Cotton is one of the most prevalent fabrics in the world. It is used in all kinds of applications, from clothing to beddings, to medical use, to industrial applications. It is versatile, durable, and strong. But did you know that there’s a high-quality version of cotton that’s favored for its extra softness and strength?
Pima cotton is favored the world over for it’s luxurious hand, rich texture, and extra durability. However, it’s more expensive, which means not a lot of people use it and there’s also a lot of misconceptions about the fabric.
What is Pima cotton and what makes it the better option for clothing? In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about Pima cotton and more.
Pima cotton is also known as Extra-Long Staple Cotton. Its other names also include “Sea Island Cotton,” and “American-Egyptian” cotton. We will discuss why later in the article.
Pima cotton is the better quality than regular cotton, deeming it the more superior kind and it’s also more expensive. Its fabric composition is long-fiber Gossypium Barbadense cotton and its thread count falls between 200-300, depending on the variations. It is very breathable, has a high moisture-wicking ability, low heat retention ability, and features medium stretchability.
It is most commonly used on clothes and bedsheets due to its extra softness, smoothness, and comfortable feel on the skin. Those with sensitive skin favor Pima cotton.
Pima Cotton Versus Regular Cotton
There are two kinds of cotton plants that are being used to make cotton fabrics. The most common type is Upland cotton, which makes up 90% of all cotton fabric produced in the world. The remaining 10% of cotton fabrics are made from two higher-quality cottons, which are Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton, which comes from the Gossypium Barbadense cotton plant.
This plant is more like a tree and produces yellow flowers that make the extra-long fibers used for the fabrics. It grows in warm climates and is susceptible to frost.
Both Egyptian and Pima cotton have longer and silkier fibers that create a premium fabric that is also stronger and more luxurious. To make a comparison between the Upland cotton fiber and the Pima cotton fiber, Pima fiber length ranges from 1.4″ to 2″ while for Upland, its longest fiber length can only reach up to 1.1 inch, which results in short fibers.
History of Pima Cotton
Radioactive evidence has shown that Gossypium Barbadense cotton has been grown in South America and in the West Indies since 3000 BC. Production of Pima cotton, however, traces back its roots to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, where it was named Sea Island Cotton in the 1790s. The name was given because the fabric was originally grown here.
Gossypium Barbadense was then cross-pollinated with Egyptian varieties throughout the 19th century and the result was a fabric called “American-Egyptian cotton” which became a uniquely American extra-long-staple cotton. This fabric has an incredibly high-quality fiber that resulted in a luxurious and soft cotton fabric.
In the early 1900s, the US Department of Agriculture got involved and working with Pima Indians in Arizona, perfected the young crop. The Pima people have ancestral knowledge of how to grow the plant and the USDA decided to name the resulting fabric after the tribe, and thus, Pima cotton was born.
Pima cotton was cultivated solely in the US but eventually, it has been grown in many other parts of the world, such as Peru, Australia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China. China and India are now the world’s biggest producers of Pima cotton.
In the US, only 5% of its cotton production involves Pima cotton, and it is still being manufactured in South Carolina, Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico.
How Is Pima Cotton Made?
There are 8 steps in making Pima cotton from plant to fabric. Here are the 8 steps:
Originally, cotton seeds were picked by hand. However, with the invention of the cotton gin or cotton engine, it is being done by machine. However, some Pima cotton manufacturers still use handpicking to pick out the seeds since it yields better quality fibers.
Once the seeds have been collected, they are then condensed and made into bales. These bales are then brought to the factory floor, where they are placed in an area called the “opening room.”
Once the bales are in the opening room, they are placed into the opening machine that pulls raw cotton fibers out of the bales. These fibers are then moved into a mixing machine.
This process involves pulling the fibers into parallel alignment to form a web. It transforms raw cotton fibers into rope-like strands.
The strands are then sent to the combing machine, which removes impurities from the cotton.
The ropes are then loaded into a bobbin and spun into spools.
This step involves spinning the ropes in the spools into yarns.
Once the fibers are made into yarns, the weaving process begins through a loom machine, producing the Pima cotton fabrics.
