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What is Organic Cotton? Sustainable Cotton Fabric Guide

Parachute's Organic Cotton Bedding in Willow
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It’s no wonder organic cotton is seeing such a rise in popularity today. In an era of fast fashion, sustainable fabric has come into its own. But is organic cotton a smarter choice than cotton products that don’t bear the organic label? Is it better for the environment, and for your family’s skin?

As a biodegradable natural fabric, conventional cotton is certainly more eco-friendly than synthetic fibers, but organic cotton fabric takes sustainability one step further. Organically grown and organically processed cotton cuts down on landfill waste and reduces pollution. Organic cotton makes up just under 1% of global cotton, but it’s become increasingly trendy as a bedding, clothing, and bathroom material in recent years.

Here’s everything you need to know about organic cotton, to help decide if you should look for bedding, bath, clothes, and home products made from this eco-friendly fiber.

What is Organic Cotton?

Organic cotton is sustainable cotton grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizer and other toxic chemicals. By law, organic cotton plants can’t come from genetically engineered seeds, and strict regulations dictate how cotton must be grown to be certified organic.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversee organic certification. Other third-party certifications cover the process of turning organic fiber into organic textiles. Chief among these are the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

Still, the label “organic” might not take things far enough. When products are marketed as organic cotton textiles or fabrics, that usually only refers to the way the cotton was grown. Your products may still be treated with harmful chemicals like bleaches and formaldehyde or dyed with toxic inks that contain heavy metals. That’s why checking for Oeko-Tex and GOTS certification is crucial.

What are GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Products?

GOTS certified organic cotton products means the cotton has been grown, processed and manufactured into textiles following a set of highly specific international standards designed to protect the environment and workers along the supply chain.

To qualify as a product made with GOTS certified organic cotton, the full production process — from growing and harvesting to dyeing and manufacturing — must be free from harmful chemicals and practices. GOTS was developed to prevent manufacturers from labeling products as “organic” without oversight or periodic audits. 

Purchasing GOTS certified organic cotton products protects the labor forces and environments connected to every aspect of the cotton production process. The certification ensures consumers can feel confident about the ethical implications and sustainability of their organic cotton purchases.

To learn more about why this textile certification matters for the environment and the consumer, explore the What is GOTSⓇ? Why You Should Care guide.

What Is Oeko-Tex Certified Organic Cotton?

Oeko-Tex certified organic cotton is tested for harmful chemicals upon completion of the manufacturing process. 

Oeko-Tex is an organization operating in over 40 countries around the world to ensure organic textiles remain free from a long list of over 100 potentially hazardous chemicals.

Oeko-Tex helps manufacturers and consumers know with certainty that their products are produced as advertised. They even offer a label-checking app so you can feel confident your Oeko-Tex certified products are authentic and were made under sustainable and socially responsible conditions.

Organizations like Oeko-Tex make it easier to be an empowered consumer and support only beneficial, responsible businesses with your purchases.

You can learn more about the Oeko-Tex certification in our article: What Is Oeko-Tex? Learn About This Certification.


Popular Organic Cotton Bedding & Bath Essentials

When you’re sold on certified organic cotton, the next step is to find the best towels, bed sheets, duvet covers, and other bath and home items. A cozy organic cotton robe or quilt feels even cozier when you know that it was made sustainably.

Organic Cotton Sheets & Duvet Covers

Organic cotton bedding is ethically made and soft, the perfect combo for sustainable night sleep. Consider the GOTS & Oeko-Tex certified Organic Bed Sheets or the Oeko-Tex certified Organic Textured Duvet Cover Set to sleep soundly knowing that your sheets were made ethically and supported local communities throughout the global textile manufacturing process.

Want to know more about organic cotton bedding? See our articles:

Best Organic Bed Sheets: What to Look For in Sustainable Bedding

Bed Sheet Buying Guide: How to Choose Bedding Based on How You Sleep

Guide to Duvets & Duvet Covers: Everything You Need to Know

Organic Cotton Quilts 

Because cotton is such an airy fabric and comes in so many colors, it’s a wonderful choice for use in quilts that can be layered with sheets and a comforter — or used on their own. A white Organic Air Cotton Quilt can brighten even the smallest bedroom.

