Pima Cotton vs Standard Cotton

What is Pima Cotton?

Pima cotton is an extra-long staple (ELS) cotton famous for its high quality as it is both super soft and durable. Pima cotton is indigenous to northern Peru and has been grown there for thousands of years–dating as far back as 6,000 BC ("History of Pima Cotton”).  

Extra-Long Staple Cotton 

But what does extra-long staple (ELS) cotton even mean? And why is it so sought after? To answer these questions, let’s take it from the top - all cotton is differentiated into four staple lengths. There are short staple cotton, medium staple cotton, long staple cotton, and extra-long staple cotton. These are differentiated by the length of the individual cotton fibers. Individual cotton fibers that measure between 22 and 25mm are considered short staple cotton, fibers measuring a length between 26 and 28mm are considered medium staple cotton, fibers measuring a length between 29 and 34mm are considered long staple cotton, and fibers measuring a length of 34mm or longer are considered extra-long staple cotton (“The Differences Between...”). While these differences in length may seem diminishingly small, they contribute greatly to the quality and functionality of the cotton. 


Cotton to Fabric

After cotton fibers are harvested, they are turned into thread and eventually fabric through various processes such as carding and twisting. Carding is a process that allows for impurities and tangles within the cotton fibers to be removed. During the process, the fibers are disentangled and aligned in one direction and eventually form a thin wick. The fibers are then ready for the next process: twisting. In the twisting process, the fibers are twisted together to provide strength and cohesion. This process is one of the most crucial steps that determines the quality and strength of a cotton fabric (“How Cotton Yarn is Made”). This process also explains the main reason why Pima cotton fabrics are softer, stronger, and more durable than fabrics made with standard cotton. Some other qualities that the level of twisting influences are fabric breathability, moisture absorption, hand feel, and wearing properties (“Effect of Twist”). Twisting long staples yields a higher-strength fabric than twisting short staples as the long staples are able to combine better with one another and create a smoother surface. This causes the fibers to be less likely to break away from each other over time. Additionally, because long staples fibers have longer individual filaments, that means that there are fewer filament ends that stick out from the thread which ultimately make the fabric feel softer than short staple fabrics. 


Introduction to Standard Cotton

Short and medium staple cotton are the most commonly used cottons around the globe and are known for being soft, strong, and low maintenance. These two types of cotton are so common as they are quick and cheap to grow. However, they are more susceptible to pilling and wear and tear over time as the staples that compose the thread are more easily broken. And while they are soft in comparison to other fibers like wool, they are much rougher than other kinds of cotton.  


Introduction to Long and Extra-Long Staple Cotton

Long staple cotton is known to have a much softer and silkier feel than medium and short staple cotton. It is also more durable and resistant to pilling. And while softness and strength may seem like opposing forces, the reason why long staple cotton is more durable and more buttery is the same! Long staple cotton possesses these qualities because, when fibers are spun and twisted to make thread, the end result has fewer exposed fiber ends. Because of its softer feel and increased strength, long staple cottons are often used for products that are intended to be used for a long time and make lots of direct contact with the skin like sheets and towels.  

Then of course there is the most luxurious type of cotton, extra-long staple cotton. As one can imagine, extra-long staple cotton is even softer and more durable than long staple cotton. In the US, only 3% of all cotton produced is Pima cotton. Buying products that are made of 100% Pima cotton is an investment in your future knowing that your product will stand the test of time and stay supremely soft. In fact, many long staple cottons and extra-long staple cottons can even become even softer over time. This phenomenon is attributable to the long cotton fibers that make for a smooth surface that is resistant to pilling.  


Benefits of Pima Cotton

Compared to standard cotton, Pima cotton has many benefits. One of the key reasons for Pima cotton’s popularity is its texture. It is known for feeling as soft as silk which is why it is used in many high-end textile applications. Due to Pima cotton’s extreme softness, it is super comfortable to wear even for those with extreme skin sensitivity or those who require hypoallergenic fabrics. Pima cotton is also known for its breathability. Compared to standard cotton, Pima cotton is more absorbent which allows air to circulate more freely during wear. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, because Pima cotton is an ELS cotton, any products made with Pima cotton are much stronger and more durable than products made with standard cotton. Due to the longer length of the individual cotton fibers, fabrics made with Pima cotton have smoother surfaces that can withstand use over time and subsequently withstand many washes.  


