheets, blankets, upholstery, curtains, and more.
Bamboo can be used to make clothing as well, but its uses are mostly for t-shirts and athletic wear since it isn’t quite as versatile as cotton. However, it can also be used to make home textiles. Sheets, blankets, and towels can all be made from bamboo. Clothing aside, bamboo is also used to make “eco-friendly” paper towels and toilet paper.
In today’s world, many people are trying to make more eco-conscious choices, including in the clothing that they wear. As far as sustainability is concerned, whether cotton or bamboo is more sustainable depends on who you ask.
The general consensus is that bamboo is more sustainable since the bamboo plant is abundant and grows much faster than cotton. Bamboo can also be grown without pesticides and fertilizers. This is good because these chemicals can contribute to soil and water contamination.
However, the process of making bamboo is not as sustainable as cotton since chemicals are used to create bamboo fibers. This can also contribute to soil and water pollution if these chemicals aren’t disposed of properly.
But, growing and processing cotton contributes to carbon emissions as well due to all of the heavy machinery that is used. So overall, bamboo is more sustainable than cotton. But, organic cotton is better than bamboo and regular cotton since it doesn’t use fertilizers and pesticides and no chemicals are used to process it.
Pros and Cons of CottonNow that you’ve seen all the characteristics of cotton fabric, let’s briefly review the pros and cons. The good thing about cotton is that it is more affordable than bamboo in most cases. It is also more versatile and comes in various specific fabrics with different weights and textures. It’s also very soft, and organic cotton is more sustainable than bamboo.
When compared to bamboo, cotton is not as breathable in general. This is especially true with thicker versions of cotton fabric. Cotton is less moisture-wicking than bamboo also. It’s prone to shrinking when exposed to heat, but that’s true of bamboo.
Pros and Cons of BambooWhen compared to cotton, bamboo has a few advantages. For starters, it is softer and more breathable than cotton. It’s also more moisture-wicking than cotton, making it better for sportswear than cotton. Many people also consider bamboo to be more sustainable than cotton.
However, bamboo is more expensive than cotton since it isn’t made as much as cotton. It’s also not as versatile as cotton, so it doesn’t have quite as many uses. Bamboo is also prone to shrinking as well as pilling. Because of this, it requires a bit more care than cotton does. Although, you still have to be careful with how you care for both of them.
What Is Bamboo Cotton?
If you see a fabric labeled bamboo cotton, it means that it is a blend of bamboo and cotton fibers. Bamboo cotton fabrics will have characteristics of both bamboo and cotton combined into one fabric.
Bamboo cotton is softer, more breathable, and more moisture-wicking than regular 100% cotton due to the bamboo fibers. But, bamboo cotton is also more durable than 100% bamboo due to the cotton fibers. This fabric can be a great choice if you want a fabric that has the best properties of each fabric combined into one.
Cotton Fabric by the Yard
Cotton fabric can be purchased anywhere fabric is sold, whether in brick and mortar stores or online. Remember that cotton can be used to make a lot of different types of fabric, so the exact price will depend on the type of fabric you’re looking for.
Cotton fabric can cost less than $2 to more than $10 per yard, just depending on the type. Most cotton fabric used for apparel ranges between 44 and 60 inches. But, some can be wider or narrower, especially for quilting and upholstery fabric.
Bamboo Fabric by the Yard
Bamboo fabric will not be as readily available in brick and mortar stores as cotton is. But, you can find lots of bamboo fabric from online fabric retailers. You’re not going to have as wide of a selection as you would with cotton fabric, either.
Bamboo fabric usually costs between $10 and $20 per yard, but sometimes more. The average price is around $15 per yard. Bamboo fabric usually averages around 60 inches in width, but it could be wider or narrower.
Is Bamboo Better Than Cotton?
Whether or not bamboo is better than cotton depends on what characteristics you’re looking for in a fabric. Bamboo has its advantages, including being softer and more breathable and more moisture-wicking. It’s also considered more sustainable if you’re looking for an eco-friendly fabric.
But, bamboo is also more expensive than cotton and it isn’t as widely available. Plus, it isn’t as versatile or as durable as cotton. It may not be the right choice for everybody. It depends on what you want to make and the purpose of the clothing.
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