Is a quilt right for you? Learn more about materials and colors  in these guides:

Guide to Quilts, Blankets and Coverlets: A Modern Take on Traditional Covers

Bed Sheet, Blanket, & Quilt Color Trends 

What Size Quilt or Blanket Do You Need? 

Organic Cotton Pillowcases and Shams

Complete your idyllic organic cotton bedroom with a set of GOTS and Oeko-Tex certified organic cotton pillowcases and shams.

Wrapping your pillows in organic cotton pillowcases means enjoying the many benefits of sleeping with clean, soft fabric next to your face each night. Awaken feeling bright eyed and refreshed thanks to a crisp weave and garment-washing processes that result in a supersoft, snuggly finish.

Our Organic Air Cotton Shams enclose every pillow in fluffy 3-ply certified organic cotton that feels lighter than air. Featuring our popular Cloud Cotton fabric, these pillow shams will add a touch of style to your bed. For a more traditional look, our Organic Cotton Sham Set is sure to swaddle your pillows in comfort and effortless class.

With so many fantastic options and combinations of cozy pillowcases and shams to choose from, you’ll want to cover your bed with pillows!

Organic Cotton Clothing and Loungewear

Everyone has a favorite cotton t-shirt for a reason. Organic cotton fabric is ideal for clothing and loungewear because it’s hypoallergenic, durable, breathable and naturally absorbent. You can get it as dirty as you like, yet you don’t have to take too much care when throwing it in the wash.

Looking for loungewear? Find the best of the best in our guides: 

Best Organic Clothing: What to Look for in Organic Cotton Clothes

Get Cozy With the Best Loungewear and Bathrobes From Parachute.

Organic Cotton Bathroom: Robes, Towels, & Tub Mats

Organic cotton is naturally cozy and absorbent, so it’s an ideal fabric for a comfy bathrobe. An Organic Cotton Robe is naturally cozy and absorbent, making it the best choice for an eco-friendly robe.

Organic cotton fabric is also delightful for bathroom accessories, from Organic Cotton Towels to Organic Cotton Tub Mats 

Want to learn more? See our bathroom necessity guides:

Best Organic Cotton Robes: What to Look For in Sustainable Bathrobes

What are the Best Towel Materials and What Sizes Should You Buy?

Eco-Friendly Mattress

A safe, comfortable mattress is the center of your bedroom. It’s where you sleep, where you sit, and for those lucky enough to work from home, occasionally where you work. Needless to say, you need a good mattress, but did you know mattresses can actually release potentially toxic compounds while you sleep? 

These compounds, which can cause health problems in high concentrations, are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). In your bedroom, they’re caused by the polyurethane in traditional mattresses. The Eco Mattress you’ll find at Parachute doesn't contain polyurethane, letting you sleep soundly without affecting your home’s air quality.

How Is Organic Cotton Made?

Organic cotton is made a little differently than conventional cotton, focusing on a more natural agricultural and production processes. 

Farmers can use organic fertilizer when growing organic cotton, but they mostly prep their soil by rotating their crops. With conventional cotton, each crop is grown in the same soil as the previous crop. Over time, this can strip the soil of nutrients. Another difference is that farmers of organic cotton plant only non-genetically-modified (non-GMO) seeds.

They then control weeds and pests using natural methods like trap crops and beneficial insects rather than by using heavy-duty herbicides and pesticides. Any products used are naturally-derived, and though many organic crops are irrigated, most sustainable crops rely heavily on rainwater.

Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is harvested using natural methods that don’t rely on chemicals. During processing, warp fibers are stabilized through a method called double-plying or by using cornstarch. Once the fibers are processed into yarn, eco-friendly cotton can be woven into different organic cotton textiles (think: canvas for a sturdier sustainable textile or chambray for something lighter).


Why is Organic Cotton More Sustainable?

Organizations like GOTS and Oeko-Tex were formed with the goal of creating a better system of checks and balances for textile industries around the world. They’re empowered by a series of sustainability goals and initiatives set by the United Nations in 2015. These organizations work hard to ensure textile creation and distribution is safe for the environment, for workers and for consumers alike.

