Clothing materials - Is hemp better than cotton?

Published Feb 13, 2019 03:50 p.m. ET

Now that the growing of hemp for industrial purposes is slowly gaining traction across the globe, we can expect to see a dramatic increase in hemp fiber products or more specifically, the hemp clothing industry. Cotton is currently the most common material found among any clothing regular clothing store and has been used for decades due to its versatility and low-cost allowing clothes manufacturers to save millions in the production process. It is also one of the most comfortable types of material anywhere within its price range making customers happy and keeping sales flowing. The problem is that the cotton industry comes with numerous flaws and cotton itself is no competition for hemp fiber products as far as durability and comfort.

What do we use cotton for?

Cotton has been used for its affordable levels of comfort by the manufacturing industry in the making of tents, tarps, sheets, blankets, uniforms, velvet, velour, flannel, jersey, and corduroy. It is also used to make fishing nets, underwear, t-shirts, socks, sweaters, hats, pants, coffee filters, archival paper, and book bindings. Cotton is also used for its high fiber content in a mirage of animal feeds. Cotton oil is used for cooking and in the making of cosmetics, soaps, emulsifiers, plastics, and rubbers. The shortest cotton fibers are used to make band-aids, cotton swabs, cotton balls, and x-ray photo paper.

What do we use hemp for?

Hemp though not as common as cotton has also made leaps and bounds in the manufacturing sector as of later. Hemp is currently used for making rope, textiles, paper, bio-plastics, shirts, socks, pants, sweaters, hats, backpacks, tents, tarps, bio-fuel, animal bedding, cat litter, and insulation. Hemp seed oil is used as a medicinal treatment in lotions, drops, tinctures, salves, and paints. Hemp seeds are often added to bird seed for their fibrous content.

Could hemp replace cotton?

Fields of hemp could be grown almost anywhere in the world with various strains suitable for most growing climates, and soon it will be more widely available and more commonly found inside of clothing stores everywhere. Anything from backpacks, hats, socks, shirts, pants, sweaters, and more can be created using hemp. So yes, the potential is there for hemp to completely replace cotton use almost anywhere in the world.

Hemp vs cotton

Hemp vs cotton can be compared in a variety of ways. Here we will focus on the most drastic differences between the two materials.

  • Hemp material is much more breathable than cotton due to its porous nature.
  • Hemp fiber strength is more than twice as strong as cotton fibers leading to materials that will last 3-4 times longer on average than their cotton-based counterparts.
  • Hemp fiber is easier to harvest and or obtain than cotton which can only be grown in very specific climates.
  • Hemp fields do not require any kind of pesticides, while cotton uses an estimated 26% of the world’s pesticides.
  • Hemp requires minimal fertilizer, and cotton uses more than 8% of the fertilizers that are used in the entire world.
  • Hemp uses 50% less water to grow than cotton requires.
  • Hemp fiber strength does not wear out the same way cotton does. Instead, it will soften over time. Cotton will wear out almost immediately after regular use.

Is hemp better than cotton?

While there is a significant difference between the two materials overall strength and quality, there is also the environmental impacts of both to consider. We touched on average water use and fertilizer, but did you know that in California alone well over 6000 tons of defoliants and pesticides are sprayed each calendar year? The decision to stick with cotton is one that would encourage many of these dangerous practices described which will also contribute to global warming. It is important for both our environment and the world to make the transition from cotton-based products to hemp fiber products if we want to make a difference in climate change.

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