Uses of Pima Cotton
Because of its softness, it is mainly used in clothing and beddings. Pima cotton is mostly found in casual clothing such as dress shirts, dresses, t-shirts, hoodies, underwear, and a wide variety of other types of clothing.
It is also used on luxury-oriented clothing such as loungewear, nightgowns, and lingerie. It is also used on towels and bedsheets.
Pima cotton does not retain heat, which means it won’t keep you warm in cooler temperatures. It is, however, a great fabric to wear in warm climates, as it’s breathable, absorbent, and ultra-comfortable.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Pima Cotton
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of Pima cotton:
- Soft and Rich in Texture
Because of the high thread count and the extra-long staples of Pima cotton, it is incredibly soft and rich in texture.
- Resistant to Pilling
Most types of cotton pill after around 10 washes. Pilling is when tiny balls of fabric appear on the surface of the fabric after multiple uses. Pima, on the other hand, hardly ever pills. This is due to the extra-long fibers of the Gossypium Barbadense plant, which makes the garment more durable and lasts longer. Pima cotton garments stay wearable for many years of use.
Breathability is very important when wearing clothing. Breathable fabrics mean air gets through the fabric and gets onto your skin, making you feel dry and comfortable. Fabrics that don’t have breathability make you feel hot. Because Pima cotton is breathable, it is also absorbent. When you sweat, Pima cotton will absorb your sweat, keeping your skin dry, and thus, making you comfortable.
Pima cotton is more expensive than most cotton fabrics. This is because it takes longer to produce, the plant is rarer to find, and the quality is significantly higher than regular cotton.
Different Types of Pima Cotton
There are two kinds of Pima cotton, which are regular Pima cotton, and Supima cotton. We’ve been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of Pima cotton, as well as how it’s made. So in this part of this guide, we will only be talking about Supima cotton, as well as a few information about Egyptian cotton.
- Supima Cotton
Supima cotton is a kind of Pima cotton fabric that is considered to be the highest quality version of Pima cotton fabric. It is identical to Pima cotton but is subjected to much more stringent manufacturing controls.
The use of “Supima” as a fabric label is strictly regulated in the US. Supima fabrics are only manufactured in the US and it’s an authentic US-grade fabric and a brand trademarked by the Supima Association.
- What about Egyptian Cotton?
Egyptian cotton is an entirely different kind of cotton fabric, but it does have many similarities to Pima fabric. Egyptian cotton is also very soft, has a high thread count, and is breathable, luxurious, and durable. However, Egyptian cotton is only labeled as such when the cotton is produced in Egypt.
How to Care for Pima Cotton
One of the advantages of Pima cotton is that it’s so easy to wash and care for. You can hand wash it, machine wash, and iron it. However, the best way to wash Pima cotton is through hand washing. Make sure you use cool or warm water and washing Pima cotton in hot water can make it shrink. Avoid fabric softener as well as it can dull the finish of the fabric. Pima cotton is soft enough so there’s no need for fabric softener.
If you must machine wash, use warm or cool water as well and avoid using fabric softener. You can air dry or use a dryer to dry your Pima cotton, and you can also iron it.
How to Know If Pima Cotton is Real
Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers mislabel their fabrics as Pima cotton. Many products that are labeled with Pima cotton are only blended fabrics, which means they consist of only a small portion of Pima cotton, while the rest are made of regular cotton, and even with polyester. The only way to know for sure if a fabric is made of 100% Pima cotton is through a scientific test.
However, you will know the difference when you touch the fabric, press it against your skin, and when you wear it. It is extremely soft, cool to wear, drapes well, which means it falls on your body rather than clings to your skin, and when you sweat, you will feel cool and comfortable.
If you see a fabric that’s labeled with “Supima cotton,” and it’s made in the USA, so you can rest assured that it is made with 100% Supima cotton.
Pima cotton is a higher quality kind of cotton fabric that’s soft and more durable. It is easy to wash, easy to care for, breathable, and more luxurious. It was originally a US-made fabric but the largest producers today are India and China. Nevertheless, 100% Pima cotton is still higher in quality and more expensive than regular cotton fabric.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.