Best Cotton in the World

The best cotton for comfort, durability, and silky softness is the cotton with the longest, strongest fibers. Pima, Sea-Island, and Egyptian cotton are all referred to as extra-long staple cotton [ELS cotton]. They all lead to better cotton comfort than other cotton varieties, yet Egyptian cotton wins the contest for having the longest, strongest fibers. The search for the best quality cotton will always lead to Egyptian cotton.

The long strong fibers of extra long-staple cotton enable the cotton lint to be spun into a very fine yarn.

Short fibers stick out at all angles and can sort of poke the skin at a microscopic level. Long fibers that are spun in a fine, thin yarn are tightly bound together in a way that keeps the fibers going in the same direction so that they rest on the skin in the most comfortable way.

The more fine and thin that the yarn is, then the more threads can be fit into an inch of fabric. At the same time the thickness of the fabric is reduced. Consider this magnified model of a cross-section comparison:
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You see that here are more of the smaller circles in the same width while the vertical size which represents the thickness is less. The cross-section with small circles represents a sheet fabric with higher thread count compared to a lower thread count sheet (large circles). The quality of the cotton is what enables a very fine yarn/thread.

There are many factors that drive the price of Egyptian cotton. The technique of harvesting these delicate strands has to be done completely by hand. This is also an important difference between Egyptian and Pima cotton.(2) Pima cotton is not hand-picked. Hand picking is the only way to guarantee that the fibers are still intact and have endured very little stress. There is a high demand for Egyptian cotton with a limited supply; this drives up the price also.

The growing conditions for Egyptian cotton and its genetic evolution have produced a silkier stronger fiber than Pima cotton.

This information comes from Africa Economic Development Institute: "Egypt produces medium-long staple (MLS), long staple (LS) and extra-long staple (ELS) cottons. These cottons produce a wide range of yarn counts needed for the production of fine textiles. However, international market demand is for the LS and ELS type Giza 70,88. The remaining varieties have, in the past, been consumed locally, because they were considered overpriced.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Egypt supplied 80 per cent of the world market, but later lost market share to its US competitor, Pima cotton. Today, Egypt alone supplies 55 per cent of the world’s needs of LS and ELS cottons, while the US Pima supplies 40 per cent. Egypt and the US have a monopoly over the production and trade of LS and ELS cotton varieties."(1)

There are many types of cotton on the market and cotton is generally going to be more comfortable than synthetic-fiber materials. Worldwide, ELS Egyptian cotton is the winner for the best cotton, but ELS Pima cotton although coming in second, is a strong competitor in the contest.

 Article by Sarah Seaver
July 2010

Footnotes

(1) http://www.africaecon.org/index.php/africa_business_reports/read/49

(2) http://www.cottonafrica.com/documents/Egypt_Cotton_VCA.pdf, page 12