Organic cotton is a type of cotton that is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
The organic certification process also prohibits the usage of genetically modified organisms, so organic cotton is also GMO-free.
Organic cotton farming is better for the environment, and the finished product is typically softer and more durable than conventionally grown cotton.
Read on to learn more about organic cotton and why you should consider buying products made with it.
What is organic cotton?
Organic cotton is cotton that has been grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
It must be certified to qualify for sale as organic.
Organic farming practices replenish and maintain fertile soils, conserve water, and help ensure the long-term health of the land.
Organic producers manage soil fertility through cover cropping or rotations between non-competitive plants like legumes and grains because these crops add nitrogen back into the soil instead of depleting it, enabling natural sources of nutrients to thrive in healthy soils.
Looking at overall plant health by rotating crops helps prevent diseases that would otherwise occur when a monoculture (the cultivation of a single crop on a plot of land) is planted year after year.
Organic cotton plants from organic cotton fabric Australia are naturally healthy and robust.
Growing a variety of plants reduces the spread of insect pests and diseases, which saves resources by reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides and other agricultural chemicals that can harm human health.
Organic cotton also conserves water through reduced tillage, cover cropping, mulching, drip irrigation, and other soil-conservation practices that help keep water in the fields where it belongs.
At the end of each growing season, organic producers leave their fields fallow (unplanted) to restore soil nutrients with cover crops instead of tilling (turning over) the ground to control weeds as nonorganic farmers do.
Why should I care?
Cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops in agriculture. On average, more than 10 percent of all the world’s agricultural chemicals are applied to cotton crops.
Currently, about 90 million pounds of chemical pesticides are used globally on cotton each year; in California alone, nearly 6 million pounds were used in 2021.
Organic farming practices help keep harmful chemicals out of our water supply and protect farmworkers who may otherwise suffer negative health effects like rashes, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, or even cancer from exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides that drift through the air or seep into groundwater when they’re overused or poorly managed.
What does organic mean?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established a national standard for the certification of organic products.
Third-party certifiers inspect both organic farming and processing operations to ensure that they meet the national organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Certified products must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, excluding water and salt.
It’s important to note that just because a product is labeled as “organic” does not mean it was grown in accordance with USDA standards or without any fertilizers or pesticides; nor does USDA Organic certification make it a certified organic food item, like cheese or eggs.
The USDA also has no way of monitoring whether crops are actually being rotated — thereby naturally replenishing soil nutrients — as required by law, which makes certifying crops grown on a large scale difficult.
Who certifies organic products?
Certification is granted by independent, third-party organizations accredited by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).
These include for example:
How can I find products made with organic cotton?
Organic cotton is becoming more widely available in conventional retail outlets as well as specialist organic retailers.
To find out where you can buy certified organic cotton products near you, check out Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Wearing Organic Cotton.
Some examples of brands that use certified organic cotton are provided below.
Other brand names may be highlighted on the website under “Guide to Wearing Organic Cotton” once they’ve been verified as using only 100 percent certified organic cotton.