Cons of Pima Cotton

If Pima cotton is such an amazing cotton and has such great qualities, why is it not grown more? The main con of Pima cotton is that it is more difficult to grow than standard cotton. Pima cotton can only be grown in hot, semi-dry environments and often takes longer to mature than standard cottons like upland cotton. Due to these limitations, only a limited amount of Pima cotton can be grown and harvested for use. Another con of Pima cotton is that it is often not monitored by a third party which means that there could be fakes on the market that are claiming to be Pima cotton when in reality they are a cotton blend with only 20% Pima cotton. This same problem is prevalent with Egyptian cotton as there are many fake Egyptian cotton fabrics on the market as well. To address this problem, there are three certifications that are available to guarantee the quality of Pima cotton: ASA certification, USDA Organic certification, and EU’s Organic Agriculture Agency Organic certification. Be sure to check for these certifications when purchasing products made from Pima cotton (Hodakel). 


Pima Cotton for Sustainability

One of the biggest benefits of Pima cotton is that it is much more sustainable compared to standard cotton. Most standard cotton is harvested using machines, but Pima cotton is often handpicked. As such, less waste is produced in the harvesting process leading to less negative environmental impact. Also, Pima cotton is considered a superhero in sustainability as producing fabrics with it conserves water. Globally, cotton is the most water-intensive textile fiber. Standard cotton requires tens of thousands of liters of water to produce even one kilogram of raw cotton. On the other hand, Pima cotton only requires a fraction of that amount of water. Pima cotton has a much smaller water footprint compared to standard cotton. This is mostly due to the fact that Pima is grown in semi-hot and dry climates where they can receive lots of sunlight and heat, and so Pima does not require as much water as other cotton to grow (Bodnar). Another reason why Pima cotton is so sustainable is because products made with it have longer lifespans than products made with standard cotton. Due to the longer cotton fibers of Pima cotton, Pima can last a long time without needing to be replaced–therefore leading to less waste.  


Standard Cotton for Sustainability

Compared to Pima cotton, standard cotton has a bigger negative environmental impact. Not only does it have a huge water footprint, but also products made with standard cotton have shorter lifespans. Because these products are not able to last as long and often fall victim to use over time, products made with standard cotton are constantly being thrown away and replaced. This major downfall of standard cotton for sustainability arises due to the fact that the cotton fibers are short staple.  

Benefits of Standard Cotton

Despite the many negative environmental impacts that standard cotton has, there are still benefits to standard cotton. The primary benefit of standard cotton is that it can be grown quickly and cheaply. This allows for the total output of standard cotton to be extremely high, and this is especially good for those who are looking for cost-affordable cotton options. Additionally, compared to synthetic fibers such as nylon or plastic, when products made with standard cotton are washed, they do not release any microplastics.  


Cons of Standard Cotton

Beyond the environmental cons, standard cotton is less comfortable and durable than Pima cotton. These shortcomings can be attributed to the shorter cotton fibers of standard cotton. After all, standard cotton is either short or medium staple cotton while Pima cotton is extra-long staple cotton. When standard cotton fibers are twisted together, there are more exposed fiber ends and the surface itself is not as smooth as the surface of Pima or Egyptian cotton. Due to these exposed fiber ends and rough surfaces, clothes and other products made with standard cotton are much more susceptible to breaking down over time and pilling after only a few washes.  

In all, when buying clothing or other fabric products, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of the material that was used in making the products. Knowing the differences between the different kinds of cotton can tell you so much about how your experience with a product may be or how long your product may last.  



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Yarns, 17 Sept. 2023, www.joiningyarns.com/blogs/telling-yarns/what-makes-pima-cotton-sustainable. 

“History of Pima Cotton.” IF... THEN WELL, IF... THEN WELL, 21 Apr. 2022,


Hodakel, Boris. “What Is Pima Cotton: Properties, How Its Made and Where.”

Sewport, Sewport, 3 Jan. 2019, sewport.com/fabrics-directory/pima-cotton-fabric. Accessed 9 Nov. 2023. 

“How Cotton Yarn Is Made Step by Step.” Recovo, Recovo, 23 Oct. 2023,


Kiron, Mazharul Islam. “Effect of Twist on Yarn and Fabric Properties: Twist

Directions.” Textile Learner, Textile Learner, 29 Sept. 2021, textilelearner.net/twist-directions-effect-of-twist/. 

“The Differences Between Short and Long Staple Cotton: Blog: Homegrown

Cotton.” HomeGrown Cotton, HomeGrown, 8 June 2018, www.homegrowncotton.us/blog/the-differences-between-short-and-long-staple-cotton. 

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