True sustainability requires a laundry list of practices, regulations and global considerations. Here are a few key standards and mandates that make organic cotton so much more sustainable than other options on the market:

GOTS Worker Protections

Labor protections are federally mandated in some countries, while other nations remain relatively silent about worker safety and rights. GOTS certification requires all members of the supply chain to adhere to specific labor protection practices. This ensures better community sustainability and worker health.

GOTS certification works to foster fair wages, provisions for basic human needs, access to clean drinking water and toilets, freedom from unfair disciplinary practices, child labor bans and freedom from discrimination.

Crop Rotation for Soil and Worker Health

Growing the same crops season after season in any given area depletes vital nutrients from the soil. Once soil has been depleted, farmers have to make up for poor growing conditions with the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seed stock. 

GOTS requires mandatory crop rotation, so different crops can grow in an area each season and help replenish soil nutrients naturally and sustainably. Organic cotton may fill a plot of land one year, but the next year farmers can grow edible crops to support their families and communities. This makes it easier and more affordable for farmers to prioritize not only money-making crops like organic cotton, but life-sustaining crops to feed their communities.

Environmental Protections Throughout the Supply Chain

how the cotton is produced

Farmers and manufacturers who produce GOTS certified organic cotton fabrics are responsible for meeting a long list of environmental requirements throughout the supply chain.

For starters, use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers are forbidden in the growing stages. This not only protects workers from exposure to chemicals, but it keeps toxic chemicals out of the soil, groundwater and other elements of the ecosystem.

GOTS also mandates that local and regional laws about air emissions, wastewater treatment and other byproducts be upheld. While each participating country still sets its own legal requirements, GOTS oversight helps ensure that the requirements are followed and respected.

The Oeko-Tex Standard of Health

Even with the range of practices and protections enforced by GOTS, harmful chemicals can still contaminate your organic cotton products. That’s where Oeko-Tex comes in.

Oeko-Tex fits into the final stages of the organic textile supply chain, preventing fabrics and products that contain harmful chemicals from reaching consumers. 

Products with the Oeko-Tex “Standard 100” have been tested for harmful substances down to the very button. Every thread is examined, rather than just a single type of fiber. This ensures that consumers receive exactly what they expect. It also reinforces the importance of production transparency among manufacturers. 

Sustainability isn’t just a goal. It's also a requirement when creating and selling organic cotton products, thanks to organizations like GOTS and Oeko-Tex. Mainstream consumers are beginning to understand exactly why purchasing organic cotton is important to the environment and to communities around the world.

Learn more about what it means for bedding to be genuinely organic and sustainable in our What to Look for in Organic Bedding guide. 

Is Organic Cotton Better for the Environment?

Organic cotton promotes sustainability. Every year, farmers apply 1 billion pounds of pesticides to crops in the United States. Some of it is sprayed into the air using crop dusters, some runs into waterways, and some seeps into the soil, posing both health and environmental risks — and that’s just one chemical. Some experts cite cotton defoliants as some of the most toxic chemicals in agriculture.

Is Cotton Sustainable?

Organic cotton fabric doesn’t cause the same kind of overt pollution. In fact, studies have found that cotton has one of the lowest CO2 emissions when compared to other popular fibers. It’s the farming method that poses the problem, but organic cotton cultivation aims to reduce environmental impact (and even promote biodiversity). Research has shown that organic cotton reduces water consumption by 91% compared to conventionally grown cotton, mostly because organic crops rely on rainwater.

Where to Find Organic Cotton Products

Organic cotton fabric only represents a tiny portion of global cotton crops, but this is changing as the world embraces more sustainable options. Though it’s a good start, it’s also important to consider organic products made from responsibly sourced cotton that are GOTS and Oeko-Tex certified. This won’t just protect the environment, it will also protect your health.

The line of certified 100% organic cotton bath, bedding, and home products you’ll find at Parachute are made ethically and sustainably. All our bedding is made in family-owned factories in Europe, and no synthetics, pesticides or artificial colorants are ever used during the production process. Ready to take the plunge? Browse through our Organic Cotton collection. Your skin — and your loved ones — will thank you.

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