You’re surrounded by cotton. From your jeans to you PJs, there’s a good chance you’re sitting in or on cotton right now. You’ve probably even eaten some today!
So how much do you know about this versatile plant? Here’s a week’s worth of cotton know-how.
- Lots of people – and animals – like cotton. Cotton is the world most commonly used natural fiber. China, along with the US and India, are the top producers of cotton worldwide.
- Cotton is used both as a food and a fiber. Cotton is such a versatile fiber that it makes up a wide variety of recognizable fabrics, from denim and corduroy to flannel and sateen. You’ll also find cotton fibers in many other products, such as coffee filters, paper and money! Each dollar and bill is made up of 75 % cotton (the other 25% is linen). https://www.moneyfactory.gov/hmimpaperandink.html
And this is a bonus fact: while cotton is grown mainly for its fiber, the seed is also used to feed animals…and humans. You’ll find cottonseed oil in some chips, baked goods and salad dressings.
My New Favorite Cotton Pajamas (yes, but that’s really their name!) in Dreamsicle. A wonderful use of the cotton fiber!
- One cotton fiber equals one cotton cell. Most of the cells in your body (and most everything else!) are microscopic. But look closely at your cotton robe with the naked eye and probably spot cotton cells without squinting. Some cells are about almost a couple of inches long, making these fibers the longest cell of any plant. Cotton threads come from weaving together many of these single fibers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22661979
- Cotton really takes to water: cotton fibers are considered hydrophilic – a great ‘word for the day’ – that means it’s attracted to water. Cotton can absorb about 25 times its weight in water! That’s because cotton fibers are made-up of a carbohydrate called cellulose, and cellulose is composed of a long chain of glucose (sugar) molecules. On the outside of the chain are negative charged oxygen-hydrogen (OH) groups, which attract the water molecules’ slight positive charge, making cotton hyper-absorbent.
- Strong bonds mean fewer wrinkles: thank American chemist Ruth R. Benerito for those wrinkle free cotton clothes you can easily wash and wear. Cotton wrinkles naturally because of its structure. The cellulose chains are joined together by hydrogen bonds, which are pretty weak. When you wash that cotton T-shirt, the hydrogen bonds break and re-arrange themselves. That’s wrinkling.Back in the 1950 Benerito and her colleagues developed a way to strengthen those hydrogen bonds. That wrinkle-free development was one of many that earned Dr. Benerito more than 50 patents and many awards. You can read more about her here: https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/ruth-benerito
- Cotton comes in colors, too. While most cotton grows naturally white — or close to that — you can also grow cotton in shades of brown, green, reds and other colors. Naturally colored cotton was grown hundreds of years ago and growers have cultivated a range of colors. You probably won’t see naturally colored cotton much because it has shorter fibers and is not as easy to dye. But you can always grow your own colorful cotton – here are a couple of places where you can get the seeds:
- There’s such a thing as a cotton burrito and people really want to know about it: Ok, these burritos aren’t really made of cotton, but when Americans are searching for cotton-related terms, cotton candy burritos ranks among the top of the searches, according to google trends. (It’s ice cream wrapped in cotton candy by the way. Yes, that does sound amazing. But there’s a lot of debate over that and whether it really even qualifies to be called a burrito – we’ll let you decide for yourself.)
Other high ranking cotton search terms include the Cotton bowl, cotton candy grapes – grapes that reportedly taste like cotton candy — and cotton candy. Plenty of Americans are also searching for information on cotton fabrics.
So tell us what you’ve taken a cotton to!