Is Organic Cotton Better?

Posted by Penny on June 21, 2011
Information, Organic Cotton

Image via Cotton Week

So, we all know organic cotton’s a pretty good idea. Especially for babies, right? Organic cotton is rising in popularity and availability, and decreasing in cost. Three big cheers! But, what’s the deal?

What does GOTS certification mean?

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is the most widely recognised labelling standard for organic textiles. Basically, in order to be GOTS certified, organic textiles must meet certain standards. In order to be labelled as certified organic, no less than 95% of the fibre content must be grown organically (without pesticides). This certification is done by the organic farming accreditation body in each country (this explains why sometimes you’ll see organic textiles with GOTS and another certification).

In order to retain GOTS certification throughout the supply chain the textiles must also be processed safely (eg. no heavy metals, more details here). For example, it’s one thing to buy certified organic and then paint it with lead based paint, but in order for a product to remain GOTS certified the same strict controls must be followed.

GOTS certified textiles must also be produced with workers employed in line with International Labour Organisation (e.g. no child labour, workers have specific minimum pays – more info here).


Is organic cotton really better?

The benefits of organic cotton are simplified into two areas – health benefits, plus social & environmental benefits.

The health benefits of organic cotton are really dependent on what type of conventional cotton they’re compared to. Formaldehyde (most well known for its use in preserving natural science exhibits?) is used to create crease/wrinkle free cotton garments. Whilst it’s possible that many cotton garments are treated with formaldehyde, it’s more likely to be the specifically labelled ‘wrinkle-free’ ones that contain it. Formaldehyde in high doses is definitely bad for you, however like any allergen, some people are more sensitive than others. It can cause rashes & irritations. Definitely the amounts of formaldehyde being used are reducing, but I think any formaldehyde is too much. (More info – GreenEnergyNews, Cottonique, NICNAS (pdf), Wikipedia, ASEHA, ScienceMag.)

Pesticides are used on conventional cotton crops to prevent, well, pests from destroying them. Unfortunately pesticides are bad news for the environment and the farmers who work with them. The health implications of pesticides are particularly evident in cotton grown in developing countries by farmers without access to correct safety gear. Pesticides can cause a number of health problems such as rashes and headaches, and prolonged exposure to high levels can cause neurological diseases. Pesticides remain in the soil & can runoff into local water supplies damaging local wildlife (in particular fish & birds). Pesticides can remain in clothing causing the same problems for consumers. (More info – Guardian, Atoz, MyGreenAustralia, OrganicClothing.)


You can find more information at the above links, there is so much information available on organic & conventional cotton. It’s obviously really hard to avoid conventional cotton, but the environmental and social implications are a bit of a downer.

You can take a peep at our textiles directory for places to buy your own organic cotton, and if you have any questions you can leave a comment or: !

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