Almost pure cellulose, cotton is the world's most widely used natural fibre and still the undisputed "king" of the global textiles industry
The cotton fibre grows on the seed of a variety of plants of the genus Gossypium. Of the four cotton species cultivated for fibre, the most important are G. hirsutum, which originated in Mexico and produces 90% of the world's cotton, and G. barbadense, of Peruvian origin, which accounts for 5%. World average cotton yields are around 800 kg per hectare.
Cotton is almost pure cellulose, with softness and breathability that have made it the world's most popular natural fibre. Fibre length varies from 10 to 65 mm, and diameter from 11 to 22 microns. It absorbs moisture readily, which makes cotton clothes comfortable in hot weather, while high tensile strength in soap solutions means they are easy to wash.
CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy
Cultivated in around 80 countries, cotton is one of the world's most widely produced crops and uses about 2.5% of the world's arable land area. Cotton is fundamental to the economies of many developing countries, particularly in West and Central Africa, where around 10 million small farmers depend on the sector for their income.
Production and trade
The world produces around 25 million tonnes of cotton every year. Six countries - China, Brazil, India, Pakistan, the USA and Uzbekistan - account for more than 80% of total production. From a net exporter, China has become a major purchaser of raw cotton, with imports of 3.2 million tonnes in 2006, mainly from the world's leading cotton exporter, the United States.
Plain T-Shirts, UK
Uses of cotton
An estimated 60% of cotton fibre is used as yarn and threads in a wide range of clothing, most notably in shirts, T-shirts and jeans, but also in coats, jackets, underwear and foundation garments.
Cotton is also used to make home furnishings, such as draperies, bedspreads and window blinds, and is the most commonly used fibre in sheets, pillowcases, towels and washcloths.
Its is made into specialty materials suitable for a great variety of applications: fire-proof apparel, cotton wool, compresses, gauze bandages, sanitary towels and cotton swabs. Industrial products containing cotton include bookbindings, industrial thread and tarpaulins.