Humans have cultivated and spun cotton into textiles for thousands of years. The fiber’s natural strength and moisture-wicking qualities make the plant one of the most popular crops in the world. And while there are many different types of cotton, long-staple Egyptian cotton is king among them. The reason? The extra-long fibers produce high-quality fabrics that deliver superior comfort, softness and a luxurious feel that can’t be imitated. In addition, Egyptian cotton fabric is so strong and durable it can last for decades.
So what gives long-staple Egyptian cotton its amazing qualities, and how is it different from “regular” cotton? Read on to find answers to these and other questions about Egyptian cotton. We’ll break down the reasons you should look for bedding made from this ancient cotton plant.
What Is Long-staple Egyptian Cotton?
The mass production of Egyptian cotton happened entirely by chance. In the beginning of the 19th century, the plant caught the eye of a Frenchman who saw it in a garden in Cairo. He was impressed with the crop’s adaptability, and suggested to the then-ruler of Egypt that it could be cultivated en masse. A few decades later, Egyptian cotton became the country’s primary source of revenue.
Today, genuine Egyptian cotton is cultivated along the Nile River Delta. The region’s moderate climate, high sun and fertile soil create the ideal growing environment for this special plant. Those unique growing conditions allow the plant to produce its coveted long-staple fibers. The extra length results in fewer connections between the fibers. That in turn makes the fabric extremely strong.
Egyptian cotton sheets also don’t pill as much, because of the small amount of lint the plant produces. Another great quality of Egyptian cotton fabric is that it’s far more porous than regular cotton. That helps it absorb a lot more water, making it a thirsty material for towels and bath mats. It also means that when dyed, Egyptian cotton textiles look more vibrant and resist fading for longer.
Natural Benefits of Egyptian Cotton
Cotton is famously smooth and soft, two qualities that are essential for a great night’s sleep. However, what you may not know is that cotton is also breathable. This means cotton sheets don’t trap heat – so long night sweats! Add low maintenance to the list of benefits because pure cotton is odor resistant and machine washable, so you can launder the fabric every seven to ten days. Cotton bedding also maintains its shape well (that fitted sheet will actually stay fitted) and is extremely durable, so you can rest assured your investment will last.
Is Long-staple Cotton the Same as Egyptian Cotton?
Nowadays, long-staple cotton varieties also grow in places outside of Egypt. Long-staple Pima and Supima cotton, for example, are primarily grown in the United States and Peru.
It’s also important to understand that not all cotton cultivated in Egypt is of the long-staple variety. Genuine long-staple Egyptian cotton thrives along the Nile River Valley because of the region’s unique soil and climate. Some growers produce cotton in other parts of the country, but it is of inferior quality. Unfortunately, textiles spun with those fibers may still be labeled as “Egyptian cotton.” Consumers should also be aware of cotton blends. Sometimes, fabrics labeled “long-staple Egyptian cotton” are actually made from a blend of short-staple or “regular” and Egyptian cotton.
Long-staple Cotton vs. Short-staple Cotton
When we refer to “long-staple” and “short-staple” cotton, we describe the length of the fibers. The longer the cotton fiber, the stronger the fabric. Each cotton fiber links to the next one via filament connections. The more connections fabrics have, the weaker and more prone to wear and tear they are. In addition, textiles made from long-staple cotton will pill, wrinkle and fray less. That makes the material perfect for home textiles such as bedding. So, Egyptian cotton pillowcases or an Egyptian cotton comforter — items you probably use daily — are a great long-term investment.
Another important difference between long-staple Egyptian cotton and short-staple cotton is thread count. When you buy high-quality, long-staple Egyptian cotton bedding, you don’t have to worry about thread count. Because of the natural strength, softness and breathability of Egyptian cotton, thread count is no longer a factor in measuring quality. Industry professionals know that thread count values are meaningless for textiles made with high-quality fibers. Read more about thread count in our article, The Truth About Thread Count.
Manufacturers that sell textiles made from short-staple cotton will often highlight the thread counts of their products. But higher thread count doesn’t mean better quality. Often, it’s the opposite. Because short-staple cotton produces thinner yarn, manufacturers generally twist several threads together. While that may lead to a higher thread count, the quality of the end product is inferior.
Egyptian vs Regular Cotton vs Pima Cotton
Egyptian Cotton and regular cotton actually come from entirely different plants. Egyptian cotton is grown along the Nile River Valley in Egypt, this cotton produces the finest longest staples and has been used for over 140 years. Because this cotton is hand picked (in contrast to saw or roller ginning), it does not put any stress on the fibers, leaving them straight and fully intact. Long-staple Egyptian cotton also comes from the Gossypium Barbadense species (like Pima), but it is stronger and softer due to the hot and dry climate of the Nile River Valley’s climate.
Upland cotton also known as short-staple cotton or plainly “Regular cotton” makes up 90% of all cotton production worldwide. This staple variety of cotton originated in Mexico from the Gossypium Hirsutum species. The fibers are collected through a saw gin – a machine that uses a series of circular saws with fine teeth to remove the fibers from the seeds – which is hard and often results in tears.
Pima cotton, also known as extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, is grown in the U.S., Australia, Peru and a few other locations around the world and is made from the Gossypium Barbadense species. To separate the fiber from the seed, Pima cotton uses a roller gin. This method involves a rotary knife in conjunction with leather rollers that extract the fibers from the seed and is ultimately more gentle on cotton than saw ginning, which results in a stronger fabric.
Egyptian: Grown along the Nile River Valley in Egypt, this cotton produces the finest and longest staples and has been used for over 140 years. Because this cotton is hand picked (in contrast to saw or roller ginning), it does not put any stress on the fibers, leaving them straight and fully intact. Long-staple Egyptian cotton also comes from the Gossypium Barbadense species (like Pima), but it is stronger and softer due to the hot and dry climate of Nile River Valley’s climate. At 3.8 – 4.4 cm long, this staple has a texture that improves with age and use, making it the finest cotton available.
Supima cotton is grown in the U.S. It is another variety of Pima cotton (its name is derived from “superior Pima”). Supima cotton is of the long-staple variety. Its fibers measure about 1.5 inches each, so they’re shorter than those of Egyptian cotton. Supima cotton is harvested and processed using heavy machinery.
How to Care for Long-staple Egyptian Cotton?
While textiles made from long-staple Egyptian cotton are incredibly strong, and preserve vibrant colors, there are still certain things to keep in mind when you wash and dry them. The first rule of thumb is to read and follow the care instructions on the item’s label. The good news is that keeping Egyptian cotton clean is very easy. That’s as true for a bulky comforter as it is for lighter Egyptian cotton pillowcases. The fabric is machine washable using cool water and a mild detergent. Never use bleaching agents or other harsh cleaning products on Egyptian cotton.
Long-staple Egyptian cotton bedding tends to have fewer wrinkles than bedlinen made with regular cotton. But if you still need to iron your sheets and pillowcases, pull them out of the dryer when they’re still a little wet, and iron them on low heat. Finishing the drying process outside the dryer cuts down on wrinkling.
So Is Egyptian Cotton the Best Cotton in the World?
The short answer is yes. Textiles made from genuine long-staple Egyptian cotton are ultra-soft, strong, durable and offer unparalleled comfort. The reason is the extra-long fibers that produce yarn of superior quality. The tight weave — especially in the case of Egyptian cotton percale sheets — results in a luxurious look and feel.
If you’d like to learn more about the different cotton fabrics, read our Fabric & Bedding Materials Guide.
Long-staple Egyptian cotton is truly the king of home product fabrics on the market. The material is the perfect choice for bedding and bath products.
Where to Shop for High-quality Long-staple Egyptian Cotton Bedding
At Parachute, you’ll find bedding and other home products crafted from premium long-staple Egyptian cotton grown along the Nile River Valley. This special material is expertly woven into textiles in family-owned factories in Portugal. The company avoids using harsh chemicals or toxic dyes when manufacturing its bedding. In addition, Parachute’s bedlinen is Oeko-Tex certified. Oeko-Tex products are tested free of high levels of over one hundred commonly-used toxic substances and allergens. That is not only important in terms of product safety. It also guarantees that Parachute’s long-staple Egyptian cotton bedding retains the material’s natural strength, softness and high-end look.